Aventuras Américas | Part 99 | Club América: Prodigious Youth Development

We had to try and target blog number 100 in this series, considering Robinho Lazaró had passed the milestone of being a 100-year-old Football Manager. But as Lazaró wrapped up his title in Chile, he took some time out to consider his options as he wanted to finish with a flourish.

That opportunity arrived as Mexican side Club América – one of three listed as Lazaró’s favourite teams along with Fluminense and Independiente Medellín – fired their manager in September 2086. So Lazaró applied and was swiftly offered an interview and then the job.

Club América in 2086

Club América plays home games at the impressive Azteca Stadium. Lazaró’s new side is traditionally one of the biggest in Mexico and has a real-life record 13 Liga MX titles. However, they haven’t won an Apertura or Clausura title in over 40 years, since their closing stage success in 2042. The club is currently 16th with just five points and seven goals from 10 games in Apertura, while both teams below them have games in hand.

It was easy to see why América were struggling – their team was ancient, with seven players aged 34 or older. But their best player was winger Luiz Antônio and there were two exciting teenagers to build around in centre-backs Diego García and Luis Martínez. Plus there were seven players with 5-star potential in the youth teams, including midfielder Mario Alberto Téllez who Lazaró immediately promoted.

Getting started with América

Lazaró had little time to meet the team as his first match was two days after being hired. They began by welcoming Chivas to the Azteca and Téllez scored 25 minutes into his debut but the visitors came back to draw 1-1. And a week on the training ground worked wonders as América thumped Mazatlan 4-0 away. América they took 13 points from Lazaró’s seven games to finish 12th and qualify for the playoff preliminaries, where they lost 1-0 away to Tijuana.

Lazaró stamped his authority on the América squad ahead of Clausura, selling 10 players and releasing five for a profit of £4 million and slashing the wage spend from £233,000 to just £93,000 by March 2087. He also promoted four more prospects in centre-back Maximiliano Silva, winger Jesús Fernández and strikers Salvador Álvarez and 6ft 6in Maximiliano Jiménez. Lazaró’s new-look 23-man squad had 13 teenagers, of which five (García, Martínez, Téllez, Fernández and Jiménez) were in the starting 11.

Clausura began at home to Cruz Azul and Lazaró’s youngsters performed admirably to claim a 0-0 before getting thumped 6-0 at Monterrey! Their form was, unsurprisingly, a little up and down. But Jiménez bagged his first goal in a 2-1 win at home to UdeG, which gave him a taste for it as he also scored in wins in the next two games. That gave América confidence and a solid conclusion saw them finish well above expectations in fifth then reach the playoff quarter-finals before a 3-2 loss to Tigres.

The big positive about América was the prodigious youth development with 13 academy products in the first team and several more in the youth sides. That was added to by a stellar youth intake with four players with 5-star potential and four with 4-star potential. So Lazaró decided to make the final leg of a career founded on developing youth as much of a homegrown player challenge as possible. That began with dishing out new contracts to his best prospects, ready for another season in Mexico.

Season 2 at América: Going all-in on youth

The homegrown mission continued by selling four players for a profit of £7 million, including Antônio to Juventude for £3 million. Unfortunately, six games into the season Villa matched the ridiculous £5.25 million minimum fee release in García’s contract but sent him back on loan for a season then the board sold Silva for £10 million to LOSC – despite promising Lazaró they wouldn’t. He was fuming and questioned his future at the club, but decided to give the rest of the season a go.

In their place came no signings but even more academy products, which now means only the goalkeepers aren’t academy graduates, the oldest outfield player is Díaz (20) and only three first-team players don’t have 4.5- or 5-star potential! Lazaró also had a tactical rethink to a 5-3-2 to shoehorn in his star centre-backs, play two strikers and address a lack of right-wingers, which required plenty of players to learn new positions but he was keen to trial it.

Season two began at home to Lazaró’s former club Puebla and the new formation worked a treat as a Jiménez brace sealed a 2-0 win. In fact, they started the season really well, winning five of their first six then beating Pumas 2-1 with a brace from 17-year-old striker Guillermo García. But two massive blows saw Jiménez rupture his cruciate ligaments and Martínez suffer a back fracture. As a result, their form dipped but a strong finish, including a 2-1 win over Monterrey and Lazaró reaching an amazing 2,700th match in management!, saw América finish second in the Apertura stage.

América snuck through the playoff quarter-final as the highest-ranked side as a G García second leg brace earned a 3-3 aggregate draw with Santos Laguna. That teed up a semi-final with Chivas, who finished eighth in the league but won their home leg 2-1. But the home advantage of Azteca Stadium proved crucial as another G García doubled inspired a 3-0 win to send América into the Final! While Monterrey beat league winners Tigres to reach the Final.

Lazaró couldn’t have been prouder of his young, fully homegrown charges. An Alvárez strike earned a 1-1 in the away leg, but they had goalkeeper Julio Valdez to thanks for making eight saves to bail his side out. Five days later, Monterrey visited the Azteca as the two teams served up a classic. Monterrey took the lead on half an hour but América struck back with two quick goals before the break, through Téllez and the exceptional Fernández. They seemingly took control as D Romero and 16-year-old winger José Manuel López made it 4-1, only for Monterrey to score two goals late on to get América’s fans biting their nails. But their young heroes held on for an epic 4-3 win.

Club América won Liga MX Apertura for the first time since, unbelievably, 2019!!

That success was even more impressive as the 10 outfield players that started the second leg had an average age of 17.9, included two 16-year-olds with two more 16-year-olds coming off the bench! This really is a special group of youngsters and the 43rd title of Lazaró’s career may well be his best.

So with that in mind, as the clock clicked around to 2088, the now 103-year-old Lazaró decided enough was enough. It was time for him to finally – and he meant it this time – call it a day with 46 cup competitions and 43 league titles sitting pretty in his trophy cabinet. But just look at the state of the homegrown potential he was leaving behind!

We will wrap up the series in Blog 100 tomorrow, in which we’ll take a look at the footballing world 70 years into the future in 2091!

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