Hey guys, what’s up? Welcome to a brand new Monday Recap on the South American Journey. How’s it been on your end? I’ve had an extremely busy week, preparing some articles and working on some other stuff. We left last time we had gotten to the halfway point of the Apertura, after considering a correct approach to training. With the last stretch of the first half coming, it’s time to fire up FM and see how it goes!
Nearly isn’t perfect
We left off with our dismal loss to Melgar bringing our feet back to the ground in terms of what could be achieved in this first season. We might have been better than anyone expected, but we were a long way from any sort of title contention. That point was further made clear by a terrible loss at home to mid-table Cantolao. As per usual, our problem was not scoring (we did miss some good chances that time, but never ceased to create them), but rather conceding. That certainly put some defensive improvements at the top of my list for things to work on.
One of the positives, though, was that with most of the top sides behind us, calendar wise, we could focus on picking up easy points vs. weaker opposition to climb back some of the lost ground on the table. Wins vs. 17th placed Manucci, 18th placed Alianza Universidad and even 15th placed and derby rivals Cusco FC got us to 3rd, before a 3-1 trashing of big side Sporting Cristal solidified us in a good spot to take a top 4 place. Could have made it 5 from the last 5 if not for a surprise loss vs. 7th placed Ayacucho FC.
That loss was particularly hurtful as results conspired to leave us outside of the Copa Libertadores zone, as Alianza Lima and Ayacucho themselves leapfrog us to take 3rd and 4th on goal-average.
Still, it is a good result. After 5 seasons in the 2nd Division, even the sniff of the Libertadores will be a dream for Cienciano, and as one of the side effects of being in South America, the difference in prize money from the top competition to the second tier is not as massive. Plus, I gotta say…I’m rather excited to get a second chance to pick up that Copa Sudamericana glory before we move on to the big leagues.
After that was done, it was time to focus on the Copa Bicentenario. Unlike Uruguay’s Torneo Intermedio, the Copa Bicentenario is an actual separate cup competition, much like the FA Cup or the Copa del Rey, and not a split section of the regular league. The way it goes is we are drawn into a Group Stage, with eight 4-teams groups. As per usual, the winner and 2nd placed teams advance to the knockout stage, the other 2 are left wondering what’s the meaning of it all.
As this is a national competition but the Peruvian 2nd Division doesn’t “exist” in FM, it was not shocking to find every Primera Division in the knockout stages, including us. The sole exception was Universidad de San Martín, a three time league winning side whom’s presence in the Segunda División is a shock in itself.
In any case, we got one of the easiest sides and quickly went about our business. Even though I was disappointed to find winning the whole thing doesn’t really do much for you (€95k and a Copa Sudamericana Qualification), it’d be nice to announce Cienciano’s arrival on the stage with a title, plus it’ll just add up to Castolo’s growing title collection.
Even though the calendar didn’t give us any pause, there was work to do. One of the tenets of the Clough method is “don’t let it decay”. Learning from the big man himself, I went about improving the side and renewing contracts and making some signings.
Listen to the old man, he’s got a point!
First order of business was to keep our current talent. Eight of our current 22 players were entering the final six months of their deal, namely Reyes, Cleque, Chaves, Parodi, Ramos, Portilla, Morales and Jimenez. Let’s take a look at some test cases to see how that worked.
Parodi was an important piece to retain. He had struggled to adapt to the wingback position but was finally turning the corner and had a skillset hardly matched throughout the squad. He was on €31.5k, which was a mid-to-low range within the wage bill. If he was willing to re-sign for a similar amount, a deal could easily be struck. However, upon negotiation it became clear that he was after more than double what he was getting paid. With great regret, I walked away from the negotiation and as he proceeded to kick a fuss, was released from his deal.
Martín Jiménez was the polar opposite; hardly a starter, but young and skilled, he was well deserving of a raise and (particularly) some clauses to lock them in. I can write a long bit about how I deal with contracts in general, but let’s just say for now that I go against the general hatred and dislike of release clauses; I feel they can be a great tool to lock players in, and ensure you get what you want when the moment comes to sell. I also use a set structure of bonuses and incentives I have set on a Spreadsheets calculator, which is designed to reward collective and club achievements more than individual goals, and also gives higher prizes to senior players or those on longer contracts. Let me know if you’re interested in a longer article on contract negotiation and the way I set them up.
In any case, Jiménez was signed to a €15k new deal to keep him at Cienciano for another 3 years. It was about double what he was on, but I felt at that level it was worth it.
With all that done, I was ready to go to the market, to let those who hadn’t signed a new deal leave, in order to compensate for the bigger deals we had given as well as signing replacements and improve some sections of the squad.
As previously established, improving the defense was my number one priority, but I was also on the look to catch some interesting youngsters. My mate Juan at A Un Toque, our Spanish-speaking FM community had recommended to scout the youth sides of Academia Cantolao; I took his word as a Peruvian and found some interesting newgens. If the price was right, we could be in for a treat.
My first catch was brazilian centre back Euvaldo José. An absolute bargain at just €60k from former rivals of Castolo Vitória, he was the perfect replacement for our substitute left-sided central defender. He has a lot of up-side and could prove a key signing in coming years.
Next up, an old acquaintance of ours, former Confiança castolista Thiago Ennes is joining us for free. Ever since he was released from our old side, I’ve had him in my sights. I can’t put into words how much I missed him after I left for Nacional, and with Parodi leaving, he was just the perfect replacement. It helps a lot that the guy loves me, and I love him back.
Last but not least, our top Cantolao steals. Llontop is a pacey wingback on the left. He has a lot of growing to do before he becomes an established player and his fee might prove too costly if he doesn’t deliver, but those physicals combined with his PPMs were too much to pass up. Hurtado, on the other hand, has become my project-player for this part of the journey. His size and him being so one footed might proved costly, but at 17 that’s something you can work on and with that personality and potential the sky could be the limit. With 17 first touch and 18 natural fitness, he could become an absolute beast of the South American game.
For now, however, we’ve got the second half of the season to get into. We need a solid performance on the Clausura so all our work so far doesn’t amount to nothing. It’ll be a long second half of the season, but I fancy our chances. Who knows…maybe this time next year we’re planning our title bid.
Until then, thanks for reading.