Robinho Lazaró came into his eighth season as manager of Envigado FC with the board’s full backing despite a couple of tricky seasons and failing to qualify for continental football for the first time in five years. Elsewhere, Millonarios sacked their fifth manager of the save and Nacional sacked their fourth!
Lazaró’s job hadn’t been easy as he was routinely losing his best players and replacing them with kids. That trend continued as two players who had been with him since the start of the journey departed. Winger Diego Betancourth announced he was thinking of leaving at the end of his contract after 248 league games for the club, and they got £3m out of Sao Paulo. While full-back Emanuel Londono, who’d played 192 league games for the club, was dreadful last season with a 6.72 average rating, so when Montreal offered £1m Lazaró bit their hand off.
They also lost striker Lucas Florez, who Lazaró wasn’t overly convinced about and had one year on his contract, to Fluminense for £750k, winger William Guzmán to Independiente for £350k, backup striker Yasser Harrys to América for £150k and defender Pedro Martínez to St. Louis City for £100k. That took Envigado’s bank balance to a new high of £25m, while Lazaró now has a £34m transfer kitty he has no intention of using. These sales were a gamble but Lazaró retained trust in the outrageous potential at the club – as 16 of the 24-man squad are teenagers and every player at the club has been produced by the Envigado youth academy.
That promise was yet again added to by another outrageous youth intake. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is probably the best one yet, with eight players with 5-star potential. The star graduate is apparently striker Luis Mendoza along with midfielder David Acosta, who Lazaró was hopeful might be the best player of the lot. Others to keep an eye out for include strikers Juan Camilo Rojas and Alirio Plaza, midfielder Gali Matamba, full-backs Jorge Támara and Guillermo Sinisterra and goalkeeper Marlon Pérez. Then there’s 4.5-star potential prospects in midfielder Nelson Ángel, winger Sebastián Cifuentes and centre-back Johann Betancurt.
Lazaró continues to stick with his tried and tested 4-3-3 approach. Francisco Ocampo is now first-choice striker and 16-year-old Frank Marimón is, according to the coaches, the best goalkeeper at the club. Luis Ángel Díaz is switching over to the right wing, while 17-year-olds Auli Maradiago, Andrés Mira and Jaiber Prince have all stepped up to starting slots. However, looking at the players’ ratings, this may be one of the strongest overall squads Lazaró has worked with, given the likes of Malcom Mina Camacho, Ronaldo Bermudez, Randi Redín and Ocampo are all considered good Liga BetPlay players. The key to making this team successful is to establish a reliable goalkeeper, a left-back and centre-back alongside mainstay Jhon Banguera.
Apertura Season 8 Kicks Off
Envigado’s expectations have been significantly tempered this season, with the bookies predicting a 14th-place finish and odds of 150/1 to win Liga BetPlay. Their eighth season under Lazaró began with nine first-team players, including all three goalkeepers, unavailable for the first four games due to call-ups to Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-17.
The season opener at Santa Fe saw 15-year-old Pérez become the youngest player in club history, starting in goal aged 15 years and 72 days alongside fellow 15-year-old left-back Sinisterra. They unsurprisingly conceded early on but responded superbly through Díaz and strikers Carlos Mosquera and Álvaro Pena’s first goals for the club to win 3-2. Pena doubled his tally to earn a point at newly-promoted Fortaleza then Pérez kept a clean sheet to earn a 0-0 at home to Bogotá. However, they got annihilated 6-0 at home by one of the league favourites Junior. But their form picked up as the international call-ups returned.
The positive of not being in Copa Libertadores this season was that Lazaró could actually rest players between league games. That showed as they went to Millonarios, which is usually a guaranteed defeat, and won 3-1 led by Ocampo scoring the earliest-ever Envigado goal after 24 seconds then a brace from exciting midfielder Diego Mena. His midfield partner Bermudez followed suit a week later to down rivals Águilas Doradas 2-1 and Ocampo bagged a brace to edge a close game with Cúcuta 3-2.
Envigado were sitting nicely in the top eight at the midway point of the Apertura stage, but a defeat to leaders Cali left them eight points off the top despite only losing twice. They were denied a vital victory at Nacional by a 94th-minute equaliser but took the positives from that performance into a 3-0 win over Once Caldas then Bermudez and Redín inspired a 2-0 win at Quindío.
Consecutive draws left them in 5th with four games remaining. Three goals in 20 minutes from Ocampo, Bermudez and Prince earned a thrilling 3-2 win over Cortuluá to temporarily move Envigado into 2nd. A 1-1 at Tolima almost wrapped up qualification for the post-season and Ocampo, Díaz and Prince earned another 3-2 win at home to Quindío confirmed it and moved Envigado back into 2nd heading into the final day. But a 4-0 loss at Independiente dropped them all the way down to 6th!
Envigado were drawn in a post-season group with Nacional, Independiente and Real Santander, which seemed to give them a decent chance.
They began with the toughest game at Nacional with several players missing and were unlucky to lose 2-1. Then a thriller at Independiente saw Díaz give them an early lead before swiftly falling 2-1 behind. But an Ocampo brace and Bermudez’s strike inspired a great comeback to win 4-3.
More goals flowed in three home games as they won an eight-goal thriller 5-3 against Santander led by Ocampo’s hat-trick, lost 4-2 to Independiente and drew 3-3 with Nacional. And a 2-2 at Santander saw them secure a solid 2nd place in the group, scoring and conceding 17 in the process!
Plenty of Lazaró’s youngsters have come of age in the last few months. The main beneficiary of more playing time has been Ocampo, who’s scored 15 in 21 and is the third-top scorer in the league. While Díaz tops the league’s assist chart with 13 plus seven goals in 26 matches.
Could Lazaró’s team continue to improve in the second half of the 2029 campaign? Join us on Monday to find out!
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