How’s everything guys? Welcome to a brand new Monday Recap on the South American Journeyman. Last time we had a lot of heartbreak at the Gran Parque Central, with a final that we managed to lose not only once but twice. After that, I took a nice, long and calm afternoon to ponder on whether I was up to the task of facing this challenge again or if I was just gonna be better off leaving that shipwreck of a season ending behind me and move to pastures new. In this episode I’d like to take you through the process of my decison making and the events that followed.
The case for staying at Nacional
When the final whistle went on the second leg of the Finals, I was ready to hit the “Resign” button on the spot. To lose a title when we where just a penalty or a goal away from winning it really made me wanna throw everything away and start over somewhere else. I forced myself to stop, though, and give it a think.
The main issue with leaving was losing all the work I had done to get the Nacional squad to play the way I wanted. If you remember back when I arrived, I didn’t have players of the style nor the skill required to play the Castoloball 5-3-2 from the get go. Both Wingbacks were lacking training in the position or skill in the key attributes, I struggled to get my best players into positions where their skills and the system could find common ground, and the issue with the Libero was keeping me up at night.
With time, and with the correct signings, those issues had been mostly solved; leaving Nacional for another destination would have thrown all that year’s work away. Any new project I took on could put me against the very same problems, perhaps with less tools to fix it, which would hardly help.
Having turned him from a disappointing winger into a fairly decent wingback, it’d break my heart to have Juan away from me. I’m a proud father.
Issue #2 with leaving Nacional came from the main motivation of this save. Back when I started the save with a custom DB, the goal was to climb the ladder from the bottom of the Argentinian footballing pyramid all the way up until we won the Libertadores, be it with an Argentinian side or any other club in South America. That all changed when I found out the DB I was using would lead to unfixable problems with the Argentinian Superliga, and had to restart.
While starting with Confiança was still a challenge, it differed massively from the days of fighting with clubs in the depths of the Argentinian 5th tier; it was a professional club, with a solid reputation and access to some very interesting players. As the save was no longer a rags to riches story, the Libertadores as a big end goal seemed… not so massive.
The Campeonato Uruguayo may look surprisingly like a local league at the 5th tier at times, but the winners still claim a ticket to play against the rest of South America’s elite.
Lo and behold, it only took a nice run of results at Confiança for us to get into the Libertadores Group Stage with Nacional. Ever since that, I’ve been trying to find a new “goal” for the save, and this gave me the opportunity to think of one: winning a league title in every South American country. That meant, of course, doing it in Uruguay and I think we will struggle to get in a better position than we are now, with one of the top sides and a good squad. Leaving now would mean having to return to Uruguay and win that Campeonato Uruguayo title in quite possibly in a worse position (or with Peñarol, god forbid).
The case for leaving Nacional
That being said, there were still solid arguments for jumping ship and leaving this bunch of bottlejobs to their ever increasing role as Peñarol’s second fiddle. For one, that issue. The frustration of that double final loss, even when ignoring what went down with Argentinos Juniors two months before, was still a weight on my mind even as I reloaded the save for the first time in a week.
I feel like that massive sh*tting of the pants could have been foreshadowing some of this team’s problems, what do you think?
Still, trying not to look back in anger, there were some problems. For instance, some key personnel were jumping ship, such as striker-turned-winger-turned-wingback Leandro Barcia (a key member of the squad) and former wonderkid yet useful midfielder Santiago Cartagena. That, added to the players I wanted to get rid of, meant some squad rebuilding was needed and the scouting network hadn’t been doing a fine job so far, suggesting very few uruguayan prospects and starters and instead showering me in bucketfuls of hermanos sudamericanos whom I couldn’t sign cause of the limit on 6 non-uruguayans in the registration rules.
The other issue that was the board constantly interfering with the transfers. Whenever an offer for a player who wasn’t in my plan came around, they’d force me to block the move, argueing more money could be made. And whilst they were eventually proved right with the Transante move (got the 550k in the end), the problem with retaining unhappy players in your team is the issues they cause with team happiness and cohession, and the complaints that arise from my “blocking the move”, let alone the expenditure of having an useless player stuck in your books forever. This is an issue I was yet to experience in FM and one that is bugging me big time.
Bugging me, get it? Get it?
The single most determining factor, though, was whether there was any interesting projects available that would make an interesting new job. It’s all fine and dandy to leave Nacional rotting in their mediocrity but it’s no good if I am to spend the next 6 months hitting that space bar like it’s Lionel Messi’s ankles. There had to be a ready to be taken, promising club available, else I might as well don’t bother.
Closest call was a struggling Universidad Católica looking for someone to lead them back to the heights of chilean football, but without the Bocas, Rivers and brazilian sides of this world looking for a manager, I figured it would be the same problem in a different country. Thus, my decision was to remain Nacional manager at least until the end of next season.
Wheeling and dealing
With the issue of continuity out of the way, I could focus then on the key matters leading to next season. The issues, as I saw it, where threefold:
First, the problem of those who had left or were about to. As I previously explained, a key member like Barcia was leaving, while others like Filipe Luis or Cartagena were about to retire or had asked for a transfer. We had to make sure those with time left on their contracts left for useful sums of money instead of being a ballast on the club’s economy. On the other hand, some players like striker Zeballos had proven not good enough for the club; getting rid of the likes of him while not losing a lot of money was of importance.
Secondly, the replacement that were necessary to mantain the teams competitiveness. With many players leaving, the rotation ended up looking a bit naked. We had to go out and sign players in the positions we required, namely a new right wingback, a new box-to-box midfielder, a striker who could partner up with João Victor, and a new libero/centreback. It was also important that we signed players that met the requirements both in quality as in style, not to face yet again an issue like the wingbacks conundrum of the previous season.
Last but not least, a problem that had arised in the latter part of last season: the clubs overdependance on non-uruguayan players. Unaware of a rule that prohibited us of fielding more than 3 of the 6 internationals we could have registered, I ended up with a side that had too many of those on key positions, meaning properly rotating through the second half of the season had proven tricky. I decided to put a focus on reinforcing with top player from the land of candombe and Suárez.
As you can see it was a busy market, so let’s break it up. The sales were good and plenty. The board kicked a bit of a fuss about letting Cartagena leave for less than €1.5M (not sure they realised we where talking about euros and not uruguayan pesos), but eventually relented. We also got rid of Zeballos for €425k, which considering we picked him up for €300k just the season before looks like good business. Other notorious sales are Brian Ocampo, a fine winger whom I simply can’t find a spot for and failed libero Fabian Alonso. Even with all those sales, for the first time since the save was created, Nacional has spent more than was earned in sales; let’s take a look at our new arrivals
Ricardo Duque’s arrival had actually been agreed a while ago. The tricky colombian attacking midfielder looked set to be a star for his home side of Santa Fe. Hopefully he can lift some South American continental glory before the european powers come calling.
Replacing Leandro Barcia was hard, particularly as he was likely the best RWB in the uruguayan game. Coming from Progreso for absolute pennies Federico Barrandeguy (from now on Fede B.) looks like a suitable replacement with the right attributes.
I felt the striker partnership required someone with a bit more muscle to their game so Nicolas González out of River de Montevideo was a total steal for €87k. Finally someone ready to receive long balls up the pitch and flick it to one of the runners, something Zeballos failed spectacularly at doing.
The first of our Deadline Day singings, Sebastian Cáceres was a loanee at Monarcas Morelia before Club América decided to sell him to us. A monster of a defender with enough technical abilities (though that first touch is awful), his arrival allows me to move the much more gifted Alejandro Andrada to Libero spot behind Ferraresi. While high, €1.1M was not that high a prize for a top, young, uruguayan centreback.
Bringing in some much needed experience and versatility to our midfield, Martín Rabuñal from our former Copa Sudamericana rivals Deportes Tolima will inject some energy in our centre, plus becomes an invaluable asset for when maneuvering players to get below that maximum of 3 internationals on the pitch. All that for €650k? Solid.
Last but not least, Gustavo Molina comes as yet another wild card in midfield for €225k, plus aids our youth scheme’s lacking production of late. He’ll mostly play second fiddle to Rabuñal but with that potential his future could be far from the Gran Parque Central relatively soon.
With the transfers all set, our first test after just a few friendlies came in the shape of the Supercopa Uruguaya, a Charity Shield type competition matching the winner of the Torneo Intermedio vs the winner of the Campeonato Uruguayo.
Whilst it was yet another instance where the uruguayan league seemed like an excuse put together to play one more Peñarol – Nacional (I’m not sure of this but I believe it could be the second most played derby in all time, just 11 behind the Old Firm), for us it was more of a test, and a challenge, an opportunity to prove Peñarol’s win at the Playoff and the final was a lucky hit, nothing more.
The all-time leading goalscorer of the clásico uruguayo and tricolor legend Atilio García, playing for Nacional against Peñarol.
The main problem came from our lack of preparation (this match was played on January 22nd, less than 20 days after the beginning of preseason) and a lack of certain players (those who were yet to arrive and those who I had happily allowed to leave for an international tournament, which included starting LWB Juan Giménez and young centreback Andrada, amongst others).
Limited our resources as they were, I was going all for it. It was the chance for revenge, and the chance to claim Castolo’s first official uruguayan title (at least in FM terms). It proved a tricky fixture but one we always remained in absolute control of. A João Victor scissor kick put us ahead just before half time before he missed a penalty in the 54th minute. Some time later Nahuel Ferraresi scored a magnificent header from a corner to make it 2-0 with 20 minutes remaining. We got a tense ending as an 88th minute wonderstrike out of nowhere by the carbonero’s Ezequiel Mechoso put them within reach but we fought till the end to keep the crap away from our pants and prevailed in the end. After all that thinking and maneuvering, I released a sigh of relief. Finally, we were champions with the Club Nacional de Football.
The next couple of weeks, however, bring the beginning of the Campeonato Uruguayo Opening Stage and the return of my beloved Copa Libertadores, so there’s no time to bask in our preseason glory; onwards we move.
Until then, thanks for reading.