After 14 years in charge of Colombian wonderkid factory Envigado FC, Robinho Lazaró had proven that focusing on youth development alone can deliver success. In that time, Lazaró hadn’t spent a single penny on new players but brought in an incredible £92m by selling 131 players.
He’d signed 14 players on free transfers, but seven of those were in 2024 and he hadn’t signed ANY players since 2026 – that’s nine years without buying a single player. In those nine years, he’d led Envigado to 11 league stage titles. And in his 15 years in charge, he’d taken Envigado from relegation favourites to 12 league stage successes and now the 18th most reputable and the 2nd richest club in South America. So this had become the very definition of a rags-to-riches tale.
As a result, Lazaó had of course established himself as a club legend, while current player Mateo Acevedo had joined James Rodríguez and former players Luis Ángel Díaz and Jaiber Prince as club icons and striker Edisón Borrero made the favoured personnel list alongside former captain Ronaldo Bermudez.
Lazaró added to his impressive income as midfielder Hernán Darío Lugo moved to Fenerbahce for £1.2m after 250 league games for the club. Backup midfielder Wolfgang Garza joined Millonarios for £600k while winger Alirio Plaza hadn’t progressed and joined Gremio for £250k, which boosted the bank balance to a new high of £47m. However, Lazaró managed to keep hold of his key players despite massive interest from around South America and scavengers Porto.
As is customary at Envigado, he replaced the outgoing players with fresh academy blood, promoting two 16-year-olds in midfielder Camilo Guzmán and winger Juan José Vizcaino and 18-year-old goalkeeper Kennen Valerio into the first team.
Tactics-wise, Lazaró saw no need to move away from the 4-3-3 that had served him so well. But he did make some small tweaks with the holding midfielder becoming a half-back and rapidly improving 17-year-old converted centre-back Diego Ceballos establishing himself as the starting right-back.
Apertura Season 16 Begins
Despite winning the double last season and 10 of the last 13 titles, Envigado were still 3rd favourites to win Liga BetPlay. The bookies gave them odds of 9/2 behind Millonarios (2/1) and Nacional (4/1).
Midfielder Gianfranco Bahoque only scored four goals all of last season but got halfway to that tally in a 4-0 opening-day win at Bogotá. Last season’s main men Mateo Acevedo and Edisón Borrero, who’s scored 108 goals in the last two seasons, earned a 2-2 at Tolima, both created by Cristian Gutiérrez, who was flourishing since the departure of Jaiber Prince.
The star attackers were central to a strong start to the campaign. Borrero scored two and Acevedo the other in the first game at Polideportivo Sur this season, beating promoted Valledupar FC 3-0. Borrero then hit four and Acevedo got the other in a 5-0 hammering of Orsomarso away before a Borrero brace and a strike from exciting midfielder Yelkin Montero sealed a 3-0 win at home to Santander.
The good form continued as Envigado won eight on the bounce, including a heavily rotated side winning 3-2 at Once Caldas with goals from winger Andrés Sandoval and striker Jhon Medina, who also scored a late winner against Deportivo Cali. But it ended with a 3-1 loss at Independiente with an exhausted squad.
But the first 11 returned for a 5-2 hammering of Cúcuta led by another Borrero hat-trick, centre-back Eder Franco scoring from a corner and an Acevedo penalty. Borrero was in absolutely stunning form, scoring two more in a 2-1 win at Cortuluá to move to 21 goals in 15 games this season and 129 goals in 125 league games for the club.
He suffered a rare mini-goal drought of four goalless games, but returned to the scoresheet by converting a penalty in a 2-1 win at Pereira. That left Envigado four points clear with two games to go and they wrapped up first place through young striker Jhon Rivas’ injury-time winner against Cortuluá.
Tricky Copa Libertadores Draw
Envigado were placed back into Pot 3 for the Copa Libertadores draw, which saw them given a group alongside Boca Juniors and another Argentinian side Independiente, who are probably at a similar level to Envigado, plus Venezuelan side Caracas. That meant a first meeting with Boca since two group games in 2025 and it’s worth noting Envigado had won three of their four previous matches against Independiente.
The group with a crucial game in Venezuela and they delivered as Borrero, Acevedo and Bahoque goals sealed a comfortable 3-0 win. They then welcomed Boca to Polideportivo Sur and found themselves behind after 20 minutes as Boca scored a penalty. But Envigado did well and eventually got level as Borrero scored just after half-time, and the teams played out a fairly equal draw.
Another home game followed and they again fell behind early. But Borrero dragged them level then Acevedo won and converted an 80th-minute penalty to seal a vital victory. They looked set to go behind early again at Independiente but José Mosquera came made a huge penalty save. And they took full advantage as Acevedo scored two in 10 minutes and Medina added a late third.
That win confirmed qualification and took Envigado top of the group on goal difference. That meant the game could hinge on a trip to the epic La Bombanera, but it didn’t as, despite having just 30% of possession, Envigado dug their heels in for a 0-0 led by another brilliant performance by Mosquera. And they wrapped up top spot with a 3-0 win at home to Caracas led by a Medina brace, while Boca lost 2-1 at Independiente.
Top spot in the league saw Envigado get a post-season group with América, Santa Fe and Millonarios. They began with a trip to América and Borrero earned a point in a game in which both teams scored their only shot on target! They again had Borrero to thank as his brace inspired a 2-1 win at home to Santa Fe before Rodolfo Vega nicked a 1-0 win at Millonarios, which was again their only shot on target.
Sandoval nicked a 1-0 win at Santa Fe before a 4-1 hammering of América, which put Envigado three points clear of Millonarios going into the final game. And a Vizcaino strike earned a 1-1 draw to seal their place in the Final.
Annoyingly, Acevedo and Gutiérrez were on international duty for the Final against Junior FC and left-back Andrés Mira was injured. But Bahoque gave them an early lead in the away leg then late goals by Borrero and winger Juan Mosquera nicked a lucky 3-1 win. Nothing happened in the home leg until Lazaró made four changes and went more cautious as Medina finished from close range, and Junior just two shots and none on target.
Envigado won a 4th consecutive Liga BetPlay Apertura title!!
The Future Is Bright
The promise at the club was highlighted by Envigado Under 20s winning Copa Libertadores Sub-20, which occurs every two years, for the second time and the first time since 2024 led by promising striker Kevin Cardona.
That promise was further boosted by another strong youth intake that contained five “elite talents.” The star of this intake is supposedly yet again a goalkeeper in Osnar Becerra but Lazaró was more excited about midfielder Juan Fernando Morales. Also worth keeping an eye on are midfielder Álvaro Polo, striker Auli Chía, centre-back Carlos Aka Ekanza and midfielder Osvaldo Camilo.
Having won seven of the last eight league stage titles there was now no doubting that Envigado had established themselves as the best team in Colombia.
Could they carry that into the Finalización stage? And could they progress in Copa Libertadores? Join us on Monday to find out!
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