The streets of Envigado were packed with orange shirts as Robinho Lazaró and his exciting young Envigado FC team celebrated the club’s first-ever Apertura trophy with their growing supporter base.
Among the players mingling with the fans was 105-times capped James Rodríguez, who Lazaró rewarded for his fine form with a new 12-month contract. Rumour has it that contract was drawn up over beers and shots at La Gruta Bar Envigado – especially as James was scheduled to retire in four months’ time – but Lazaró refused to comment on such frivolous speculation.
In other news, former Envigado player Yaser Asprilla joined PSG from Watford for £36m, which bagged Envigado a massive £9.25m with an extra £1.6m to come in installments. And that could be a gamechanger for the club as, for context, the club was losing around £500k a month and only Asprilla was also the record sale at just £2.5m. But the board quickly invested £4m of that new-found wealth to further improve the club’s training facilities.
Straight Into Liga BetPlay Finalización
The jubilant players and coaching staff had just five days between wrapping up the Apertura title and the second stage of the season kicking off. Lazaró decided to keep the first 11 in for a trip to Cartagena and they rewarded him with goals by their star midfielder and striker Josep Mejía and Marcelo Guzmán, who worryingly was talking about leaving for a bigger club again and attracted interest from PSV, Real Betis and Sporting, who oddly offered way below his minimum fee clause.
But on the bus home from Cartagena, Lazaró announced he was giving los chicos five days off to go and celebrate and see their families. A fully rotated side gained an impressive 2-2 with Cortuluá then only lost 3-2 at Tolima, with promising striker Jhoao Trivino scoring in both before fellow exciting forward Lucas Florez nicked a 2-2 against Cúcuta with a late brace.
The first-teamers returned in style as lanky winger Diego Betancourth inspired a 3-0 win over Once Caldas before Luis Ángel Díaz and Guzmán earned a 2-2 draw at Junior. Guzmán was starting to hit top form, banging a 20-minute hat-trick in a 4-0 thumping over Magdalena then scoring the fourth in a 4-1 win at Pereira.
However, that hat-trick saw disaster strike as Bordeaux met Guzmán’s £1.6m release fee and the 19-year-old departed for France after 82 goals in 111 games. The striker was instantly worth £35-45m, which massively frustrated Lazaró with that release fee. But that means 18-year-old Trivino steps up with support from Florez (19) and José Ruiz (17), who moved into the first team then broke his ankle and was replaced by Carlos Mosquera (18).
The loss of their talisman clearly affected the team as they got thumped 4-1 at home to Nacional before a 2-1 loss at Pasto. Lazaró gave several of the squad a talking to and made a mass of changes for a trip to Millonarios, where they’d only won twice in 10 meetings. And that worked as they defended superbly and centre-back Heidy Juliao headed the only goal. Those changes saw Florez given a starting role and he took advantage with the opener in a 2-1 win over Santa Fe.
But their form never really recovered, which saw them again on the brink of the post-season in 8th place as just three points separated 5th and 9th with four games remaining. Rodríguez scored a penalty to nick a 1-0 over Petrolera and another to nick a 2-1 win at rivals Águilas Doradas. But a 4-2 defeat at home to Bogotá set up a tense final day with two points separating 5th and 9th! Envigado played out a wild 3-3 draw at América, thanks to a Florez brace, which just about wrapped up 6th place.
Tough Copa Libertadores Tie
After securing qualification for the knockout stages for the third year in a row, Envigado’s history of getting a tough second-round tie continued. This time they drew Brazilian giants Flamengo, who have the likes of Gabriel Barbosa, Pedro and Fausto Vera all valued over £20m and Barbosa and Diego Carlos earning £77k a week, which is half Lazaró’s monthly wage budget! In fact, they have 20 players worth more than Envigado’s highest-valued player and 25 earning more than Envigado’s biggest wage. And just look at the state of the team they put out, which could probably beat most decent European sides!
Flamengo unsurprisingly scored their first shot through Barbosa then doubled their lead through Pedro. But Lazaró gave his team a talking to and they responded, having more shots and grabbing a deserved goal back through Díaz. And a 2-1 defeat against this team was a pretty decent effort.
The away leg saw Lazaró mark his 300th match in charge of Envigado at the magnificent Maracana. Could Envigado mark the landmark with a massive upset? Well, no. But they did perform superbly in a thrilling 4-3 defeat, in which they scored all three shots on target through Guzmán, Rodríguez and Betancourth. And a two-goal aggregate loss is a pretty respectable effort, considering three of Flamengo’s four scorers were Brazil internationals. Flamengo went on to reach the Final and beat Corinthians 1-0 after extra time.
Envigado just about clambered into the post-season with an unlikely Apertura and Finalización double up for grabs. The got a group alongside Junior, Millonarios and Petrolera, which began two days after the end of the league stage!
Lazaró had to rotate and they did well to nick a 2-2 at Petrolera thanks to a late penalty from right-back Malcom Mina Camacho. A Rodríguez penalty earned a 1-1 at home to Millonarios before a 0-0 at Junior before the draw-fest was broken by Florez scoring the only goal at home to Petrolera. This being Colombia, the final two games were played in a three-day period. The same result followed as exciting midfielder Jafe Ostos ran the midfield and Díaz nicked the only goal at home to Junior, teeing up a final-day showdown at Millonarios. And an exhausted side slipped to a 4-0 hammering.
Guzmán had the best average rating in Liga BetPlay of 7.41, with Díaz third on 7.27, which saw him come second in the league’s Player of the Year award.
Life After Guzmán
The departure of star academy product Guzmán affected the manager and players mid-season. But there’s plenty of talent coming through to offer hope for the future. Florez finished the season as the first team and U20s top scorer, with 18 in 40 for Envigado and 40 in 18 for the youth side. While Trivino scored 16 in 59, of which 35 were as a sub.
But the star man this season has undoubtedly been an original in Díaz, who scored 16 and got a club-high 19 assists. Indeed, he won the supporters’ player of the season with a whopping 60% of the vote. James, in his final season as a professional, scored 12 and got 14 assists, Betancourth got 13 assists with six goals but wasn’t great towards the end of the season, while Mejía had a bit of a dip with nine goals and five assists.
Young players are definitely stepping up, including the promising Ostos, who’ll take over from James when he retires, centre-back Juliao and José María Romero, who’s doing well retraining as a centre-back. 16-year-old goalkeeper Roberto Torres already has 27 league appearances, 19-year-old Mina Camacho has 121 and Juan Manuel Zapata has moved on to 252, which is approaching the all-time record of 370.
In off-field developments, Envigado recorded their highest average attendance of just 5,166, which isn’t great considering they have 281,300 followers on social media. So more fans are required to pack out the 14,000 Polideportivo Sur.
Can Lazaró’s young guns fire without their talisman Guzmán? Join us on Friday to find out!