Midway through his third season, Robinho Lazaró was loving life at Colombian wonderkid factory Envigado FC. His team was packed with promising youngsters and two stellar youth intakes gave the club’s fans plenty to get excited about in the future, even if they couldn’t be bothered to come and watch the team at the moment.
They had another strong showing in Liga BetPlay Apertura and reached the knockout stages of Copa Libertadores by topping their admittedly weak group. That was highlighted by Tolima, who defeated Envigado in the Apertura Final, offering Lazaró an interview the day after their manager resigned to become the new Colombia manager.
Straight Into Liga BetPlay Finalización
The unrelenting Colombian season saw the Finalización stage begin five days after Envigado’s Apertura Final second-leg defeat. Lazaró treated his team to three days off and threw them straight into a home game against América de Cali. But they responded well with a 3-2 win thanks to goals by star striker Diego Rodríguez and exciting midfield duo William Hurtado and Josep Mejía.
They lost Mejía as he was called up to Colombia Under 23s for the Olympics and a tired squad picked up injuries and had to be rotated. That saw them struggle to a couple of draws, but they got back to winning ways in a 4-3 thriller at home to Pereira, in which 6ft 5in winger Diego Betancourth scored a brace including a late winner, as well as goals by exciting homegrown striker Marcelo Guzmán and midfielder Agustín Obregón’s first for the club.
Guzmán got a run of games as Rodríguez picked up an injury and took full advantage, scoring twice in a 3-3 at Pasto and the winner at home to Bogotá. Mejía returned to bag a brace and inspire a 3-0 win over local rivals Águilas Doradas then Guzmán’s double earned a 2-2 at leaders Tolima. Rodríguez returned just as Guzmán picked up a suspension and showed the youngster how it’s done with a hat-trick to down Atlético Nacional 3-2 and another in a 3-0 win over Patriotas.
Creeping Into A ‘Title Race’
Envigado’s form was a little up and down with three consecutive draws through August and an unsurprising loss at Millonarios in late September. However, that was their only defeat of the stage, and a 1-0 win over Junior pushed them into third place and six points off top spot heading into the final four games.
Rodríguez was the hero again with two more goals in a 3-1 win at Deportivo Cali, which saw him break his own club record for most league goals in a season. However, he strained his groin in training to miss another four weeks. But another special moment saw 16-year-old Jhoao Trivino, who came through the most recent youth intake, come off the bench to create the equaliser for Mejía then nick the winner at home to Once Caldas. And the Envigado fans had another homegrown hero!
Envigado were suddenly just one point off the top of the league in what had developed into an exciting race for top spot, with four points separating first from sixth! But of course, winning the league only counts for Copa Libertadores qualification, rather than a title win.
First up, they went to 7th-place Patriotas and dismissed them 5-1 led by an inspired Guzmán bagging a brilliant first career hat-trick. That left them in second and just one point behind Atlético Nacional.
The final day saw 12th-place Independiente come to town and Mejía and Guzmán strikes sealed a solid 2-0 victory. But elsewhere, Nacional also won to finish first and keep Envigado just one point back, which was a pretty impressive effort.
Equally impressive was finishing second in the overall Liga BetPlay table, in which Envigado lose just five times in 48 matches, scored a league-high 90 goals, and ended up with 97 points, just one back from table-toppers Tolima. Rodríguez was the league’s top scorer with 28 in 37 and also had the best average rating (7.40) and most player of the match awards (10). Mejía had the second-best average rating (7.33) and the second-most assists (13), along with 19 league goals.
Copa Libertadores Knockouts
The Copa Libertadores second round pitted Envigado against much tougher opponents than in the group stage as they took on Atlético Mineiro, who were sixth in Brazil’s Série A and came third last season. Alético are managed by real-life Brazil manager Tite and have 18 players worth more than Envigado’s highest-valued player (Mejía, £2.1m) and 20 players earning more than their top-earner (Rodríguez, £6k per week). So it’s safe to say they were up against it!
A trip to Brazil was up first and they did well to only lose 3-1 after being battered by 26 shots to 11 and gave up 72% of possession. Guzmán came in and scored to earn a solid 1-1 draw in the home leg. So Envigado’s continental dream ended there but they earned a cool £912k in the process. Atlético, meanwhile, went all the way to the Final and lost 3-0 to Botafogo, who won their first-ever Libertadores title despite being in Série B as recently as 2021, so that home draw looked very respectable.
The relentless campaign continued with just three days separating the end of the campaign and the start of the post-season group, in which Envigado took on Millonarios, América de Cali and Once Caldas.
They started with a trip to América and trailed until the 89h minute, but that man Guzmán stepped up with a late brace to nick an undeserved victory. That also broke the club record as they recorded six consecutive wins. They extended the record as the exciting Trivino scored twice in a 3-2 win at home to Millonarios then Guzmán nicked a 1-1 at Millonarios three days later.
Lazaró massively rotated for the trip to Once Caldas and Lorenzo Brun’s first career goal rescued a 1-1 in injury time, then they beat them 2-0 away a few days later with first-half goals by Guzmán and centre-back Jhon Banguera. That left Envigado one point clear at the top of the group going into the final game at home to América – which, incidentally, was Lazaró’s team in his Aventuras Américas FM22 journey. And they delivered a 3-0 success with a penalty bizarrely taken by right-back Julián Palacio for his first-ever Envigado goal then Santiago Norena and Mejía strikes. That sealed the group win and a place in the Final for the second time this season but, annoyingly, they would yet again take on bogey team Tolima, who they’ve now beaten once in 16 meetings.
A trip to Tolima was up first and Lazaró took a more cautious approach that restricted Tolima to a 1-0 win. They finally got a bit of time off between games with an eight-day gap between the two legs, so Lazaró gave the chicos a three-day break from training. They started slowly as Tolima scored their first shot. However, Guzmán finished superbly to pull them level before the break then put in a sensational run to set up an attack that Díaz finished off with just his fifth goal of the season. They pushed for a winner but couldn’t find one… so the Final went to penalties!
Both teams scored their first two penalties and Felipe Parra saved Tolima’s third. Palacio and Mejía both scored as did Tolima’s fourth taker, but that man Parra came up big again to save the fifth to win Envigado’s first-ever title of any sort.
Envigado FC were Liga BetPlay Finalización Champions!!
For some reason, FM23 doesn’t give us the nice season review feature at the end of the Colombian campaign, which is a bit annoying. Nevertheless, this season’s star man is a toss-up between three players. Rodríguez scored a club-record 31 in 46 but missed plenty of games through injury. That saw Guzmán step up in his place, scoring 23 goals in 41 games, of which 30 were starts, and winning top goalscorer in the Finalización stage with 17 in 17. That’s impressive for a 17-year-old and he’s now considered a better striker than Rodríguez!
Mejía scored 21 and got 17 assists in 50 appearances and set a new league average rating record of 7.32. And he won Colombian First Division Player of the Year and Best Young Player as a result. And Lazaró won Manager of the Year for the second time in three years. Betancourth chipped in with 11 goals and 11 assists and Díaz racked up 15 assists followed by Hurtado (9) and Cesar Rubio and Rodríguez (7). Another youngster Trivino got an average rating of 8.03 as he scored 3 in 10, with just one start.
The club’s performance this season saw them gain 66,700 social media followers, which is a lot considering it takes them to 198,100 and they rarely get more than 3,000 people coming to matches! They also lost a few family fans and gained a few fair weather ones, with 50% still core or hardcore.
Celebrating A Special Year
2024 was a truly historic year for Envigado, playing in Copa Libertadores for the first time then going on to reach both post-season groups and eventually winning the club’s maiden league title. And all of that with a squad average age of just 20. Lazaró was now listed among the fans’ favoured personal along with Rodríguez, joining the great Fredy Guarin.
Could Lazaró’s exciting young team build on this success? Join us on Monday to find out!