The early days of Robinho Lazaró’s second spell in Chile after joining Universitario, the rival of his former club Alianza Lima, had gone very nicely indeed. His new side won the Apertura league stage after a thrilling final second leg, and he was now focused on strengthening a threadbare squad.
Universitario suffered the humiliation of a first-round cup exit, which meant a two-month gap between the Apertura and Clausura stages. They also lost star player Gianni Sánchez to a national record sale of £7.5 million to Mexican side Querétaro.
Lazaró desperately needed to strengthen his defence and did so with centre-back Vicente Reyes, who had been wanted by Real Madrid but Lazaró snuck him in for £82,00 from Montevideo City Torque, and full-back Diego Díaz joined for £500,000 from Nacional. They were joined by giant 6ft 9in Paraguayan goalkeeper Iván Delgado, who cost £300,000 from Binacional, and promising left-back Edson Aguirre for £500,000 from Sporting Cristal.
Strong start to Liga 1 Torneo Clausura
Universitario were the second-favourites to win Liga 1 Movistar. Their odds of 10/1 were way off those of supposed runaway favorites Sport Huancayo, who Universitario defeated in the Apertura Final, and other challengers included Municipal (12/1), Unión Huaral (13/1) and Alianza Atlético (15/1), with Lazaró’s former side Alianza Lima projected to finish 10th and reigning champions Atlético Grau predicted ninth.
They began the Clausura stage at Universidad César Vallejo but did so poorly with a 2-1 defeat. The same scoreline saw them swiftly get back on track and end an eight-game winless streak against Municipal thanks to goals from wingers Juan Machado and Juan Sandoval. And the same two scorers secured a 2-0 win at Unión Comercio. And Sandoval made it in three in three along before two late long-range strikes from midfielder José Valverde to secure a 3-0 win at home to 10-man Cienciano.
The strong start continued as a rare Denilson Campoverde strike opened the scoring at Sport Boys before Machado doubled the lead and they held on for a 2-1 win. And Sandoval and Machado scored again in a dominant 4-0 win over Cajamarca, along with goals from full-back Jossimar Gutiérrez and goal-shy striker Christian Gamarra, to move top of the table for the first time. They then got a little bit lucky at Binacional, who dominated the game but couldn’t find a way past their former keeper Delgado, who made 11 saves. And Gamarra and midfielder Darío Tomasín made them pay to nick a fortunate 2-0 win.
The same result followed at Alianza Universidad, teeing up a huge game against league favourites Huancayo. And a second defeat of the season, losing 1-0 to an 89th-minute strike despite bossing the game by 24 shots to four!
After nine games of the 17-game stage, Universitario sat second, one point back from Atlético Grau. But they led the way by two points in the overall table.
Peruvian title race
Universitario began the second half of Clausura with two rival clashes. First up, they dominated Sporting Cristal by 23 shots to seven and beat them 2-1 with a Gutiérrez penalty and a late Machado strike. Lazaró then faced another trip to Alianza Lima, who were lingering in 12th place but rose to the occasion to defeat Universitario 3-1.
They had two weeks to lick their wounds but didn’t get the response Lazaró was hoping for in a 1-1 draw at home to third-place Cusco. But they got back to winning ways with a flurry of late goals at Alianza Atlético. Gamarra put them 1-0 up heading into half-time and Gutiérrez doubled the lead after an hour. Alianza responded immediately but Tomasín’s 88th-minute strike and Reyes’ first goal for the club put them 4-1 up in injury-time, before Alianza got a late consolation.
Title decider with the reigning champions
That set up a tasty top two battle as Universitario welcomed reigning champions Atlético Grau to Estadio Monumental. The two sides shared 20 shots in the first half with no end result, but Universitario made their first two after the break count as Gamarra teed up Machado for the opener then doubled the lead with a cheeky chip. They kicked on as Tomasín made it three goals in seven minutes to seal a probably undeserved but very clinical victory that moved them above Grau to the top of the league.
They kicked on to defeat Juan Aurich 2-0 with Tomasín and Machado strikes. Then a wild game saw them defeat struggling Universidad San Martín de Porres in an eight-goal thriller. Sandoval, Tomasín and Gamarra had them 3-0 up in 35 minutes, but the hosts pulled two back either side of half-time. Machado made it 4-2, San Martín got another goal back and Machado killed the game off in injury-time. The impressive Machado was the star of the game with two goals and two assists, but Lazaró questioned his defence, which conceded three goals to six shots on target.
Clausura concluded with a tough game at home to third-place Unión Huaral. And the goals flowed gain as Machado opened the scoring inside three minutes then Gamarra, Gutiérrez and a late Sandoval goal secured a thrilling 4-2 success in which Universitario racked up 34 shots.
That ensured Universitario topped both the Clausura and overall Liga 1 Movistar tables. They finished one point ahead of Grau in the Clausura stage and six points clear of them overall.
Furthermore, that was also enough to secure the Liga 1 title as, Lazaró presumed, Grau couldn’t surpass them with the six points available in the Champions Playoff.
Universitario de Deportes were Champions of Peru for the first time in 14 years!!
The star man this season was Machado, who broke a mass of club records, including most goals in a season (16), most goals in a match (3), most assists in a season (16) and most player of the match awards (10). He also got a seriously impressive 7.79 average rating from 28 matches. And he unsurprisingly won fans’ player of the season.
Gamarra scored 12 followed by Tomasín (10), Sandoval (7) and Gutiérrez (5), while no-one got near Machado’s 16 assists as he was followed by Gamarra (8) and Campoverde and Sandoval (4).
They also had a youth intake that was promising but probably disappointing considering the club has 17 youth recruitment. Although three 4.5-star potential graduates could become decent players. But Lazaró wouldn’t be there to find out.
Back on the move again… soon!
Having led a second Peruvian side to glory and with his contract expiring in the summer, Lazaró decided one year was quite enough time to spend at Universitario. And he wasn’t short of offers.
First up, Méxican side Pumas offered him an interview and swiftly their vacant managerial role. But he delayed them as he also spotted vacant roles at Argentinian sides Banfield and Racing Club. Banfield didn’t hang around, also offering him an interview and the role, which Lazaró also delayed. Lazaró had no idea which side to choose, so let money do the talking.
Banfield offered a £4,400-per-week wage, a £3.6 million transfer budget and £400,000 wage budget. Pumas offered a £4,700-per-week contract, £11.75 million transfer budget and £500,000 wage budget. So Lazaró was heading back to North America and México!
However, he made a slight administrative error in his dealings with Pumas, when stating that he’d like to see out the remainder of the season in Peru. Pumas took that to mean the end of the next season – in November 2069. So he wouldn’t join them for 11 months!
So would Lazaró stay in Peru for another 11 months? Or resign and fast-forward to his time in México? Join us on Monday to find out!