Aventuras Américas | Part 74 | Newcastle #1: The Bromance Continues

New to our Aventuras Américas journey? Go back to the start in the job hunt stage or pick it up at club 1 Puerto Montt, club 2 Universidad Católica, club 3 New York Red Bulls, club 4 River Plate Montevideo, club 5 América de Cali, club 6 Alianza Lima, club 7 Puebla FC, club 8 Palmeiras, club 9 FC Edmonton, club 10 Newell’s Old Boys, club 11 Godoy Cruz, club 12 Flamengo and international teams Brazil and Colombia. Or dip into the start of the European leg of the journey at club 13 Wolfsburg, club 14 Liverpool, club 15 Barcelona, club 16 Sporting. or club 17 AC Milan.

After five years in Italy, 77-year-old Roberto Nascimento da Silva Lazaró left AC Milan on a high by winning his fourth successive Scudetto. He had an intriguing new opportunity that he’d accepted mid-way through the 2060/61 campaign, which would take him back to England with his 18th football club and 20th role as a Football Manager.

That new opportunity was a club that has historically had lots of money but dramatically failed to reach its true potential – Newcastle United. Indeed, 40 years into this save, the Toon Army only has one FA Cup (in 2049) and a Europa Conference League (in 2044) to brag about. They are no longer Saudi-backed and had an internal change of Chairperson just over a year ago.

Rebuilding Newcastle in 2061

Last season, Newcastle were predicted to finish seventh in the Premier League but finished down in 13th with just 44 points. They finished fourth in 2056 and 2058, which is their highest position in the last 40 years, and were just three points off relegation back in 2046.

The money has also dried up with just £22 million in the balance, £19 million in the transfer kitty and the club spending close to its £2.9 million wage budget. The facilities weren’t great, with 11 training facilities and 13 youth facilities, and they still play at the 169-year-old St. James’ Park!

Predictably, the squad was filled with golden oldies, which would undoubtedly change. Lazaró immediately set about flogging off underperforming high-earners, bringing in £151.5 million for 10 players and slashing £1.2 million off the wage bill.

However, Lazaró did have a core of strong players to build his squad around, albeit a total lack of young prospects. The best player is undoubtedly elite attacking midfielder and club captain Oliveira, who averaged 7.52 in 38 league games last season.

Pushing him close is Lazaró’s fellow Colombian midfielder Manuel Gutiérrez, three more Brazilians in full-back Rondinelli, centre-back Marcel and striker Arnaldo Willemen, and Spanish centre-back Carles Rodríguez. If you’re noticing a lack of English players… you’d be right. Newcastle only had two half-decent English players, both were 31 and one was already being sold in the summer. But the other was a familiar face in Lazaró’s former Liverpool midfielder Ian Raglan.

Lazaró immediately set about targeting high-potential replacements – but his first signing was a very familiar name. Surely you know who he’s going to sign?

The legendary Juarez was out of contract at Milan and Lazaró moved quickly to continue their bromance, signing the 34-year-old striker for the fourth time. And Lazaró’s favourite player of all time bagged a hat-trick on his friendly debut!

Lazaró returned to Milan to snap up centre-back and current FIFA Best U21 Player Oscar Rendón for £17.5 million rising to £35 million. He further utilised his South American knowledge to recruit wonderkid full-backs Matías Sánchez for £6 million from Boca and Michel Bertagnolli for £15 million from Santos and Peruvian centre-back Willy Arteaga for £2 million.

Lazaró loaned in a couple of English players he’d tracking for a while with midfielder Liam McKenzie from Real Madrid and left-back Victor Musa from Chelsea. Then on deadline day they snapped up wonderkid striker André Pereira for £10 million from Estoril Praia.

With the squad rebuilt, Lazaró decided to instill the 4-3-1-2 formation he’d used so successfully at Milan, largely because Newcastle had minimal quality in wide areas and he wanted to play with two strikers. Although he later tweaked the approach a little, moving the central midfielder over to the left and deploying a carrilero on the right of the midfield trio.

Lazaró returns to English football

Ten years after leaving Liverpool, Lazaró’s Newcastle squad certainly weren’t fancied to win his third Premier League title. The media predict a ninth-place finish (below Stoke and Burnley!) with odds of 33/1. Liverpool, who’ve won the last six titles and seven of the last eight, are 6/4, followed by Chelsea (11/2), Man City (13/2) and Spurs (7/1). But the Newcastle board only expects a top-half finish.

Lazaró’s first game back in England was a tough one, away to Spurs. But his side started really well and had the best two chances of the first half, only for Oliveira to hit the post and miss a one-on-one. They continued to play well but looked like missing out until that man Juarez was sent through and cheekily chipped the keeper for the only goal of the game. What a legend this man is! And he was at it again as Newcastle dominated Lazaró’s St. James’ Park debut against Everton, creating the opener for Willemen then finishing off a lovely team move.

Another tough game followed at Man UFC and Newcastle were a little unlucky to lose 1-0. But Juarez and a Willemen brace made it three wins from four at home to Wolves before a solid 0-0 at Southampton and a Juarez-inspired 1-0 win over Watford. Pereira got his first goal for the club, nicking the winner to down Stoke 2-1, then the increasingly impressive Willemen scored and made the other for Oliveira in a 2-0 win at Leicester – which took Newcastle second after eight games!

But a big test to that start came as Chelsea came to town and took an early lead then doubled it through Lazaró’s former Sporting midfielder Christian Madsen. But that man Juarez immediately got a goal back and Oliveira equalised nine minutes later. Then Juarez doubled his tally to crown a brilliant comeback and all three points in the first minute of the second half. Another tough test followed immediately with a trip to Man City, who were lingering in 12th. Newcastle performed excellently to come away with a 1-1, taking them to just one defeat in their opening 10 games.

Carabao Cup run

Newcastle have never won the Carabao Cup and only reached the semi-finals once in this entire save. But they reached the quarters with wins over Port Vale, Stoke and Barnsley, then a Juarez brace inspired a 4-0 thumping of West Ham to progress to the semi-finals. Even more excitingly, all of the big teams have been knocked out, with Liverpool the last one standing defeated by Southampton in the quarter-finals. The semis will see Newcastle play Villa while Southampton face Watford in early January, presenting a major opportunity to bag some silverware.

Reaching the Premier League summit!

A 1-0 loss at Arsenal followed, but they recovered to beat West Brom and Juarez and Willemen braces led a 5-2 thrashing of Norwich. That teed them up nicely for a busy December, which began with Juarez claiming a hat-trick of assists in a 3-1 win at Leeds – which took Newcastle top of the Premier League having played a game more than their rivals. The timeless striker then bagged a brilliant brace to inspire a superb 3-1 win over perennial champions and his and Lazaró’s former club Liverpool – which made Lazaró finally consider his side was quite possibly in with a real shot of a title battle.

That huge win was part of an eight-game unbeaten streak heading into the new year, including 2-0 wins over local rivals Middlesbrough and at home to Leicester on Boxing Day. And that left Newcastle, unbelievably, sitting top of the Premier League at Christmas! They hold a two-point lead over still unbeaten Man UFC and Spurs, but are nine clear of fourth-place Wolves with Liverpool a huge 11 back.

Juarez and Willemen have the second-most goals with 11 apiece, only behind Wolves’ striker Duane Lyon’s 14. While Willemen has a league-high 7.57 average rating, followed by Juarez’s 7.42, and the second-most assists with seven – this partnership has been absolutely deadly. And goalkeeper Héctor Leguiza tops the clean sheets chart with nine.

Lazaró had enjoyed a superb start with Newcastle, one that was well beyond his wildest dreams when he took charge in the summer. That was largely thanks to the all-Brazilian strikeforce of Juarez and Willemen, who between them had 25 goals and 17 assists in 42 matches.

Lazaró firmly expected a drop-off in the second half of the season. But his achievements at Newcastle in half a season saw the board claim he was “doing an unbelievable job.” They duly offered him his first two-year contract in about a decade and he eagerly accepted a new £140,000-a-week deal to stay on Tyneside until 2063.

Could Lazaró’s Newcastle side maintain their Premier League challenge? And could they pick up a first-ever league cup success? Join us next Monday to find out!

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