Most 89-year-olds spend their days drinking their body weight in cups of tea, watching Homes Under The Hammer and Supermarket Sweep, reading the newspaper and doing crosswords. But Robinho Lazaró was not your average 89-year-old.
The Colombian/Brazilian was oh-so-close to becoming the greatest Football Manager of all time with his dominant young River Plate side taking Argentina by storm. Heading into 2074, Lazaró had just become Champion of South America for the third time and was eyeing up another Argentinian title.
The end of 2073 saw Alejo Zalazar defend his South American Footballer of the Year award, while the prolific Sierra, who’s scored 23 in 20 in the league, won World U21 Footballer of the Year and Young Argentine Player of the Year.
More silverware up for grabs
Lazaró had more chances to add to the absolutely massive trophy cabinet filling half of his modest villa in the Cali countryside as River competed in two Supercup competitions within a few days.
First was the Argentine Supercup against Atl. Tucumán, who knocked River Plate out of the cup then shocked Boca in the Copa Argentina final. But there was no upset this time around as late strikes by exciting midfielder Biel López Vázquez and striker Jonathan Martínez earned an easy 2-0 win.
Next was a reunion with his former side Palmeiras in the South American Recopa Final. River visited Sao Paulo first and were the better side, deservedly took the lead through Martínez, but fell apart by conceding two goals in two minutes to lose 2-1. But they took the performance from that game back to Marcelo Gallardo Park and dominated Palmeiras with 32 shots to 15. Striker Andrés Sierra and Vázquez gave them a 2-0 lead but Palmeiras undeservedly took it to extra-time with an 87th-minute goal. But River pushed and got the vital extra-time goal as midfielder Carlos Orozco popped up with the winner.
River Plate won the South American Recopa!!
That success saw Lazaró win the 40th cup tournament of his 53-year career! And he was now just 108 points behind Julian Nagelsmann in the all-time Hall of Fame.
Copa Libertadores defence begins
It felt like they’d only just won it, but the brutal nature of South American football saw Copa Libertadores resume with a group alongside Corinthians, Atl. Tucumán and Barcelona S.C.
Lazaró had to prioritise the league and his squad was exhausted so he threw in a reserve 11 at home to Corinthians and they got hammered 5-2 – having trailed 5-0 until two late consolations! A rotated side drew 1-1 at Tucumán, eased past Barcelona 3-1 away and at home and lost 2-0 at Tucumán, who they trailed on goal difference going into the final game. And even though the first 11 returned to win 3-0 at Corinthians, Tucumán demoted River into Copa Sudamericana.
Relentless league form
Lazaró’s side began the second half of the season by thrashing his old club Newell’s 4-0 led by a Vázquez brace. That took them to nine successive league wins, which extended further as they hammered bottom side San Martin 7-0, inspired by Sierra bagging five, and Defensa y Justicia 4-0 before a month-long break.
Another easy run of games after the winter break saw River continue their assault on the league, racking up 14 wins on the bounce. A hat-trick by the impressive Sierra, which took him to 30 league goals for the season, led a 4-0 win at Juv. Unida. That gave River a chance to equal Boca’s all-time record 16 consecutive wins, but an exhausted side drew 1-1 at Independiente. A big game saw River entertain third-place Banfield and another 1-1 draw saw Boca Juniors close the gap.
10 games away from 40 titles
With 10 games remaining in Argentina – and possibly in Lazaró’s career? – River Plate were on a 17-match unbeaten streak and led city rivals Boca by nine points.
Game 1 – Colegiales (19th, away): First up was an easy game against a poor Colegiales side and River breezed to a 3-1 win. Zalazar got them going with two goals in 10 minutes and striker Rodrigo González added a third just before half-time. Boca won 4-2 to maintain the gap.
Game 2 – Atl. Tucumán (9th, home): Sierra returned from a knock to open the scoring but Tucumán fired back in first-half injury-time. And River couldn’t find a way through in what was a pretty terrible game. But Boca couldn’t take advantage as they conceded a 93rd-minute equaliser at Defensa y Justicia.
Game 3 – Rosario Central (8th, home): A two-week international break, during which only six players were away with their countries, gave Lazaró a chance to reward his squad with a six-day rest from training. And that worked wonders with a dominant display and 3-0 win, started by Vázquez’s great strike in the fifth minute then a Zalazar brace, which took River to 20 league games unbeaten. Boca also won, 4-1 at Colegiales.
Game 4 – Patronato (7th, away): Lazaró celebrated his 100th game in charge of River with an absolute annihilation of last season’s surprise package Patronato. River had a mass of chances in the first half and eventually put one away as Sierra scored three minutes before half-time. They kicked on after the break as the rampant Sierra bagged three more inside 74 minutes before late Vázquez and Zalazar strikes. Boca also had an easy win, beating Crucero del Norte 4-0.
Game 5 – Argentinos Jrs. (11th, home): Lazaró cracked the outrageous milestone of 2,500 matches as a Football Manager as he led out River against Argentinos Jrs. Boca played first and won 2-1 at third-place Independiente to close the gap to six points and pile a bit of pressure on. And River looked to be feeling it until that man Zalazar settled any nerves with a 65th-minute opener before a late Sierra strike.
So with both teams matching each others’ results week after week, River still led Boca by nine points going into the final five games. And the title race could hinge on a Superclásico clash in Gameweek 35.
Game 6 – Chaco For Ever (6th, away): Another dominant performance saw River rack up 33 shots. Sierra opened the scoring after 36 minutes and Zalazar bagged a six-minute brace before half-time to seal an easy 3-0 win. Boca beat Newell’s 2-1.
Game 7 – Boca Juniors (2nd, home): That meant River’s first chance to wrap up the title came in front of their own fans at Marcelo Gallardo Park against their biggest rivals in the Superclásico. And it’s safe to say they didn’t disappoint led by the irresistible Sierra inspiring one of the best performances of Lazaró’s managerial career. The Colombian opened the scoring after nine minutes, Zalazar doubled the lead seven minutes later and Vázquez killed the game off on 44 minutes. But Sierra wasn’t happy with that, scoring in first-half injury-time then ran Boca ragged with three more second-half goals for yet another five-goal haul! This guy is absolutely ridiculous.
An outrageous 8-2 win saw River claim back-to-back Argentinian titles!!
That was the manager’s 40th national title, which in itself is absolutely ridiculous. And annoyingly, it moved Lazaró just two points off achieving his quest to become the best Football Manager of all time.
River wrapped up the season with a 3-2 win at Talleres, Estudiantes (LP) 4-1 and a 2-0 win at Vélez. That saw them smash a new league record 100 points, score a ridiculous 123 goals and break the league record for most wins in a season (32).
Sierra led the way with a sensational 45 goals in 34 league games followed by Zalazar with an impressive 35 in 36. While Martínez broke the league’s record for assists (22), followed by Zalazar’s 16, and Sierra broke the league’s average rating record (8.30) and Adrián Brandán was two short of the league record with 20 clean sheets.
This was a stunning season for River as they defended their league title, became Champions of South America and won the Argentine Supercup and the South American Recopa. Lazaró’s transfer guile once again paid off, as the inspired signings of Sierra, Orozco and Velasquez worked wonders.
Sierra was the main man this season, smashing an outrageous 49 goals plus eight assists in 47 games. Bizarrely, he still hasn’t been called up by Colombia and missed out on the 2074 World Cup squad.
Zalazar was excellent again with a sensational 46 goals and 20 assists in 50 games, while Martínez scored 21 and got a club-high 26 assists in 49 appearances and Vázquez scored 16 and assisted 16 in 46 games. Orozco impressed with eight goals and 13 assists and his fellow Colombian Didier Velasquez, who was generally more quietly effective, scored three but got 15 assists. And only four players in the squad averaged under a 7.00.
Lazaró celebrated his 90th birthday in the final few days of the season, surely becoming the first person ever to manage into the 10th decade of their life?
Lazaró thought this would probably be his last season in management but, just two points away from becoming the greatest manager of all time, he had to keep going, didn’t he? Luckily, River had given him another one-year contract, so Lazaró decided to stick with this exciting young squad for another season.
Can Lazaró win another trophy to become the greatest of all time? Join us tomorrow to find out!