Montevideo, Uruguay. Home for the foreseeable future as I begin to settle and begin to plan out my future at Montevideo City Torque. The goal was simple; win the Torneo Uruguayo Copa Coca-Cola and the Copa Bridgestone Libertadores. But therein lacked the simplicity. An Uruguayan side has not won the tournament since 1988 when Nacional defeated Newell’s Old Boys.

We would be looking to Paraguayan, Ecuadorian and Colombian inspiration as Olimpia, Liga de Quito and Atlético Nacional have all lifted the cup in 2002, 2008 and 2016 respectively. Since then, the competition has been dominated by the Argentinian and Brazilian sides. It would be no easy feat, but I back my abilities to do wonders with Montevideo City Torque, as long as I was given time.

Just a year contract for the time being, which means I need to hit the ground running after Lucas Nardi led the side to a Second round-qualifying knockout in the Libertadores, the Quarter-Finals of the Uruguayan Copa Auf Uruguay Cup and a 4th placed finish in the league itself, falling short by 17 points of champions Nacional.

Nacional will certainly be difficult to knock off their perch, but as long as I can begin to close the gap and show that I am the man to take this club to the next level, then I am off to a solid start.

Our initial goals this season are challenging, to say the least, but not impossible. The board want to finish in the top three places; Montevideo City Torque finished 8 points behind Peñarol meaning dropped points need to be capitalised as and when they present themselves. Proper participation is required in the Copa Libertadores, and with three knockout rounds to navigate through prior to the Group Stage, we needed to get to work right away.

However, the one group that is going to be tough to win over, are the fans themselves. With high influence on the board, one wrong move could spiral into disaster before any momentum begins to build. They share the same values and beliefs as the board; the side is good enough to be classed as one of the top three in Uruguay. I best get to work and start to improve this squad to make that a reality.

I was immediately met with confrontation on my first day. Both Rocco and Lemus approached me advising that they wanted to move on, and move on now. Both players were classed as the best at the club and would be difficult to replace, but I couldn’t risk losing the dressing room this early on. Pablo Gómez has not approached me as of yet, but he would be deemed the third-best player in the squad. Unfortunately, Sassuolo is keeping tabs on him, and I know a move to Italy will turn his head eventually.

With £207K in transfer fees to spend, and £8K in wages, I immediately got to work on trying to improve this squad.

Da Silva arrives to shore up the gap between defence and midfield, as we struck a deal worth £96K with Atlético Goianiense for the 21-year-old. Age is on his side, and I know he will only get better with first-team exposure. A great enforcer to welcome into the side, and a potential CB cover should we ever need it. Ignacio Chicco arrives for £5.5K to replace Lemus as the number one here in Montevideo, and at the prime age of 31, I don’t feel as though we could get much better at this time of the year. He joins on a two-year deal from Bahia and certainly adds a wealth of experience.

After losing Rocco and Lemus already, we were dealt the trio of blows with the loss of Gómez to Watford following the activation of his release clause. With the window slamming shut in a couple of days, options were limited, but Facundo Miño was available on a free transfer following his release from Club Almirante Brown in Argentina. This signing was boosted by the announcement of Luis Jiménez, who turned down Nacional to sign a deal with Montevideo City Torque. The former Amèrica de Cali, Fortaleza, Patriotas and Sarmiento full-back joins up as the ideal replacement for Rocco.

In the midst of signing players, we had the luxury of living through our three qualifying round draws for the Copa Libertadores.

Not the easiest of routes to the tournament itself, especially with Colombian and Argentinian teams thrown into the mix. But with only 10 days to our opening game, it was time to get our skates on and get down to business.

Copa Libertadores Qualifying

Our qualifying campaign nearly got off to the worst possible start as we struggled at home to Peruvian side Foot Ball Club Melgar. A poor performance was followed up with a skin-of-our-teeth performance in Peru, but after 3 games with the side, I was delighted that we accomplished the task at hand and avoided an embarrassing early exit.

We then faced off with the Colombian side América de Cali, with a superb away performance following up on a hard-fought home victory; signs that perhaps my philosophy of football is making sense to the players.

With two rounds done and dusted, we had to travel over to Argentina for a place in the Group Stages. Standing in our way? Club Atlético Huracán. The Argentinians finished 6th in the Liga Profesional de Fútbol last season, and I knew it was going to be a tough ask of the players to overcome our opposition. An end-to-end game in Argentina ended 3-2 for the hosts, and whilst it was a defeat, it was certainly a promising result to bring back to Montevideo. With no away goals, we only had to turn round a one-goal deficit, which we achieved superbly with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Huracán.

The promised lands of the Libertadores were coming to the Estadio Centenario. A huge day for the club, and I could test myself against the best that South America has to offer. We have got a difficult draw, but this is the test that moulds players. Alianza Lima represented Peru, Barcelona S.C. represented Ecuador and finally, Corinthians represented Brazil.

A challenge that I relish.

Copa Libertadores Group Stage

The Libertadores scheduling was not kind to Montevideo City Torque, as we started our campaign with the hardest fixture; Corinthians away. It was a cruel lesson, but one that was required, in showing the quality of the Brazilian clubs within this tournament. I knew that we would find it difficult to match or better the result back in Uruguay, so conceded that we would not be qualifying as group winners. I had to ensure that we did the job against Allianz’s Lima and Barcelona SC.

Initially, I thought this would be a difficult group considering our stature in the game, but it turned out to be the opposite. A massive victory at home over the Ecuadorians was followed up with a huge no-reply win in Peru, meaning we had to do this all over again to ensure passage into the knockouts.

Well, that is exactly what we did, as both sides were brushed past once again in their reverse fixtures, meaning we had one challenge left – Corinthians. Winning this game would mean we would take charge of the group and go through as winners providing we matched the opening result, but it wasn’t to be as we let a winning position slip twice. But still, a promising result in the grand scheme of things, as we know we can put up a fight against Brazilian sides if we show up.

Torneo Uruguayo Copa Coca-Cola – Opening Stage

In the Opening Stage of the league, we certainly held our own for large spells of the 15 games. Recording massive wins over Peñarol and River Plate Montevideo, a big point against Defensor Sporting and a narrow defeat to Nacional, it would look like promising times were en route for the club.

However, it was our inability to defeat the smaller clubs of the country that held us back. Poor defeats to Juventud and Albion were coupled with far-from clinical draws to Liverpool FC and Sud América – unfortunately, these are the games you cannot lose ground in.

May was a very poor month for the club and heightened the fact we don’t have a clinical out-and-out striker. Jorge Núñez was playing as our striker, but in terms of striking ability, he was certainly lacking quality, even if his 23 goals suggest otherwise. At the other end of the pitch, we looked leaky, and it was important that I tried my best to change that habit.

First on the agenda was a striker that was going to be a better fit for the club than Jorge, giving him the opportunity to come off the bench should we be chasing a goal. Everton had a release clause of only £1M, and I felt it would be justified to activate that clause. I am really looking forward to him joining the team as we aim to kick on in the second half of the season. Alongside Everton joining, Martin Suárez will be leaving Nacional to play his football in Montevideo. For an initial £550K, the Uruguayan CB will strengthen the side overall, and help with the league rules; only 3 foreign players can be on the field at any time. Uruguayan quality is hard to find with Nacional and Defensor Sporting sniffing around, and it is well noted I need to be on my toes quick; much like my time in China.

Nicolás Ferreira arrives slightly later than the previous two, we will move to Montevideo at the end of his contract with Wanderers and adds quality to the front line in three positions; either wing or through the middle. Deemed to be injury-prone, Ferreira does seem to struggle with muscular injuries, so he will need to be monitored closely. Bruno Sánchez arrives from Centro Atlético Fénix as an understudy with the possibility of breaking into the first team in the near future. At £85K, I felt he was worth taking a risk as we should be able to cash in on him should things not work out, but age is on his side and his ability is at a good enough standard already. Sebastián Giménez will leave Segunda side Danubio at the end of his contract in July, and join us for free. Another squad player who looks solid defensively, he will certainly be a great option to have around the team if and when we want to shut up shop. Another signing from Nacional, this time in the striking department as we agree on a £925K deal with our rivals for the young striker. Certainly, a promising player to have around the squad, and will add more firepower to a side that looked to be struggling for goals in the late stages of the Opening Stage. Mathías De Rittis arrives solely as cover for the LB position as we look short in numbers there, he costs us only £45K from Centro Atlético Fénix once again.

All players will go straight into the squad for the latter stages of the Copa Libertadores and the Intermedio Group Stage of the league, with the exception being Sánchez, who will be registered for the league only at this time, and continue his development in reserves for the time being.

The Uruguayan league consists of an Opening Stage, Intermedio Stage and Closing Stage. Group winners from the two groups move on to the Intermedio Final, which is due to be played before the Closing Stage commences. Points from the Intermedio stage count towards the overall table. The winners of the Opening and Closing Stages then meet in the Champions Semi-Final, and the overall winner of the league goes straight to the final.

It was always going to be a difficult league group, as there was a good chance of getting at least two of the best teams in Uruguay at the moment. However, we struck lucky as we will need to see off only Nacional if we want to move on to the final. This will be a good test of the squad prior to the Closing Stage, as our Copa Libertadores Second Round is scheduled during the Intermedio.

Speaking of the Copa Libertadores, if we want to go far in the tournament, then we will need to beat what is considered some of the best in South American football. A Second Round tie against Newell’s Old Boys is not an easy tie, but the quality of the opposition increases with each draw as Boca Juniors, Flamengo, Palmeiras or Corinthians could be potential opposition en route to the final.

No pressure eh?

Uruguayan Intermedio

Our campaign during the summer months kicked off, and I knew that performances would be necessary here given the bigger picture of Copa Coca-Cola.

Despite not being as clinical as at the start of our Opening Stage campaign, the squad exceeded expectations with their record of 6-0-1; which included a massive 3-0 victory over Nacional, one of the teams we are fighting for the title.

Danilo González was starting to feel at home, grabbing goals during this run of games, and that was going to be huge for the club going into the latter stages of the Libertadores and eventually the Closing Stage of the league.

With similar form, we would be meeting city rivals in the Intermedio final, the season’s first opportunity for silverware and the upper hand in the mental war waging between ourselves, Nacional and Defensor Sporting for the title.

We were the away side in the final, but I wasn’t going to let that faze us. A hard-fought first half left the sides goalless, but I was certainly the happier of the two managers given the circumstances. River Plate Montevideo was delighted to see that the second half was dragging in with no clear-cut chances for us, but it was in the 64th minute we got the breakthrough from central defender Paolo Bigoni. Rising tallest from a corner, he bulleted a header past the goalkeeper, and we had the important breakthrough.

We then made it two just moments later. Pressure on the River Plate Montevideo defence saw a slack clearance land at the feet of left-back Luis Jiménez, who controlled and rocketed one into the far top corner. A remarkable goal, and a huge one as we double the advantage over our city rivals.

I soon made changes to preserve this 2 goal advantage, and just as we looked to have edged the game out, our rivals hit back with a goal of their own. Substitute Mauro Da Luz capitalised on a loose ball just 14 yards from goal and slotted one into the side netting with 4 minutes to go. A rejuvenated River Plate Montevideo, could we see it out?

My first chance of silverware with my new employers. My first silverware was delivered. A huge boost for the team going into the final stage of the season, and with strong performances during the Intermedio, we take control of the overall table.

Hopefully, this is the first of many.

Copa Libertadores Knockouts

Unfortunately, after a promising Group Stage performance, we did fall short in the Quarter-Finals against a strong Fluminense. An end-to-end match at home against Newell’s Old Boys meant that the tie was not killed off by the time we travelled to Argentina, but a massive performance from the boys got the job done as we scored another big name off our list.

We couldn’t find any answers for how Fluminense set their side up at home, however, and this meant we had it all to do in Brazil. Wagner gave us hope on the stroke of half-time, but where we couldn’t convert chances, the hosts converted one of their few chances to take full control of the tie once again, and edge us out.

Given that the expectation was just to qualify for the Libertadores Group Stage, I was delighted with the marker we put down this season; with the right recruitment I do feel as though we can match our performances this season, maybe even better them.

Copa Uruguay

Unfortunately, our cup run ended in our first appearance in the cup; an away trip to Nacional in the Third Round. Despite a bright start and scoring inside the first 5 minutes, Nacional grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and dominated for the majority of the match. By half-time., we were 2-1 down and didn’t look like we would get back into the match. And that was the case, right up until the 2nd minute added on at the end of the game, where Danilo González resurrected us from the grave. We undeservedly took the game to extra-time, and looked like we were back on top! González grabbed his second of the game with 5 minutes left to play, but it was our turn to be sucker-punched, as Nacional grabbed the equaliser with a minute left to play.

Our luck had dried up by this point, and we lost 5-4 on penalties to the hosts. A disappointing result, but a chance to re-group and move our attention onto the Closing Stage and the league itself.

Torneo Uruguayo Copa Coca-Cola – Closing Stage

Following the disappointing end to the Opening Stage, I wanted to make sure this campaign was going to start off on the right foot, and then pray consistency kicked in.

However, that was not to be.

A shock defeat against Miramar Misiones left us with a lot of chasing to do from the outset. Wins for Defensor and Nacional piled on even more pressure, and we didn’t seem to cope well with that pressure in the month of September as we struggled for goals.

A huge month of October brought us back into the fight for the Closing Stage top spot, as we recorded 3 huge wins and a valuable point at home to Nacional in a game where we under-performed and were fortunate not to lose heavily due to VAR.

Perhaps the biggest month of the year for us, a huge 7 games to make or break our season; including a penultimate game against title rivals Defensor Sporting. With the goals starting to flow back through Jorge Núñez and Danilo González, we were in a good place going into this game, knowing that a win would all but secure the top spot in the Closing Stage due to our significantly better goal difference.

We had to battle for it. It was a war on the park. But a strong end to the game saw us win a penalty with 20 to go, and Pizzichillo, who had missed his last 2, made no mistakes as he rifled this one home. The biggest goal of the season so far. The next goal was going to be important, and thankfully it was for Montevideo City Torque. Bruno Sánchez, the youngster signed during the summer, grabbed only his second goal for the club, latching onto a loose ball and tapping home the winner. He himself had sealed the Closing Stage for us!

The game against Albion was dead-rubber seeing as Defensor Sporting couldn’t make up 12 goals in the one game, but it wouldn’t have mattered as they slumped to a 3-3 draw and we saw out the game 1-0. Qualification secured for the playoffs, a massive change compared to the performances of last season.

Torneo Uruguayo Copa Coca-Cola – Play-offs

The playoff system is a simple format and one that doesn’t require a lot to work out. The winners of the Opening Stage and Closing Stage will meet in effectively a Semi-Final, with the winners progressing to the Final to match off with the winners of the Overall Table.

Should the winner of the “Semi-Final” be the same winners of the Overall Table, then the season is ended at this point.

So in essence, our job was simple. Defeat Opening Stage winners Defensor Sporting, and we would be crowned champions. Lose, and we go into a second match with them to determine the champions of Uruguay.

We only went and did it the hard way! Despite falling behind just before half-time, we re-grouped as a team and blew Defensor away in the opening minute of the second half. Unfortunately for us, we took our foot off the gas and a lapse in concentration saw Defensor take charge of the game once again.

As time ticked by, we were running out of time to find a way back into this game. Thankfully, Pérez was on hand to bundle the ball over the line with more than enough time on the clock to push for a winner, and we were rewarded for our pressure.

Tiago Palacios, filling in at central midfield, latched onto the ball on the edge of the box and powered home an important third goal; we had completed the comeback and were now in charge of the game!

Lower the pace of the game down, breaking up play and time wasting, we were out to do anything to get this job over the line, and upon the referee’s whistle the fans were going nuts.

We had done. I had done it. I managed to take a side falling short of challenging to being the best in the country. We go straight into the Libertadores Group Stages next season, and that is one trophy ticked off in my Uruguayan adventure.

A huge season awaits us in our quest for the Copa Libertadores. Recruitment needs to be spot on but league rules only allowing 3 foreigners on the park makes recruitment difficult. But I have faith in my ability to spot talent, and hopefully we can go further in the tournament next year.

Bring it on.

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