South American Journeyman Recap #22

How’s it going guys? Been a really busy weekend for me. As some of you might know, I’m an Arsenal fan. With the FA Cup this Saturday me and some pals at the Arsenal Supporters Club Argentina we got a live stream going, commenting on the match and other stuff. It was a grueling almost 3 hours affair after which came the recording of our weekly podcast. By the end I was absolutely knackered and spent most of me Sunday with a killing headache, hence I had to delay this. Very sorry to all.

In any case, last time we concluded the episode with the end of our Nacional tenure. We had built a machine of a team, we had brought Nacional back from the bad times, and now it was time to find a new challenge. But where? Let’s find out!

Go west, young man, go west

Like I said last time, I felt like it was time to leave the shores of the Atlantic and go deep into the Andes. My reasoning was that having managed in Uruguay, and with Argentina and Brazil as the top leagues in the area, I should put my focus on mountainous lands of Perú and Chile as my next destination. I was particularly interested in Perú as it is by far the smallest of the South American leagues available, so I was looking to move there soon, from a position where the drop-off in quality wouldn’t be massive.

You knew this was coming, don’t act surprised. What a great song by the way…

Therefore, I prioritized jobs in those countries. My top pick was the Universitario de Deportes job, in Perú, as I as became a simpatizer a long time ago, thanks to a good friend from Lima who taught me all about La U. It was marked as “Insecure”, so I remained hopeful, but still applied to a couple of jobs, like Chilean sides Universidad Católica and Universidad de Chile, and Cienciano from Perú.

I was also interviewed by some top Brazilian sides like Gremio and São Paulo. I took the interviews as a means to make myself a man in demand, but had no interest in returning to Castolo’s home land just yet. When I became clear than the Universitario job wasn’t gonna become available, I checked at my options and thought about the pros and cons of each job.

I designed a map to keep track of my journeyman-ing exploits. It instantly made me sad about how much of South America is unavailable. Who knows, might have to give it a new try in FM21…

The three clubs that approached me were Sao Paulo, Universidad Católica and Cienciano. From the get go, Sao Paulo was out; can’t deny it was tempting as they offered me over €30M in transfers budget (an absolute fortune in South America, think I spent just €2.4M on Ferraresi back at Nacional), but it would have been wrong to take such a big club so early on the save.

Next up was Universidad Católica. They were a fine side, having finished 3rd in the last Chilean Championship, therefore earning a Copa Libertadores ticket. They were on solid ground economically and by the looks of it had a great squad ready to take on the championship. 

Lastly, there was Cienciano The side had been in the 2nd Division since 2016, and as the league is not available in FM, it would have to be a complete rebuild work. However, it gave me the option to build a project of my own from the get go, and it was an opportunity to manage in Perú early, which, as I said, would be a huge step down from some of the bigger leagues in the continent like Colombia or Chile, let alone Brazil or Argentina.

In the end, I went for the hardest mountain to climb. You know me, I love a redemption story and even without Sao Paulo’s massive economic boost, Universidad Católica felt like easy mode. Castolo had just revived Nacional’s form in the Campeonato Uruguayo, it was now time to take Cienciano to the top of the Peruvian game. How hard could it possible be?

Hard mode

So, who are Cienciano anyway? The club play in the Peruvian province of Cuzco, a mountainous area from where the Inca Empire rose. The Cuzqueño side has the honour of being the only club from Perú to have won a South American competition, after their surprise win in the 2003 Copa Sudamericana. Despite their continental glory, Cienciano has yet to lift the Primera División del Perú.

They play at the Estadio Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, named after a famous Peruvian-Spanish historian. Frankly it was one of the main reasons I took the job, as it just looks astonishing.

As I said earlier, they were relegated back in 2016. In real life, they’ve managed to get promoted in 2019, but got relegated again in the first season of the save, so they have just been promoted again this past 2023 season. Logically, as they just spent 4 years in a league which does not exist in the game, they barely had enough players, and no staff whatsoever. My first job was to find one

I was disappointed to see not even the people who had resigned from Nacional after I left were willing to join me, as the salary cap was about half what most guys were asking for. Therefore, I decided to place adverts for pretty much every job. It took them a while to get back, to the point where it was almost the season beginning and I had no one. Since I had not staff, all I could train was the physical side of things. With less than two weeks until the league debut vs. Universitario (oh, the irony), I finally got some guys and started tactical developments.

I chose to play a mix between my original 5-3-2 and the Castoloball 3-4-3. As a newly promoted side, I felt going with a back 3 might be a tad too risky.

The good news was it fitted a lot of what I found in the squad. The wingback conundrums of our first season at Nacional look like a long forgotten thing as I found two very able candidates in José Parodi and Flavio Gómez. The Libero position did prove quite tricky though, but right back Elías Ramos was an interesting transformation prospect, given that he possessed some of the skill set, and just was not gonna play as a RWB for me.

Why don’t we build it on the road?

Even if every single player I found was a perfect fit for my plans, I would’ve needed to get into the market, as the squad consisted of just 12 people. My main target were quality players in positions that needed reinforcements: specifically, the strikers, the DLP and the Centrebacks.

Since we had spent a bulk of the pre-season just building the backroom staff, a lot of recruitment had to be done on the fly. Decisiveness was of the utmost priority, as there was no extra time for delaying decisions and finding other possibilities. If I found a player who could be of use, I had to go get him, no second guessing. 

It was a very interesting excercise in decision-making and player judgement. Even without the comfort of a huge transfers budget, the prices and wages of Peruvian football aided our reinforcement efforts. I had €1.8M in wages budget, which were spread out like butter in order to fetch some key players. Let’s meet the guys…

As I said, we lacked any semblance of a decent pure striker. Therefore, fetching 3 or 4 targets there was a must. Coming free after being released from rivals Melgar, Rasmussen added a quality presence up top and at a low cost.

After the Nacional lesson, I tried to be very wary of adding non-Peruvians to the team. Any outsiders better be super necessary and in the case of Lazso I think he was. A top midfielder for the league, his fantastic mentals and well-rounded technicals made him an instant starter. He became the top paid player at the club, but it is well deserved on my book.

Last but not least, JP Abarzúa may look like he’s past his best and that could be a problem with him occupying one of the 5 foreign spots, but his worth for me comes from his capacity to play the Libero. We had seen at Nacional how important having a proven player had was, so I was taking no chances this time. At €225k he was also my most expensive signing, so I’m hoping he still has some years in his legs.

With the season under way for most of this period, it was interesting to see what kind of performances we could get from the team. I had not right to be mad if things didn’t work out as tactic familiarity and match sharpness were through the floor with the limited preseason and friendlies.

To my surprise, I saw some very good football. The team seemed ready to take the Castoloball style and after comfortable wins vs. weak opposition in the friendlies, we got two draws in which we deserved a lot more followed by a good win. So far the defense seems like the worst part of the squad, but I’m hoping to see some improvements as the season progresses. 

With the board asking for a non-relegation season and the bookies sayin we’ll end up 15th, I’m looking forwards to a odds-defying season. I’ve seen good things from this team, and I feel it’s just gonna get better. I guess we’ll have to find out!

Until then, thanks for reading.

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