Wonderkid Factory | Part 3 | Stunning First Youth Intake

Robinho Lazaró massively exceeded all expectations in his first season at the helm of Colombian wonderkid factory Envigado FC. His massive overachievement saw one of Colombia’s top teams Junior FC offer him an interview in the summer of 2022, which he swiftly rejected.

His first proper summer at Envigado saw several older players depart the club with Lazaró promoting a host of prospects to replace them, including winger Diego Betancourth, right-back Julián Palacio, midfielder Julián Reyes and 17-year-old left-back Emanuel Londono. He also focused on signing up top prospects like goalkeeper Andrés Tovar, centre-back Jhon Banguera and midfielder Josep Mejía to their first professional contracts.

That youth focus was boosted by a stunning first youth intake containing 11 “elite talents,” of which at least six had 5-star potential and five had 4.5-star potential. The pick of those players was apparently 6ft 3in striker Marcelo Guzmán, along with wingers Juan Carlos Sierra and Yohani Sequera, centre-backs Juan Luis Ortiz and Heidy Juliao and full-back Malcom Mina Camacho.

Second Apertura kicks off

The bookies no longer have Envigado as the favourites to go down, lifting their odds to 800/1 and predicting an 18th-place finish. Atlético remain favourites at 12/5 followed by Tolima (10/3), Millonarios (5/1), Junior FC (8/1) and América de Cali and Independiente (11/1).

The season began very nicely as Lazaró showed Junior what they were missing out on with Mejía, striker Bryan Sinisterra and centre-back Santiago Norena sealing a 3-0 win. However, they then lost three on the bounce at Independiente, Petrolera and Pereira, although Mejía scored two more and striker Diego Rodríguez scored on his comeback from a four-month layoff at Pereira. And another defeat followed at home to Tolima with Mejía making it four in five from midfield.

A late Rodríguez brace stopped the rot to earn a point at Once Caldas and they went one better at home to Bogotá as Betancourth’s first senior goal and a Norena header sealed a 2-0 victory. That was backed up with a rival victory at Águilas Doradas then a solid 3-0 win over Santa Fe thanks to Majía, Rodríguez and Reyes’ first senior goal.

Envigado’s form was a little all over the place but a 2-0 win on Lazaró’s 40th birthday lifted them into 7th place heading into the final two games of Apertura. They nicked a point at underperforming Atlético then welcomed Pasto to town on the final day. Envigado dominated and took a deserved lead through a sensational William Hurtado goal, running from the halfway line to tuck the ball past the keeper. Lazaró made a big call with 20 minutes to go, bringing 15-year-old Guzmán on for his debut – and it worked as the striker scored the second goal! That saw Guzmán become both the youngest ever Envigado player and goalscorer aged 15 years and 338 days.

That saw Envigado just about secure a third successive post-season semi-final group stage under Lazaró, finishing in 7th place with 31 points from their 20 games.

Copa Sudamericana

Envigado’s overachievement last season saw them qualify for the Copa Sudamericana preliminary round. A massive rival clash with Independiente Medellín began with a 2-1 defeat in the away leg, but an early Rodríguez double was enough for a 2-0 win and progress to the group stage. And they got drawn in a group with Brazilian giants Santos, Peruvian team Cienciano and Bolivian side Oriente Petrolero.

They began at home to Cienciano, who dominated the game and seemed to be cruising to a 1-0 win only for a defender to divert winger Jesús Hernández’s cross into his own net and earn Envigado’s first continental point. They did well to only lose 2-0 at Santos then a brilliant turnaround in Bolivia saw Rodríguez bag a hat-trick to inspire a 3-2 victory. But the squad was exhausted and Lazaró had to rotate, which saw them fall to a defeat at Cienciano then lose 4-1 at home to Santos to unsurprisingly be knocked out.

Apertura Post-Season

Possibly the toughest post-season draw so far saw Envigado take on Apertura league winner Tolima, Deportivo Cali and Millonarios. But they started well as Rodríguez’s penalty edged a 1-0 win at home to Cali. They then had two games in three days against Tolima and lost both 2-1 but Guzmán and Mina Camacho made their full debuts in the second game, which saw Camacho usurp his fellow academy graduate as the club’s youngest player aged 15 years and 220 days.

A hugely rotated side pulled off a huge result by beating Millonarios 2-1 at home with late goals from Sinisterra and Mina Camacho, who scored a 93rd-minute penalty to also usurp Guzmán as the club’s youngest goalscorer! But a 2-1 defeat at Cali and a 1-0 loss at Millonarios saw Envigado prop up the group.

Promising youth to the forefront

Lazaró’s overachievements saw the Envigado board hand him a new three-year contract worth £2.5k-per-week, keeping him at the Wonderkid Factory until December 2025. They also agreed to send him on a course to study for his Continental Pro Licence for the next 12 months.

The squad had quietly seen a decent overhaul in the last 18 months with Hernández, who just turned 30 and has been less impressive this season, now the only player aged over 25. 16 of the 24-man squad are now 21 or under and 10 are teenagers. While the club now has 14 players with 5-star potential, 21 with up to 4.5-star potential and nine more with up to 4-star potential. Now that’s what Lazaró called a Wonderkid Factory!

Could Lazaró’s youthful squad continue to impress in the second half of the 2023 campaign? Join us on Monday to find out!

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