Wonderkid Factory | Part 13 | Fully Homegrown

A summer break was much needed as Robinho Lazaró’s Envigado FC endured a heavy conclusion to the 2027 campaign, such is the ridiculous rigour of fixture overload in Colombian football. But that failed to take the gloss off winning the club’s first-ever Colombian Cup.

This feels like a good place to reflect on what Lazaró had achieved at Envigado. He’d taken the club from overwhelming favourites to be relegated from Liga BetPlay Dimayor to winning two league stage titles and winning a Colombian Cup. Just as impressive, Envigado is now considered the fourth most reputable club in Colombia and has a Continental reputation. That’s some turnaround considering that Lazaró had spent exactly £0 on players in six years.

The summer of 2028 saw more academy products leave for decent money. Winger Felipe Toro joined Xolos Tijuana for £750k and Juan Luis Ortiz refused to sign a new deal so joined Ceará for £500k. But the most disappointing was centre-back Heidy Juliao, who refused to sign a new deal, said he was leaving on a Bosman so Lazaró was forced to sell him to Portland Timbers for just £400k. And as has become customary, they were all replaced with fellow academy products.

And those academy prospects were boosted by another awesome youth intake, which yet again may be the best so far. It includes seven players with 5-star potential, three with 4.5-star potential and two with 4-star potential. The pick of the bunch is a goalkeeper again in Frank Marimón, along with striker Mateo Acevedo, midfielder Hernán Darío Lugo, wingers Federico Pisciotti, Juan Daniel Grass and Óscar Eduardo Mafla and centre-back Helbert Otalora.

The formation remains the standard 4-3-3, but Lazaró had begun testing formations that would utilise two strikers given the amount of forwards coming through the ranks. Left-back Pedro Martínez has converted to centre-back while centre-back Christian, left-back Andrés Mina, winger Jaiber Prince and striker Carlos Mosquera have been promoted from the Under 20s. And, for the first time, the Envigado squad is now fully homegrown, not containing any players produced at other clubs.

Copa Libertadores Qualifiers

Envigado’s cup win sent them into the qualifying stage for Copa Libertadores. They began with a second-round tie against Ecuadorian side Barcelona SC and started well as a late brace from striker Lucas Florez earned a 3-0 home win. And a 1-0 defeat in Ecuador sent them through.

Next up was Paraguayan side Guarani and another home first leg ended 3-1 thanks to a brace from last season’s top scorer Jhoao Trivino. He was at it again in the away leg, scoring twice in a minute to seal a 5-2 aggregate victory and send Envigado into the group stages.

Savage Start To Season 7

Lazaró’s seventh season in charge began with key players injured and at the Olympics. That saw him name 16-year-olds Christian and Prince and 17-year-olds Diego Mena and Francisco Ocampo in the starting 11 for the opener at Bogotá. And they unsurprisingly lost 2-1 before losing a crazy game 6-4 at home to Millonarios then a 3-1 beating at América, which set a new club record of eight league games without a win carried over to the end of last season.

They finally picked up a win as the returning Trivino and Florez downed Magdalena 2-0. But the struggles continued as they lost 2-0 at Santander, 2-1 at home to Pasto and 3-2 at Expreso Rojo. That forced Lazaró into an early switch to his two-striker formation, which was a narrow 4-3-1-2. And it had some impact as they were on the right end of a thriller, defeating Cúcuta 5-4 led by braces from Diego Betancourth and Florez.

The formation’s second outing came in a rival clash at Águilas Doradas. It again delivered a victory in a more sedate fashion as Florez scored the only goal. But they soon fell to two heavy home defeats, which plunged Envigado to 18th in the table. So Lazaró quickly ditched the experiment.

A return to the tried and tested saw a much-needed 3-1 win over bottom side Cartagena through Ronaldo Bermudez, winger Luis Ángel Díaz’s first of the season after an injury lay-off and a well-overdue Trivino goal. They took confidence from that to beat 19th-place Once Caldas 2-0 led by a Florez brace then drew 2-2 with Santa Fe with Mena scoring his first senior goal.

They lost at leaders Junior and 2nd-place Cortuluá but won another thriller, this time a Betancourth brace inspiring a 4-3 win over Deportivo Cali. Slightly unfairly, the media dubbed the penultimate game of the season “El Sackico” as Envigado took on next-to-bottom Once Caldas. But there was no sacking for Lazaró as his team stepped up with a 3-0 win led by an early Trivino brace and a late third from his replacement Florez. And they took confidence from that by dominating Nacional 4-1 led by a Díaz brace on the final day of the league campaign.

A strong finish to the stage saw Envigado finish 12th in Apertura and, strangely, scored the most and conceded the most goals with 41 of each! So there’s no denying Envigado offered plenty of entertainment.

Copa Libertadores Group

Envigado got an interesting group alongside reigning champions Flamengo, Peruvian side Universidad César Vallejo and Argentinos Juniors for the second year in a row.

They got a good start as Betancourth scored the only goal at home to Argentinos. Lazaró’s 400th game in charge of Envigado, just like his 300th, was at Maracana as Envigado took on the impossible at Flamengo and got comfortably beaten 3-0 with Gabriel Barbosa scoring twice. They also lost 1-0 in Peru but a Trivino double earned a vital 2-0 win at home to César Vallejo, which left the two teams level on six points with two games remaining.

Lazaró rotated for a match they were never going to win, and they didn’t with a 5-0 defeat at home to Flamengo. But César Vallejo drew with Argentinos, which meant Envigado would qualify by beating Argentinos and hoping Flamengo did them a favour. Envigado did their bit with a 2-0 win thanks to midfielder Randi Redín and Betancourth goals early in the second half. And so did Flamengo, who won 1-0. That booked Envigado’s place in the knockouts for a fifth successive year.

Reflecting On A Tough Half-Season

Lazaró was relatively happy with his side’s turnaround in form after a shaky start to the campaign. But realistically, a tough league stage is inevitable when the games come as thick and fast as they do in Colombia. It’s even more inevitable considering key players like Guzmán, Mejía, Juliao, Ostos and Rodríguez had all left the club in the last three seasons. And, furthermore, they’d only been replaced by academy prospects that often weren’t ready for first-team football despite their undoubted potential.

There were still signs of promise, including Trivino continuing to bang the goals in with 18 in 26 already this season. While there’s a scary amount of potential coming through the ranks – the only issue is holding onto those players when they establish themselves!

Could Robinho Lazaró’s Envigado enjoy a stronger Finalización stage? And could they finally get a more favourable second-round draw in Copa Libertadores? Join us on Monday to find out!

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