Wonderkid Factory | Part 17 | Juan Manuel Zapata: Record Appearances Holder

The wonderkid factory that is Envigado FC saw its exciting prospects flourish in 2029 as, free from the shackles of continental football, their young team dominated Colombia’s Finalización stage.

The young stars and manager Robinho Lazaró celebrated the club’s third league stage title in style with a full-blown carnival on the streets of Envigado. But the hard work began now for Lazaró, who was already focusing on how to achieve domestic and Copa Libertadores success.

The summer saw more prospects that weren’t going to make it move on to pastures new, including centre-back Auli Maradiago joining Deportivo Cali for £325k, winger William Pérez signing for Millonarios for £160k and José Ruiz going to Alianza Atlético for £100k. More importantly, they kept hold of their best prospects, including midfielder Ronaldo Bermudez saying he had no interest in joining Corinthians.

Lazaró had been promised a first “poor” youth intake, with the forecast being one A-rated midfielder. But when it arrived, he got another good one containing three 5-star, four 4.5-star and two 4-star potential players. The star graduate was goalkeeper José Mosquera, but Lazaró was more excited about striker Fáiner Serpa. Other possible talents include centre-backs Aldayr Silgado, Miguel González and Leyvin Cantor, right-back Manuel Rojas, midfielder Federico Sarmiento and striker Ronald Figueroa.

The tactic remains the same with Rodolfo Vega, who wasn’t even considered a top prospect in his youth intake in 2027, suddenly emerging as the second-best centre-back at the club. While winger Jaiber Prince is now considered the best player at the club, closely followed by star striker Francisco Ocampo.

Another Súperliga Attempt

Last season’s success gave Envigado an opportunity to win more silverware in Súperliga BetPlay Dimayor. And for the third time in a row, they took on Independiente Medellín in the super cup event. A Bermudez brace earned a 2-2 in the home leg then Ocampo’s goal was enough to nick a 1-1 away. That took the game to penalties and Envigado scored all of their five spot kicks, then Frank Marimón was the hero with a big penalty save.

Envigado won Súperliga BetPlay Dimayor for the second time!!

Apertura Season 9 Kicks Off

Envigado’s were suddenly fancied for success again with the bookies predicting a 7th-place finish and odds of 25/1 to win the league, which seemed pretty favourable for the reigning champions. Millonarios remain favourites at 5/2 for no particular reason, given they finished 9th in the overall table last season, followed by Nacional (7/2), América (5/1) and Independiente (13/2).

The 2030s kicked off with Envigado hosting Real Santander and dominating but only gaining a point. Their first away game took them to Cortuluá and they again earned a point as another promising striker 17-year-old Mateo Acevedo scored his first senior goal. And they made it four draws from four as Bermudez earned a point at home to Nacional then a 0-0 at Santa Fe. Bermudez had begun the season in flying form, as proven by scoring in a 3-0 win over Tolima then a brace in a 4-3 win at Pasto.

Captain Juan Manuel Zapata become Envigado’s record appearances holder as he played his 371st league game for the club in a defeat at Cúcuta. The one-club man has been the rock of Lazaró’s team for the last nine seasons but still isn’t even listed among the fans’ favoured personnel, which is an absolute travesty. Zapata celebrated by scoring a very rare goal – that’s 9 in 372 – in a 4-2 win over rivals Águilas Doradas, in which exciting 17-year-old striker Juan Camilo Rojas scored his first of the season. That left Envigado 12th at the halfway mark, but only three points off 6th and five points off 2nd!

A run of easier games began by easing past Petrolera 2-1, before winger Jonathan Arias scored his first senior goal in a 3-0 win at newly-promoted Orsomarso and swiftly added a second with the winner at struggling América. While Tolima were down in 18th and Envigado claimed a vital 3-2 win led by a Luis Ángel Díaz brace, which lifted them all the way up to 4th.

The need to rotate caught up and a fully changed side lost at home to Magdalena and Junior but won 2-0 at Bogotá thanks to a brace by winger Álvaro Pena. A 3-1 win at Quindío, led by a Prince double both assisted by Bermudez who scored the other, lifted Envigado to 4th with two games remaining. They confirmed a strong conclusion to the stage by beating leaders América 3-1 led by an Ocampo brace before a fully rotated side lost at Millonarios. And Lazaró was pretty pleased with a 6th-place finish, while Tolima surprisingly finished bottom!

Tough Copa Libertadores Group

Envigado were placed in Pot 3 of the slightly baffling Copa Libertadores draw. And they got a tough group alongside Flamengo, which is an automatic write-off of two matches, Argentinian side Independiente and Venezuelan side Táchira.

The group began by entertaining Flamengo and Lazaró was massively proud of los chicos as they went behind early, Vega equalised after half an hour, but Pedro scored the winner after 72 minutes. Another tough game followed at Independiente and another solid effort led to another 2-1 defeat. That made the games against Táchira crucial. An Ocampo hat-trick led a brilliant 5-1 thumping at Polideportivo Sur and he repeated the feat to inspire a 4-0 win at Táchira, who had a player sent off after 35 minutes.

That put Envidado 2nd, level with Independiente with two games to go. Lazaró rested key players for league games in preparation for the big one at home to Independiente, which helped them compete in a tight game. But Bermudez provided a moment of magic as, deep into injury time, he stepped up to a free-kick 30 yards and bent it superbly into the top corner to nick a massive 1-0 win.

Envigado led Independiente by three points and a goal difference of five. So they needed to avoid a drubbing at Flamengo, who’d won all five games, and hope for some unlikely help from Táchira. Lazaró took a defensive approach but they still lost 4-0 while Independiente won 2-0, which saw Envigado miss out on qualification by one goal! But the positive of that was they qualified for Copa Sudamericana knockouts.

Heading Into Apertura Post-Season In Form

Envigado got a favourable semi-final group alongside Real Santander, Águilas Doradas and Deportivo Cali. The post-season started well with a 2-1 win at Cali and Ocampo bagged a brace to down Doradas 4-1 before a 3-0 win at home to Cali. A 0-0 at Doradas put them close to qualification before a 2-1 defeat at Santander. But they sealed the group as Bermudez scored the only goal at home to Doradas.

The Apertura Final was a repeat of last season’s Finalización Final as Envigado took on Independiente. Lazaró had been without Randi Redín all season due to damaged cruciate ligaments that sidelined him for six months, but the midfielder returned to start the home leg. Independiente started well and got a deserved goal but Envigado responded in style as Díaz crossed on the volley and Ocampo cushioned a volleyed pass to Bermudez who hit a sweet half-volley into the top corner. Ocampo was the creator again as he got down the right and crossed for Prince to volley home and Bermudez missed a late chance to make it comfortable.

The second leg was a quiet affair until Prince set up Bermudez to fire home from the edge of the box after 33 minutes. Independiente bossed the game from that point onwards, racking up 20 shots and 2.37 xG, but only got five on target. They eventually scored after an hour but Lazaró went defensive and his team held on for back-to-back titles.

Envigado won their 2nd Apertura title and 4th Colombian title overall!!

That success saw Lazaró wrap up his fourth league title and seventh trophy in charge of Envigado, which was enough for the fans to instill him as an iconic figure at the club.

Envigado Produces Another Colombia International

Bermudez’s strong form saw him become the latest Envigado youth product to be called up to the Colombia squad, alongside Ocampo, former academy talent Marcelo Guzmán and Yaser Asprilla. The midfielder assisted the only goal on his debut as a half-time substitute against Costa Rica then played well in his full debut and played all 90 minutes in a 3-0 win over Czech Republic. Then, for some bizarre reason, they left him out of the squad for the World Cup in favour of former Envigado player Jafe Ostos, who’s been in dreadful form for St. Louis City since moving there from Católica.

Lazaró’s reliance on his youth academy was well and truly paying off as this exciting crop of youngsters won back-to-back Finalización and Apertura titles, becoming the first Colombian club to win consecutive league stages since América in 2020.

But could they make it three on the bounce? And how would they get on in Copa Sudamericana knockouts? Join us on Monday to find out!


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