Wonderkid Factory | Part 9 | Hitting Form At The Right Time

Robinho Lazaró’s focus on youth development at Colombian wonderkid factory Envigado FC was undeniably yielding results. After four years in charge, he’d led the club to its first Colombian title with a Finalización win, three Apertura runner-up finishes, a Súperliga success and three straight Copa Libertadores campaigns.

The main man behind that success to date had been striker Diego Rodríguez, who’d become the club’s all-time leading goalscorer with 99 goals in 167 appearances. However, with one year on his contract, he was off to pastures new as he joined Brazilian side Fortaleza for £775k.

The main reason for allowing that move was homegrown superstar Marcelo Guzmán. At the age of 18, Guzmán had already scored 56 goals in 90 league games and beat Rodríguez’s club record for goals in a season with 38 in 2025. He was now considered the best player at the club along with fellow homegrown players Josep Mejía and Colombia international Juan Manuel Zapata. However, he began dropping hints that he wanted to play in a strong squad, while his agent keeps locking a minimum fee release clause of just £1.6m into his contract negotiations. So it looks like he won’t be here much longer.

Good news was that James Rodríguez, who began his career at Envigado and rejoined last season, could now be registered for what would be the final season of his career as he announced he’ll retire in November. And the potential around Rodríguez was clear as 14 players had 5-star potential led by newly promoted José María Romero, who’s being retrained as a centre-back, Ronaldo Bermudez and Ubaldo Venecia.

That potential was added to by a fourth-successive stellar youth intake with seven elite talents! The pick of this intake is goalkeeper Roberto Torres, who comes in as possibly the best keeper at the club at the age of 15. Other players to keep an eye out for are striker Fernando Carvajal, who scored a hat-trick against the U20s, and midfielder Diego Mena, along with two more strikers in Jhon Rodríguez and Francisco Ocampo and two wingers in Michel Vélez and William Guzmán. That means Envigado have produced eight 5-star potential strikers in four years! It also takes the club to 29 players with 5-star potential and eight more with 4.5-star potential.

Copa Libertadores Qualifiers

Last season’s efforts apparently weren’t enough to reach Copa Libertadores proper as Envigado had to enter the qualification phase. Lazaró still had no idea how it worked, but his team began with a two-legged second qualifying round tie against Argentine side Alte. Brown. They started well as a brace from exciting 17-year-old striker Jhoao Trivino earned a 2-0 home win. And a 3-2 loss in Argentina, courtesy of a Rodríguez penalty, was enough to sneak through 4-3 on aggregate.

Next up was Universidad de Chile with a place in the group stage up for grabs. They again started well, winning 3-2 away thanks to goals by Zapata, Rodríguez and winger Diego Betancourth. And they backed it up with an impressive 4-1 thumping at home with braces from Mejía and Trivino – although it was 1-1 until the 84th minute! In other news, Envigado U20s reached the Copa Libertadores Final but lost to O’Higgins 3-2. And promising striker Lucas Florez was top goalscorer and player of the tournament.

Súperliga Defence

In amongst the continental qualification and the league starting, Envigado had the two-legged defence of their Súperliga title, which is effectively the Colombian supercup, against Independiente. Lazaró had to rotate his exhausted side and they lost the home leg 2-1 then he threw all the kids in away and lost 3-0, but Mena became the club’s youngest player aged 15 years and 148 days.

Fixture Backlog As Apertura Season 5 Begins

James Rodríguez’s sensational return to Envigado kicked off properly as he made his second debut on Apertura opening day against Millonarios. He had a solid return, making four key passes, but Guzmán stole the show with a brace to seal a 2-0 win before Millonarios kicked him out of the game. And Rodríguez scored his first goal back at the club in a 4-3 win at Cortuluá led by another Trivino double.

Lazaró handed Torres his debut at home to Tolima and they won 3-2, with centre-back Juan Luis Ortiz scoring his first senior goal. But the good start ended as Lazaró rotated players for the continental games and lost 2-0 at Cúcuta and 2-1 at home to Junior before a Trivino double both assisted by Luis Ángel Díaz earned a 2-2 at Deportivo Cali and a wild 3-3 at Magdalena.

But fixture overload and fixture rearrangements due to international call-ups caused a massive backlog as while Envigado had played seven games, most other teams in the league had played 11! The plus side was that most of the squad got a 10-day break, which saw them return to action refreshed and Díaz and Mejía earned a 2-0 win at home to Pasto.

That rare time off inevitably came back to haunt them as their final 11 games (and two continental games) were shoehorned into a six-week period. Díaz was in the best form of his career, and a brace in a 3-0 win over Bogotá saw him already surpass his goalscoring tally of last season. The fixture congestion forced Lazaró to rotate for three games in five days. A young rotated side drew 1-1 with rivals Águilas Doradas before the first 11 returned to win their game in hand 2-0 at home to Cartagena.

That suddenly lifted Envigado to 5th in a busy mid-table. A backup 11 lost 2-0 at Bogotá, and they only dropped to 8th going into the final game. A week-long gap gave Lazaró a chance to rest players and that worked nicely as Guzmán, Mejía and Rodríguez downed América 3-0. That sealed a respectable 6th-place finish, while Envigado were second-top scorers with 34 goals.

Copa Libertadores Group

Simply qualifying for the group was a massive achievement but further progression might be tough as they drew Argentinian champions Talleres, Fluminense and Ecuadorian side Independiente del Valle.

They kicked off with a great 2-0 win at Valle thanks as Díaz scored then put in the cross for Jhon Banguera to head home. They couldn’t compete with Fluminense, losing 2-0 at home then only 2-1 at Maracana, but did earn a strong 2-2 at home to Talleres with Florez grabbing a late equaliser and an even more impressive 1-1 in Argentina.

A tight group saw Talleres draw at home and lose away to Valle, leaving Envigado second and level with Valle as the two teams met in a decider at Polideportivo Sur. Valle were the better team until the hour mark, when Lazaró made four changes that swung the game. They eventually made a chance count as centre-back Heidy Juliao turned home amid a goalmouth scramble late on.

That was enough to send Envigado through to the knockout stages for the third year in a row. Considering they knocked out the champions of Argentina, that’s some going, and Lazaró was chuffed to bits with his players’ efforts.

Apertura Post-Season

Having snuck into the post-season, Envigado got a group alongside Tolima, Independiente and Petrolera. They started well as Guzmán scored the only goal at Petrolera and at home to Independiente before being denied by a late equaliser at Tolima. Two days later, William Hurtado, who’d scored one goal all season, smashed a hat-trick to inspire a 4-1 win over Petrolera. And Envigado wrapped up the group win with a game to spare as Díaz and Guzmán strikes defeated Tolima 2-1 at home. So Lazaró threw the kids in for the trip to Independiente and got thumped by a club-record 8-0!

That teed up an unexpected Apertura Final against Junior. The first leg was at home and Envigado took full advantage, racking up 14 shots to six and Guzmán and Mejía sealed a 2-0 victory. Envigado started the away leg well and moved in front as Juliao headed home Rodríguez’s corner. Junior came back into it after thje break but Lazaró went defensive to hold them off. And a 1-1 was enough to win their first-ever Apertura title.

FC Envigado were Liga BetPlay Apertura Champions!!

First Academy Colombia Call-Up

Guzmán earned his first call-up to the Colombia squad in March alongside club captain Zapata, who now had three caps. However, he didn’t earn his first cap. As a result, Envigado was now responsible for producing more Colombia players than any other club, with Zapata and Guzmán joining Yaser Asprilla and Parra, who’s also just been called up.

Other interesting news saw former club director Andrés Figueroa complete a long-rumoured takeover, replacing former president Ramiro Ruíz. And, predictably, he didn’t offer any further investment. Gracias, Andrés. Lazaró was hoping for some kind of tycoon takeover as the club was losing money hand over first every month through no fault of his own but, alas, it wasn’t to be.

Could Lazaró’s exciting young Envigado team carry their form into Finalización 2026? And who will they face in the Libertadores knockouts?

We’re taking a little break over the festive season (as I’ll be away then flying to South America) so this will be the last in this series until 9 January! But enjoy your holidays and we’ll be back with more Wonderkid Factory soon.

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