Wonderkid Factory | Part 1 | Bienvenido A Envigado

In my series of “teams to manage” guides across various guises of Football Manager, one team has consistently popped up as the best team to manage in South America. So now, having failed in my first FM23 challenge, it’s time to take my own advice and take control of production at South America’s greatest wonderkid factory.

During a previous incarnation, Robinho Lazaró had led a successful campaign dominating South American and European football. But now he had his eye very much on honing the promising youth in his homeland of Colombia.

In that former life, Lazaró had excelled in spotting and developing wonderkids from all over the world. Now, he wanted to bring that expertise to one specific club. Decades into his previous adventure, Colombia became World Champions and Wonderkid Factory Envigado became one of the best teams in the country.

So Lazaró’s new challenge was to take control of the ultimate Wonderkid Factory, oversee the production of their prodigious youth development and snap up wonderkids from all around the world. The overarching mission is to take Envigado to the top of Colombian football, challenge in South America’s continental competitions and build Colombia to become the best league and nation in the world. All of the above may be a tough ask, but it was a challenge Lazaró was very passionate about.

Who are Envigado?

Envigado Fútbol Club is a top-tier Colombian side based in the town of Envigado, which is located in the southeast of Medellín. The city is widely regarded for having some of the highest standards of living in Colombia and low levels of “people with unmet basic needs.”

Envigado FC was founded on 14 October 1989 and became the first team to be promoted to Colombia’s top tier, Liga BetPlay, in 1991. The club suffered relegation from the top tier in 2006 but bounced back a year later led by the talents of a certain James Rodríguez. And it has remained in the top tier ever since. Envigado has never been champion of Colombia, with a record-high finish of 4th in Liga BetPlay in 2005.

The club is best known for its strong youth development, bringing through the likes of Colombian internationals like James Rodríguez, Fredy Guarín, Juan Fernando Quintero and Mateus Uribe, which has led to it becoming known as Cantera de Héroes, or the Quarry of Heroes. But it also boasts eye-catching orange kits, for which it is referred to as El Equipo Naranja or The Orange Team.

Envigado play at the 14,000-capacity Polideportivo Sur, which was built in 1978 before the club even existed! It also has a fierce local rivalry with fellow Liga BetPlay side Águilas Dorados and other rivalries with tier two side Leones FC and fellow top tier clubs Independiente Medellín and Atlético Nacional.

In terms of club records, the highest fee received was the £2.58m fee that saw Yaser Asprilla move to Watford in January. But now a new regime is upon Envigado as they welcomed manager Robinho Lazaró, who hoped to rewrite the club’s record books.

Envigado in Football Manager 2023

Starting a save in Colombia in FM23 takes us all the way back to 20 December 2021, with Liga BetPlay Dimayor beginning on 23 January 2022. Envigado are massive favourites to be relegated from the top tier, with odds of 2000/1 to win the title compared to the next lowest odds of 1000/1 for newly promoted Unión Magdalena.

Lazaró’s board expect to become an established Liga BetPlay team, which seems a little vague. But, crucially, they expect him to work towards developing the best youth system in Colombia with the aim of having the country’s best youth system by 2026. And that’s the whole reason we find ourselves in Envigado.

From a supporter point of view, the club has a core following of 38% and family following of 22% and casual supporter base of 15%. The fans also expect Lazaró to develop homegrown players and become an established Liga BetPlay team, but also want to forge a higher reputation that Águilas Dorados and better Leones FC when they play them.

Envigado have limited finances for Lazaró to work with, as there was just £1.7m in the bank balance, an £87k transfer budget and £84,324-per-week wage budget, of which they were spending £83,542.

Meet the Envigado squad

The best player at Envigado is 24-year-old defensive midfielder Iván Rojas, along with midfielder Diego Moreno, Venezuelan winger Jesús Hernández, Paraguayan centre-back Francisco Báez and 21-year-old midfielder Juan Manuel Zapata. Other players to look out for are full-backs Santiago Jiménez and Daniel Londono, goalkeeper Santiago Londono and 20-year-old striker Diego Rodríguez. Bizarrely, the oldest player at the club is 32-year-old Englishman George Saunders, who’s had a strange career that began at Villarreal in 2004 before moving to América de Cali in 2013 and staying in Colombia. He’s not very good though.

But what we all want to know is how good the young players are at Envigado. Well, the first-team squad has two more top talents in winger Déiler Córdoba and goalkeeper Felipe Parra. While the under 20s squad has six players with 5-star potential, 11 with 4.5-star potential and six with 4-star potential. The pick of those is 15-year-old goalkeeper Andrés Tovar, along with winger/striker Bryan Sinisterra, three 17-year-olds in centre-back Jhon Banguera, winger Luis Ángel Díaz and goalkeeper Santiago Asprilla, and winger Diego Betancourth.

Having assessed the players available to him, Lazaró opted to go with a 4-3-3 with a holding midfielder to protect his probably not overly strong defence. The key men in this team are likely to be Moreno, who Lazaró was hoping would bring goals from midfield, and Hernández playing as an inverted winger from the attack.

Life at the Wonderkid Factory begins

If you’re new to the Colombian leagues then strap yourself in for an almighty feast of football! Liga BetPlay begins with the 20-game Apertura stage between 23 January and 15 May, from which the top eight qualify for a six-game round-robin semi-final then the top two compete in a two-game final. That’s followed by another 20-game Finalización tournament, which also ends in a six-game round-robin and two-legged final. So to win both competitions, a team would have to play 56 league matches!

Lazaró’s Football Manager career began with a trip to reigning champions Deportivo Cali, who had a player sent off for a shocking challenge then handed Envigado the lead with an own goal. Lazaró introduced a couple of youngsters and one of them delivered as Sinisterra scored on his senior debut after a brilliant run and cross by left-back Yeferson Rodallega to seal a strong 2-0 win.

His first game at Polideportivo Sur saw Atlético Bucaramanga come to town. Envigado bossed the game with 59% possession and 15 shots to four but couldn’t finish their chances and settled for a slightly disappointing 0-0. Then nothing happened except Deprtivo Pereira scoring a screamer in away day two, to complete the 1-1-1 start to the campaign.

The second home game was a huge one against rivals Águilas Doradas. Striker Rodríguez made his first start of the season and scored 25 minutes into his debut, cue cries of “Diego, Diego, Diego!” erupting around Polideportivo Sur. They bossed the game and deservedly added a second as Zapata curled home a delicious 25-yarder before the midfielder created a third for Hernández, who’d also created the first two goals. And a 3-0 win quickly endeared Lazaró and his young team with the supporters.

The solid start continued with 0-0s at Patriotas and at home to Independiente Medellín, predicted to finish 5th in the league. But a big test saw league favorites and early leaders Atlético Nacional, who took an undeserved lead only for Rodríguez to immediately equaliser. The visitors scored again after an hour and won 3-1 but Lazaró was fairly impressed with his team’s efforts.

Rojas nicked a point at Petrolera before Báez’s injury-time winner nicked a 2-1 win at home to Cortuluá and Hernández scored the only goal in a tight affair at Junior FC, who were the media’s fourth favourites for the title! The winger was also on form in a thriller at Deportivo Pasto, creating the opener for Rodríguez then scoring himself. Pasto equalised both times but Rodríguez stepped up again to nick the winner after 79 minutes.

That lifted Envigado into an impressive sixth place with five wins, two defeats and 19 points from Lazaró’s first 11 games in charge. Hernández has the joint-most assists (5) and the joint-best average rating (7.43) while Londono leads the way with six clean sheets.

Could Lazaró continue Envigado’s impressive overachievement into the second half of the season? And will any good youth prospects come his way in the first youth intake? Join us next time to find out!

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