In nine months, Rafael Dudamel has seen the face of victory and also that of defeat. That of the champion of the Colombian League in December and that of the coach who now had to watch the finals in June from the outside, regardless of any protagonism.
One coup brought a new one: the final of the Super League, the Copa Colombia, the League and the Libertadores. But the ball knows how to give revenge. Opportunities, Dudamel prefers to tell him, who with deep sorrow resigned from continuing to direct Deportivo Cali, the team that fills his whole heart, but the players and the permanent illusion of a coach who never lowers his eyes prevented this from happening.
A few days ago, the Venezuelan helmsman began the preseason with the sugar team, with the challenges of overcoming the Peruvian Melgar in the round of 16 of the South American Cup and making a League that in the second half erases the misfortune of the first. “A new cycle”, says the ‘teacher’. “Perhaps the most important,” he remarks.
Last Friday, sitting on a bench in one of the fields at the Cali sports headquarters in Pance, Dudamel attended El País. He spoke of defeat. Of the financial crisis. Of the efforts De Mera and Didier. From what Ortega said. And from Dayro, Dayro Moreno.
What lessons remained from the first semester?
For one to reinvent oneself and rethink the path ahead, it will always be necessary to look back, to have self-criticism and to know what we can do better. What we have experienced in Cali has happened at very fast speeds, arriving, winning the title… but there are no excuses. Emotionally we were not at the level of the demands. If to win the title we went over everyone because we were very strong, it must also be said that emotionally we were very vulnerable in this first half of the year. That has strengthened us and we understand that for the future there is no other option but to return to the path of victory.
One of the drawbacks was the departure of key players who were not properly replaced. Will there be good reinforcements for this second semester?
Managing under the financial panorama of the club, which everyone knows, is not easy, because Deportivo Cali has been built under an image of ease, high salaries, which is far from what our reality is today. A reality in which one must be responsible. You don’t have to pawn the club and I don’t want to be an accomplice in that, forcing the arrival of long-distance and expensive footballers. We have a generation of young and talented players that you have to know how to surround. We have good goalkeepers, in defense the arrival of Germán Mera has been managed, a youth squad with great experience and hierarchy who is glad to see him work because of the sense of belonging he has. Last semester we lacked depth, replacement, and perhaps in the midfield area, at the ends, we can add a piece to find the levels of intensity that characterize us.
Cali suffered from a scorer this semester, after the departure of Hárold Preciado, and that weighed on him. It is said that Dayro Moreno would arrive…
In the field of speculation I prefer not to join. I’m talking about Germán Mera because he already works with us, and Dídier Delgado, but when it comes to possibilities I can’t be irresponsible and raise expectations. We must wait for the precise and prudent moments to talk about hiring. We have good elements up front, Lucumí, Ángelo, a Vuletich who has a contract with the club, but, as I have discussed with him personally, he will not be one of the first options for the coaching staff this semester.
But beyond speculation, do you like the name of Dayro?
It will be attractive to every coach to have a man who has been a league scorer seven times. His experience can be useful to those who are growing up, but let’s hope that the days go by, and if he arrives, we will have many things to consider in terms of objectives, his role within a team that is very healthy and united.
The same thing happens when ‘Teo’ arrived, it was said that indiscipline problems could affect the group, and nothing abnormal happened. Is there that fear with Dayro?
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Everyone in life has made mistakes at some point, but the ball keeps rolling and opportunities keep coming. And Dayro has been able to recognize in his moments what he has had to live and, above all, win new opportunities. Today he is finishing top scorer in the League and that is not easy in such demanding and competitive football. If this possibility materializes, Dayro would be a great value for Cali. He is in the last years of his career and he will want to end his time in football with a good image. ‘Teo’ has done it that way, playing at the highest level in the last few years of his career and being an example. Anyone who wants to join an exemplary line will always be welcome to us.
Kevin Salazar also arrived…
It is a prospect that the leaders of Cali have been following for some time. He is a talented boy who comes from playing in B and will require a different job to reach the levels of the First Division and, above all, in Deportivo Cali.
Speaking of young talent, the work of Congo and Camargo in Libertadores was surprising…
They gave the team stability in the middle of the pitch. It was those two pieces that emerged in the last quarter of the League and earned a position for the work they had been doing, for their ambition and their personality. They are 20 and 22 years old and they look like players of more than a hundred games in the First Division, and that is something innate, how to win opportunities and take advantage of them.
You resigned due to poor results, but in the end you didn’t leave. What stopped it?
My illusion, my desire to continue giving to the club that has given me so much. A second semester or a third phase of this cycle that I am living is coming, which I think will be the most transcendental. Winning, losing, sportingly redirecting the threads of the club, that what we do on the field helps the team get out of the financial crisis, with the sale of players or with lockers, but that sportingly Cali, which is what corresponds to me to me, be where you have to be. Financially, the leaders will be in charge and they will develop their own strategies. But the day I’m gone, I want a new cycle of my life to begin having left Cali in a privileged place.
On June 29, Deportivo Cali will face Melgar in the round of 16 of the Suramericana, which is led by Néstor Lorenzo, the new coach of the Colombian National Team, and the Argentine will not want to make a fool of himself. How do you analyze this game?
It will be a nice commitment for our squad, which will be led by the coach of the Colombian National Team. What a great time for them to make themselves known. We have many players who, due to their ability, can be part of the National Team in their different categories, and for me it will be important because it is about facing a team that left out Racing from Argentina, River Plate from Uruguay, a Brazilian team, and that speaks very well of Melgar’s level. If we intend to go to the quarterfinals, we must be very serious and respectful, and have a high level against Melgar.
Do you assume the South American as a revenge?
I will always consider what I experienced in the Libertadores as very good, we competed against powers with a much higher purchasing power than ours and that helped us to realize that we can compete against great South American clubs that have champions of the continent, of the world, and We were not below par. More than a rematch, it is an opportunity to continue beating life.
Are you worried about the financial situation of Cali?
No. I worry about sports, for financial matters there are the president and the committee. The current financial situation of the team does not correspond to Dudamel’s management, it comes from many years ago.
Michael Ortega left the team and said he felt betrayed by you. What does he reply?
I, for all the players who were part of the 2021 champion squad, will forever have words of gratitude and in my heart they were marked for life, the life that continues and in which you have to be constantly revalidating the achievements. I wish Michael Ortega the best in his career. This is not the ‘friends of Dudamel football club’ team, this is Deportivo Cali, a professional team from the First Division of Colombian football, where I have to work with players at maximum performance. The soccer player is not hired to evaluate the work of the coach. The soccer player is hired to perform at the highest level. From there, many times we get the word gratitude wrong, because we footballers and coaches give to the club, but how much does the club give to us! Respectable what Michael feels and says, I remain with the affection and eternal gratitude to the champion squad. And I keep everything that he and I, as professionals and as men, talk about face to face.