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El Bolso revisits Nacional’s offseason moves to see what went down.

Hello again futbol fans! The last time around, I told you all about Nacional’s offseason plans . The preseason is about to kick off, so I thought I’d check in again and let you know what actually happened. A lot of faces are no longer around, and some new ones have arrived. Let’s see what the team looks like for this upcoming season.

Out With the Old

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We still love you, Loco. Just… stop talking.
Credit: By Jimmy Baikovicious (Creative Commons License)http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4b/FIFA_World_Cup_2010_Uruguay_Ghana2.jpg

 

Some departures happened as expected.  Adrián Luna, Matías Sosa, Juan Curbelo and Juan Albín didn’t make themselves useful during coach Arruabarrena’s first few months, and so they are gone. Hector Nuñez and Adrián Romero, as expected, are also out as Arruabarrena looks to mold the team in his image. Efraín Cortes found greener pastures in Mexico. Gonzalo Bueno is still technically with the team, although he is rumored to be moving on to Russia, Italy, or England in the next few days. Alejandro Lembo is also out, told by telegram (apparently, it’s still the 1930s in Uruguay) not to show up to the first day of informal training. He has instead retired and accepted a spot on Arruabarrena’s coaching staff. Santiago Romero, the young midfielder, is also gone, but only on loan to a Chilean team so that he can get some meaningful playing time. Backup keeper Leonardo Burián is still with the team, although starter Jorge Bava is back (after some back and forth about his contract and offers from abroad). It looks like yet another year as backup for the 29 year old.

Vicente Sánchez is gone as well. Nacional tried to retain him at a reduced salary after the coach specifically requested him, but he insisted on Nacional paying him what they owed him from last season’s wages before signing (the nerve!), so he’s moved on to the Colorado Rapids. Diego Scotti, another player the team tried to keep at lower cost, agreed on a new contract and will be leading the defense.

Iván Alonso is staying. Nacional’s top goal scoring threat was expected to receive interest from abroad, and he did, although the source was unexpected: Jorge Da Silva, who won the national title with Peñarol and promptly high-tailed it out of town (he’s the third straight coach to do that, after Nacional’s Juan Ramón Carrasco and Marcelo Gallardo). As soon as he got to the cradle of civilization, he sent for Alonso and Israel Damonte, which some interpreted as an attempt to make up for his abandonment of Peñarol by taking away two of Nacional’s best players. Damonte stayed (put for the time being), and Alonso, after a failed attempt to prolong his contract, is here for at least 6 more months. Word is the two sides are still talking about keeping him here longer.

Damonte, the team’s best midfielder, was keen on staying and was a part of the entire preseason. He broke his nose in one friendly and refused to have surgery on it so that he wouldn’t miss too much time. However, he was under contract for only 6 months, so when his first professional club, Estudiantes de La Plata came calling, he asked the team to extend him for an additional 6 months, so that he would be able to see the entire season through. That was not in the budget, so he tearfully said goodbye and is now in Argentina.

Then we have Sebastián Abreu and Alexander Medina, the crazy man and the Indian chief. Told by the coach that they would not be considered for the squad (actually he said they would be his 5th and 6th options on offense) they stuck around and worked out with the club. Abreu is peeved that his triumphant return was anything but, so he asked to stay to answer his critics, of which there are many. He spoke to the press about being willing to “eat shit” if that’s what it took, putting even more pressure on Arruabarrena for the upcoming season. No one was happy with him, but he was called up to the main preseason squad after the club President intervened. The coach remained firm in his intention not to use him, so he finally was loaned to Argentine Second Division powerhouse Rosario Central. He said he was leaving but would come back in a year “when there was a better environment in the club,” a clear threat against the Arruabarrena’s continuity. As for Medina, he is old and busted, so he has nowhere else to go. He was called up at the same time as Abreu because “it wouldn’t be fair to take one and not the other” (seriously, that was the official reason), but isn’t expected to play at all.

The Holdovers

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Recoba in happier times, getting ready to dash Peñarol’s dreams. Can he do it again?
Credit: By Jimmy Baikovicious (Creative Commons License)http://www.flickr.com/photos/jikatu/7237894950/

 

Other than the players mentioned above, who’s staying? El Chino, for one. Over the last two seasons, Recoba has proven that he’s willing to do what the team needs him to do and keep his mouth shut, so he’s here. The midfield is pretty solid even with Damonte gone, as Arismendi and Calzada are both excellent players. Bava is back in goal. Juan Manuel Diaz looks to have won a spot in the new defensive alignment, and Pablo Alvarez, while not assured a starting spot, will make the squad as well.

Other than Romero, the young ones are all here, although there are only so many spots on the roster. Some will make it, some will spend some time on the reserve team, and some will join Romero out on loan. Right now there’s little indication as to who will end up in which role. Dorrego and de Pena have been logging heavy minutes in preseason games. César has been playing on the first team for over a year, but he’s recovering from a broken toe that kept him out of the U20 World Cup, so we’ll see about him. Cavallini and Juan Cruz Mascia are viable options up front, although the latter is recovering from a preseason knee injury. Pereiro is a special case: Nacional is still looking to fill his position, so he may end up benefitting if the negotiations don’t pan out. Arruabarrena has already said he feels comfortable using him if nothing else materializes.

In with… the Slightly Less Old (also Some New Guys)

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The Kangaroo is no stranger to leaping to the top of the scoring tables… huh? Huh?
Credit: By jikatu (Creative Commons License)http://www.flickr.com/photos/jikatu/7237932196/

 

So let’s get to the sexy part: the new faces. Arruabarrena made restructuring the defense a priority, which makes sense to anyone who watched Nacional depend entirely on Cortes’s speed and Bava’s hands to avoid embarrassment. Guillermo de los Santos, who had a strong season at Cerro, was signed after a brief struggle with Peñarol. Caue Fernándes, the stalwart behind humble El Tanque Sisley’s shocking season (which ended with a spot in the Copa Sudamericana) followed. With these two players and Díaz, Arruabarrena had hoped to switch from four defenders to a three man line, although he seems to have switched back after a disastrous preseason. Ignacio Fideleff, a strong Argentinian defender who belongs to French club Monaco but has been playing in Israel, had completed the back line refurbishment, but a last-minute disagreement over who would get what when he was eventually sold ended that possibility. There have been rumors about either Diego Polenta, who made a name for himself in Uruguay’s youth national teams and as part of the 2010 Olympic squad, or club product Alexis Rolín coming over on loan to fill the gap. Polenta has the inside track, but two weeks away from the start of the local season nothing has been confirmed.

As we discussed, the midfield is already set, but when Alvaro “el Flaco” (Skinny) Fernández (who used his previous stint on the team as a springboard to the national team and was part of the 2010 World Cup fourth place squad) became available, they couldn’t say no. Flaco has been wowing MLS over the past couple of years, so he looks to be a great addition to an already strong group.

Up front the names are familiar: Richard Porta and Santiago “el Morro” García. Both have had highly successful runs on the team before, and both are dealing with adverse situations that make a return palatable: Porta had trouble adjusting to life in the Middle East, while García has spent the past couple of years floundering in the Brazilian and Turkish leagues and being an all-around shithead. Both are still relatively young and know the local league well, and they will join Alonso and the young ones up front.

Other than the defense, the biggest problem for the team going into this offseason was trying to find a playmaker to feed the ball to its many talented forwards. That was supposed to be Albín, but we all know how that turned out. With the Great Complainer gone, Nacional desperately needed someone to make its offense run smoothly. Many names were thrown around, mostly foreign players; at one point the team was waiting for elections at Quilmes, a first division Argentine club, to see if the winning President was willing to part with one of their veterans. Pereiro took most of the reps with the preseason squad but looked outmatched and in need of more seasoning. Finally, a few days ago, Arruabarrena checked under the offseason Christmas tree and found Ignacio González. “Nacho” has a proven track record in Europe and with the national team, and at 31 he’s still young enough to matter. He’s never been my favorite player (he tends to disappear against top competition and he’s been standing in Nicolás Lodeiro’s way, both cardinal sins in my book), but if he’s motivated and healthy he is a yooge upgrade over anything else Nacional can muster at his position. He’s signed for two years and will join the team this week.

What Now?

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“Who Shot Arruabarrena?” may not have the same ring to it, but we’re definitely headed for soap opera territory.
Credit: By jean_pierre_gallot_69009 (Creative Commons License)http://www.flickr.com/photos/jean_pierre_gallot_69009/8213669318/

 

Arruabarrena has his team. There may still be one more signing in defense (Polenta most likely); other than that, however, the squad is set. Most players were able to participate in the full preseason camp, which is unheard of in this day and age, so here’s hoping that the coach can mold the team into a successful group. However, results so far have been bad (blowout losses and a complete lack of identity on the pitch), plus the coach’s methods have bothered many veterans like Abreu and, more importantly, others who are still expected to play. A strong start is crucial, because he will probably not survive a slow one. If the team doesn’t win its first couple of games, look for the executive committee to tap Gerardo Pelusso, a former coach who had great success at Nacional a few years ago. Pelusso won a national title and reached the semifinals of the Libertadores, the only coach to have done so in the last 25 years. He was thought to be in the mix for the Nacional job last year, but took the top spot with the Paraguayan national team. Having been fired from that, he’s been laying low at his farm; some interpret his lack of activity as a sign that he expects the Nacional job to be open sooner rather than later.

Nacional has only the local tournament to play for between now and December, so this is a great opportunity to win the first half so that international competition can be prioritized during the second semester. Hopefully the talent will outshine the drama.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: After a solid week of Polenta and Rolín rumors, Nacional have signed 26-year-old Paraguayan international Ismael Banegas to round up the defense. The official announcement was the first time anyone has linked the player to Nacional at all. Also, Alonso has signed an extension through 2015, which unlike his previous contract does not contain an escape clause in case of a better offer abroad.

Featured Image courtesy of: Wikipedia (Public Domain)http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GranParqueCentralafuera.JPG

El Bolso

About El Bolso

El Bolso is Uruguay’s foremost soccer-fan-in-exile, a true authority on the Celeste and its favored son, the Club Nacional de Football. He believes in precision passing, tireless marking, and strong finishing, and is not above the occasional slide tackle from behind when the situation calls for it.

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