Playing the Copa Libertadores is an obsession for any club. It is an economic lifeline for some, and a prestigious international and business opportunity for others. Many arrive, participate, fight worthy battles, and leave, silent. Others make noise and say they want to fight her, but along the way they realize that they have no cavalry, as is happening to Colombian clubs since 2018. From there they do not qualify for the round of 16. And there are others that exist to dispute it always, because they have the resources, the payroll or the project for the conquest.
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The Copa Libertadores is not a game. It is a demanding competition, a real battle. No club wins it with the shirt. In the Cup, the greats do not eat the boys so easily. Everyone fights and kicks. There is pride, rivalry, adverse locations, difficult environments. That is why the task is simpler for the powerful, those who have an open checkbook that allows them to invest, build teams that adapt to the requirement.
Just look at the latest champions. Flamengo, that of 2019 today has a market value of 128,000 million euros, according to the specialized portal Transfermarkt. Palm Trees, current monarch, treasures a staff with a value of 119 million euros. River, the 2018 champion, is valued at 114 million euros. With those coffers, winning the Cup is not an obsession but an obligation. Especially since the inequality is as great as the Maracana.
The other teams, like the Colombians, who lived another nightmare in this edition’s Cup, do not get to scratch those figures. Junior, finalist of the Suramericana in 2018, is worth 23 million euros. Far! Y National Athletic, the other team that has financial muscle in the country, reaches 20 million.
With these finances they put their chest out in the league, but outside, they bow their heads. The best valued player of the moment at the local level is Duván Vergara, from America, with 4.5 million euros. Rafael Santos Borré, from River, is priced at 15 million euros and up. The differences are astronomical.
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The Cup always has its favorites. Those teams that go out onto the field with the pressure of those who cannot be seconds. There are always the Brazilians and Argentines, who not only have the income to invest in heavy payrolls, but also have a certain mentality: they play to win.
Brazilians have had six Liberators in the last 10 years (Flamengo, Palmeiras, Gremio, Mineiro, Corinthians and Santos). They always start as favorites, although from time to time they suffer. Flamengo had to wait 38 years to be king of America. The popular Rio de Janeiro club, which has more than 40 million fans, had a noisy resurrection. That season he wanted the crown and designed it: he brought in a Portuguese technical director (DT), Jorge Jesus, had a scorer in a state of grace like Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa, who made 9 points. He signed experienced Europeans as Filipe Luis y Rafinha, and invested 11 million dollars for Gerson, coming from Rome.
That campus, according to Transfermarkt, was worth $ 137 million. Cahé Mota, a journalist for Globo Esporte, from Brazil, believes that the key was the mix between the investment and the election of the DT.
“Without a doubt, the differential was the methodology implemented by Jorge Jesus. Not only tactics, but for his day-to-day driving, enhancing the qualities of a mounted squad, which has been perfected in the market ”, he says.
Without a doubt, the differential was the methodology implemented by Jorge Jesus. Not only tactical, but for his day-to-day driving
Not to mention the Argentine teams, which have won three Libertadores in the last decade, two of them from River, and one from San Lorenzo. River came out of the ashes of B, where it fell in 2011, to set the continent on fire. His formula also revolves around DT, Marcelo Gallardo, who arrived in 2014 and led the team to the international reconquest, with two titles (2015, 2018), one subtitle (2019) and two semi-finals (2017 and 2010).
Diego Borinsky, Argentine journalist author of the biographies of Matías Almeyda, Gallardo and Andrés D’Alessandro, attributes the success to DT. “Gallardo acquired continuity, it will be seven years since his arrival. He prioritized the boys from the club and brought others from outside. He became a specialist in hand-to-hand series, constantly changing tactics, and always prioritizing the international over the local.
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He made River have the hierarchy outside. And he has had the peace of mind of managing the inferior project, which allowed him to see which players served him, in addition, he hit the ones he bought, he banked them (he held out), like Pity Martínez and Nacho Fernández, despite the fact that people did not I loved them, ”he says.
River generates many resources and was piloting. International success allows you to sell at a good price and raise money.
Borinsky analyzes that River managed to solve an economic deficit that dragged from its fall to the B, and it did so thanks to its international participation. “River generates many resources and was piloting. International success allows you to sell at a good price and raise money. At the beginning of 2018 he spent a lot on Lucas Pratto, Franco Armani, Juanfer Quintero, but he also sold dearly. In recent years you can see the difference between the teams from Argentina and Brazil compared to the rest ”.
This international cycle, well used, can generate sustainability in these clubs. Is that winning the Copa Libertadores guarantees the champion, for this edition, 15 million dollars, not counting the prizes he accumulates in each phase of the tournament.
A solid project
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The checkbook does not always rule. There are teams that have crossed these monsters. They arrive without making noise. His silence is his sharp spear. And then they struck. Atlético Nacional did it in 2016, or Independiente del Valle de Ecuador, finalist that year and then champion of the South American Cup. They bet on the sports project to match the monetary charges.
Nacional was the last Colombian team to shout “champion of America”, a year after Santa Fe won the Suramericana in 2015. Nacional, one of the strongest teams at the local level, with an enviable economic backing in the middle, no he was champion overnight.
The club, aware that fighting with a checkbook was an unequal war, bet on the project that began in 2010. Víctor Marulanda, who was the sports director in that cycle, tells details of that management.
“First we made a diagnosis about what National was. There we generated the general objective: we wanted to be the sports institution with the greatest recognition in Colombia abroad. We wanted to be the team with the most minutes in international appearances, to always be in the semis and finals. For that we needed a solid, sustainable structure, with comprehensive players, competitive at the local and international level, and with grassroots or educational support ”, says Marulanda.
We had a manager with knowledge and methodology like Juan Carlos Osorio, and we started bringing in players who would help us transform the culture of the dressing room.
“We started with the issue of infrastructure, such as having real fields and a sports development and training center. This is linked to a strategic objective which is payroll management. We had a manager with knowledge and methodology like Juan Carlos Osorio, and we started bringing in players who would help us transform the culture of the dressing room. That is supported by players with a lot of character, with a journey and who are in the profile we wanted ”, he says.
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In 2015, Osorio left and arrived Reinaldo Rueda, who found a built and solid project. Since their arrival, the slogan was only one: they wanted the Copa Libertadores in 2016.
“We had a recognized team. With good financial and methodological support and a good response from the players. At a request from the teacher and the technical committee, we went to the board of directors and took a risk: go out and look for top-level players to be able to catch up with the continent’s teams. We go out on the market for 3 or 4 very expensive players. Internationally, we did not reach those checkbooks of the others on the continent. But we take the risk. We asked for money, looking for a return that was supported by going to the Cup, going to Japan and reselling players. We had high cost players for the local market, but with the collective we could go out and fight anyone outside ”, he commented.
That Nacional, with players like Armani, Daniel Bocanegra, Farid Díaz, the scorer Miguel Borja that arrived in the final part, Sebastián Pérez or Marlos Moreno, defeated Independiente del Valle in the final and was crowned champion. The project was finished. That same year Nacional was a finalist in the Suramericana, in the famous title awarded to Chapecoense.
His rival in that final was the Ecuadorian team, one of the clubs that has made giant leaps in recent years. Independiente del Valle also opted for a solid project that involved all spheres of the club, with the purpose of entering the fight, to snatch a part of the cake from the greats.
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He fought that Cup against Nacional and in 2019 he won the Suramericana. The Ecuadorian journalist Alex Puruncajas from the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio, analyzes it this way: “The project is successful because it has a solid structure for the training of young talents. Until before the pandemic, more than 100 youth lived in the club’s residence who received education, food and football training. From there they jump to First. The club exports them and obtains economic revenues to sustain itself. It works because the club has no pressure to win titles. That formula would not give results in Liga de Quito or Barcelona ”, he says.
Everyone dreams of the Copa Libertadores, but it is not under the pillow. You need to have the resources, or a sports project so solid that it allows you to challenge economic power.
Editor of EL TIEMPO
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