Wonderkid Factory | Part 2 | Massive Overachievement

Robinho Lazaró enjoyed a solid start to life in charge of Colombia’s leading Wonderkid Factory. He’d led a young team fancied for relegation – which he thought was very much misguided on the media’s part – into the top six halfway through Liga BetPlay Dimayor Apertura.

Tricky conclusion to Apertura

The good form continued with the best performance of Lazaró’s tenure so far as 21-year-old striker Diego Rodríguez bagged a brace in a 3-0 win over fourth-place Independiente Santa Fe. English midfielder George Saunders scored in that game and did so again to claim a point at Once Caldas before a pretty dire 0-0 with Patriotas FC. They were much improved as Rodríguez scored the winner in a 2-1 success at Unión Magdalena, which lifted them up to 5th in an increasingly tight table.

A really tough run followed, starting at home to fellow overachievers Jaguares de Córdoba, who were predicted to finish 15th but currently sat in 4th. But it was the visitors who edged a tight game 1-0 despite Lazaró throwing everything at them and getting no reward in the later stages. Another tight game saw Envigado go to one of Colombia’s big boys and only lose 3-2 to an injury-time winner at Millonarios, which saw winger Juan Daniel Tegue score his first goal for the club. The goals flowed again in a wild 4-3 defeat to second-place Tolima, who’d led 4-0 after 51 minutes, before snapping a three-game losing streak with a stunning 5-1 win at struggling América de Cali led by a Rodríguez hat-trick.

That lifted Envigado into the top eight heading into the final game of the Apertura stage, so a point at home to mid-table La Equidad would send them into the post-season semis. The visitors obviously scored their first shot, Envigado responded through two goals in a minute before the break from Saunders and Jesús Hernández then somehow managed to concede immediately. Rodríguez restored the lead just after half-time and swiftly doubled his tally to secure a huge victory.

That victory secured a surprise 7th-place finish in the Apertura stage. Only Tolima scored more than Envigado’s 33 goals and they only finished six points off 2nd place, which is quite the performance for a team massively fancied for relegation! Hernández was the league’s best player with a 7.47 average rating and a league-high 11 assists.

Exciting Apertura post-season

Envigado got a semi-final draw alongside league toppers Atlético Nacional, Junior FC and rivals Águilas Doradas. They began at Atlético and played out of their skins to outshoot the league favourites by 13 shots to 9 and draw 2-2. The same result followed at home to Junior, who obviously scored both their shots on target to lead 2-0 before Rodríguez and exciting winger Déiler Córdoba’s first senior goal grabbed a deserved point. And a late Hernández goal nicked a 1-0 win at home to Águilas Doradas to send Envigado top of the group at the halfway stage!

Five days separated three games so Lazaró had to fully rotate for the trip to Junior, which they were unlucky to lose 3-2 to a brace from Carlos Bacca. THE Carlos Bacca of 52 Colombia caps fame, which Lazaró thought was a bit unfair! The first 11 returned at home to Atlético and a quiet game saw nothing happen until the 81st minute when Hernández won a penalty. Substitute Saunders took responsibility and calmly slammed it home before young striker Bryan Sinisterra sealed a famous victory.

Junior drew at Doradas, who scored twice in the last three minutes, to put Envigado top of the pile heading into the final game at their rivals. Annoyingly, star defender Francisco Báez was suspended and it showed as Envigado lost 3-1. But luckily, Junior lost 3-1 at home to Atlético so Envigado just about won the tightest of semi-final groups!

That took them into a massively unexpected first Apertura Final in club history against Tolima, who won all six games in their group. The home leg was up first and Envigado started well but got blown away by two goals in a minute before Hernández swiftly gave them some hope. And nothing happened in the second half! They played superbly in the second half to hold a dominant Tolima to 0-0 but couldn’t find a way through as Lazaró went attacking late on. And Tolima won Liga BetPlay Apertura.

First transfers ahead of Finalización stage

The first transfer of Lazaró’s reign saw holding midfielder Ivan Rojas join Pachuca for £1.2m, which just about cleared the club’s rapidly accumulating debt. While Saunders’ contract was one of many whose contract was expiring, he received offers from England and moved to Derby for £27k. But there were still no arrivals at the club.

That was because Lazaró placed even greater focus on youth, having already seen exciting goalkeeper Andrés Tovar become the club’s youngest-ever player aged just 16 years 12 days in a cup game. 18-year-old midfielder William Hurtado stepped up to the first team along with 19-year-old Santiago Duque.

Envigado were still overwhelming favourites to be relegated going into Torneo Finalización. But they started well as Rodríguez’s penalty nicked a 1-0 at home to Deportivo Cali before a 0-0 at Bucaramanga and another 1-0 at rivals Doradas thanks to Hernández’s first-half strike.

The games were coming thick and fast but Envigado continued to excel with a 4-1 win at home to Pereira led by a Hernández brace and both Duque and Hurtado scoring their first senior goals. Hurtado swiftly added his second to inspire a 1-0 win over Patriotas to temporarily take his team top of the league for the first time!

But that didn’t last as they lost for the first time 1-0 at Independiente Medellín and 3-1 at leaders Atlético. Rodíguez bagged a hat-trick to down Petrolaro 3-2 but then a fully rotated side lost 3-2 at Cortulúa with his replacement Sinisterra scoring both. But they largely relied on Rodríguez’s goals, as the striker scored in three consecutive games in 1-0 home wins over Pasto and Once Caldas and a 1-1 at Patriotas. That began a run of six successive draws, including solid 1-1s at home to Millonarios then 2nd-place Tolima and a 2-2 at home to América thanks to a Rodríguez brace.

That left Envigado clinging on to 8th place going into the final game of the season. But a Hurtado goal ended their six-game winless streak at La Equidad and sealed a 7th-place finish.

Finalización post-season

Envigado lost main striker Rodríguez to a torn calf muscle that ruled him out for four months in the final game of the season. They got a tough semi-final group alongside Tolima, Junior and Millonarios. They again fell foul to Bacca in game one as his brace secured a 2-1 win with Sinisterra scoring in place of Rodríguez. Star player Hernández also got injured and they struggled with the relentless games every three days. But 18-year-olds Hurtado and Josep Mejía earned a surprise 2-1 win at Millonarios, who went on to win the group and beat Independiente in the Final.

Rodríguez finished third-top scorer in the league with 26 in 44 across both tournaments, trailing Bacca by four goals. That saw Rodríguez named the league’s Young Player of the Year. While Hernández came second in Player of the Year and Lazaró picked up Manager of the Year!

2022 Season Review

Lazaró was pretty happy with his first season in charge, claiming Manager of the Year and performing well beyond all expectations. As a result, he was already ticking off board objectives, establishing the club as a top-tier side and developing the best youth system in Colombia four years ahead of schedule after the board agreed to his request for new youth facilities.

The star man this season has probably been Hernández, who scored 13 and got 16 assists from the left wing. But 21-year-old striker Rodríguez has led the line impressively, racking up a new club record 26 goals in 44 games. He was ably supported by Sinisterra, who scored seven in 44, of which just 10 were starts, while Hurtado scored five from midfield and Tegue got a decent nine assists.

Developing youth is the main aim of this save and young players have been key this season. Three teenagers are already first-team regulars and more than half the first-team squad is 21 or under and several of the older players are leaving in the summer. While there’s also supposedly an exciting first youth intake to look forward to.

The challenge now was for Lazaró to continue developing his young prospects and he’d probably be promoting a few more from the under 20s over the summer break. Could he match the overachievement of season one? Join us next time to find out!

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