José Pekerman

Colombian national team coach José Pekerman

Everywhere José Pekerman stopped he was a winner. Multiple World Cup winner at the youth level as well as winner in Mexican football helped his portfolio.

His brief time as coach of the Argentine senior side ended up mired in controversy because of the way he mismanaged the quarterfinal clash against Germany where he left a 19-year-old Lionel Messi on the bench and used a slower José Cruz as well as Estebán Cambiasso to hold the middle.

Although the best job of his coaching career could be the one he is currently doing with the Colombian national team. This is why Uruguayan daily El País awarded him as the Best Coach in South America.

Colombian footballers are known for their technical skills. The problem was their discipline. In football circles around the world, they knew that Colombian players had the potential to get to a World Cup. They were just lacking the proper guidance and a coach to help bring back the identity they lost years ago.

As a fan, I was ecstatic to hear that the Colombian Federation were going to begin talks with the former Toluca and Argentine national team coach. At the same time I was kind of mad at him for bumping my sister-in-law off her flight in order to fly into Miami to speak to Magic City “frequenteur” (got dibs on that word) Luis Bedoya. But in the end,that is all forgiven because he was able to do things the only way the national team had to have them done- differently.

Saw The Game Differently

From an X’s and O’s standpoint he didn’t make any drastic changes, per se. He just adapted to what he had available and to how the opposition played. There were matches where he played with both Radamel Falcao García up top partnered up with Teo Gutiérrez. There were times he had MacNelly Torres behind them or coming from the right, there were others when he would have four midfielders in line with James (don’t call me Jaymes) Rodríguez on the left wing and Fluminense’s Edwin Valencia on the right as well.

What Pekerman saw was to not just get Falcao the ball, which was something that previous coaches failed to do both with the Santa Marta native as well as with Juan Pablo Ángel before him. Pekerman saw that there was a need to make the others protagonists with the ball and open the game up for one of the most dominant goalscorers in world football right now.

He had to make them protagonists by finding how to tailor movement closer to goal and give Falcao more than just a rare deep ball pumped out of the middle of the pitch where he faced three defenders. Falcao also was given a bit more mobility. There were other tweaks he made but there was one that set the team apart.

Pekerman knew when to make his substitutions and his timing for them was impeccable. His substitutions in matches against Chile and Paraguay changed the dynamic offensively and helped Colombia get out of a rut.  Against Chile, brining James Rodríguez to the middle helped open options up for Falcao up top, meanwhile having Aldo Leao Ramirez come in during the second half helped Colombia finally vanquish Paraguay.

Changed The Culture

One thing that changed about Colombian football is that the squad had confidence once again. Under the previous regimes, the game was the same and the players still had the same limitations. The avenues were closed for many and

One example that changed the mold was that of Carlos Valdés of the Philadelphia Union. That sounds like something very minor, but in reality it was a step in a positive direction for many players abroad. For the greater part of a decade, a Colombian player going to MLS meant that they were taking the stability that the league offers and sacrificed any chance to be considered for the national team.

Hernán Darío Gómez, who was coach of the national team on three occasions, always said that he would “callup any player that was in good form”. Yet he never called up an MLS-based player. Not even players like Juan Pablo Ángel or Fredy Montero, who happened to be in great form during his last tenure before unceremoniously resigning. Bolillo’s assistant, Leonel Álvarez, would be sacked in scandalous fashion after only three matches at the helm.

There were some stumbles along the way.  Pekerman was on the edge of being sacked after losing to Ecuador in Quito.  There were also rumblings in the domestic press stating that Pekerman’s son-in-law, who is an agent, was snooping around in the federation’s decision making processes as well as in the logistical plans.

Pekerman brought an organized plan. He brought a work schedule and logistics that lacked for years in all of the ranks at the national level.

Pekerman quashed all those rumors in a very heated press conference prior to the huge match against Uruguay in Barranquilla. Then his team was then able to quash any doubters with a 4-0 drubbing of the reigning South American champs. That was the turning point. From that point on they became a different team. There was a swagger from days of old that reappeared, although there was also that grounding influence of Pekerman that did not allow them to fly off the handle. This is where this team started to become the team that many thought they could become.

Am I saying Colombia are contenders for the World Cup? I learned to not buy that bill of goods over 18 years ago. Just like they weren’t “world champions” as Pelé called them back then, they are not contenders today. There is still a long way to go. Ten points to be exact. The World Cup hasn’t been closer for Colombia, but it just as far away as it has been the past 14 years.

So much for those that said that the national team did not need a foreign coach.

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