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Hello fans! It’s El Bolso here with another edition of the Charrúa Report. Today I want to preview how the offseason might shape Nacional’s roster heading into the second half of the season, but first let’s get a few things out of the way:


Yes, finally, the drought is officially over. After a couple of months spent learning his way around a new system and feeding easy goals to his teammates (with notably mixed resultsLuis Suárez has finally scored his first La Liga goal, the second in a 5-0 Saturday drubbing of Córdoba. The pretty touch through the keeper’s legs helped Barcelona recover from a disappointing 0-0 tie last weekend against Getafe that was orchestrated by another young Celeste talent, Emiliano Velázquez. The 20-year-old defender was everywhere, helping to shut down the potent Barcelona attack, and followed that up this weekend by scoring the tying goal against Granada. Velázquez is on loan from Atlético Madrid, who are evidently trying to corner the market on top Uruguayan defenders. It’s a good thing he’s waiting in the wings, since José Giménez and Diego Godín are doing their best to put each other in the hospital. Godín’s broken nose is unfortunate and may sideline him for a bit, but when you try to break someone’s leg during warmup exercises you have to expect some sort of payback.


In other European news, Edinson Cavani was at it again during the week, putting in the opener in a 3-1 French Cup win against Ajaccio, but this weekend he was booed as he was leaving the pitch in a scoreless tie against Montepelier that dropped PSG out of first place going into the winter break. Sure, he’s scored more than half of the team’s Champions League goals this season and is in the top 10 Ligue 1 scoring table, but what have you done for me lately, Edinson? I love a good bit of Cavani hate as much as anyone, but come on!


As far as next year’s Libertadores Cup is concerned, Nacional’s playoff rival is all set, as Deportivo Palestino (that would be a club founded by Palestinian immigrants) beat Santiago Wanderers 9-2 on aggregate to grab the Chile 3 spot in the tournament. In Argentina, meanwhile, Boca Juniors and Velez Sarsfield finished in a tie in whatever unnecessarily complicated standings AFA uses to send teams to continental competitions (I think it was because both coaches wore orange to their final league game or something) , so they’ll play a single game on December 28. If Velez wins, they’ll go into group 5 (with the Uruguayan Wanderers and the winner of Nacional’s playoff bracket) and Boca will go to the playoff round; if the Xeneises pull off the victory, they will go into group 5, Estudiantes will climb into a playoff spot, and Velez will stay home. I’ll let you know what happens in next week’s post.


Nacional in 2015


In two months, Nacional could have 10 of these same guys in the starting lineup against Palestino. (Teledoce)
In two months, Nacional could have 10 of these same guys in the starting lineup against Palestino. (Teledoce)


So now that we know who Nacional’s opponents will be, let’s look at what this offseason has in store for the Tricolores. Alvaro Gutiérrez is still the team’s manager, despite getting calls from Spain’s Deportivo La Coruña, or so the press reported a couple of weeks ago (always take anything interesting the Uruguayan press says around this time with a HUGE grain of salt). The coach, who has been in control for 18 official games and won 17 of them, wants to see this season through before exploring other (read: lucrative) options, and that’s great. Nacional took a chance on him 8 months ago, and it’s nice to see him do the same now. Compare that to Racing, where Marcelo Larriera is out after a fantastic semester, and is rumored to be moving over to Defensor, a club that sits 11 points below his former employer, but is much better positioned for the long term (read: they have money to pay people’s salaries).


Let’s start with the back half of the field: the goalie situation is settled, with Gustavo Munúa, the Apertura’s best keeper by far, still going strong as the starter and the experienced Jorge Bava as his backup. Center back Rafael Garcia is moving on (he’s just passed a physical exam for Monarcas Morelia of the Mexican League), but Diego Polenta is staying, and the wings are all set with Santiago Romero (a converted midfielder who was phenomenal in the Apertura) and Luis Espino. The team is looking to add a center defender and has been talking to Matías Malvino (remember him from the Charrúa Report two weeks ago?). There’s a chance that Romero might have to move back to the midfield (more on that later), but if that happens all Nacional has to do is plug in one of two guys who began the season as starters: Jorge Fucile or Juan Manuel Díaz.


The midfield picture is a little murkier. A lot of the team’s success was built on the backs of Diego Arismendi and Gonzalo Porras, and neither is a sure bet to return. Arismendi has been grumbling about the way he was treated by the club’s executives when he returned to Nacional last year (read: they didn’t want to pay him European-level wages), and he’s said he may not come back. This is clearly a ploy for more money, but given Nacional’s recent policy of avoiding albatross contracts, it may not work and Arismendi may find himself elsewhere come the new year. Porras was linked to Argentinian side Newell’s Old Boys a few weeks ago, although that may be a false rumor. My guess is both will end up staying, which is good because their natural replacement, Maximiliano Calzada, has reached that point in every Uruguayan footballer’s career where it makes sense to go abroad and earn some serious coin, and Nacional will likely not stand in his way. By allowing Calzada to leave, the team generates goodwill among the players, shows up-and-coming talents that staying put for an extra year or two will be rewarded, and pockets significant transfer fees. So, expect Calzada to leave, and the team to do whatever it has to to keep the other two guys, knowing Romero is available to plug a sudden hole. There’s also Ribair Rodríguez, a 27-year-old former Danubio stalwart with a distinguished career throughout Argentina, Italy and Mexico. Rodríguez has apparently expressed interest in joining the Tricolores, and may be another option if a fill-in is needed. Personally, I’d love to see Arismendi and Porras back doing what they did over the past 6 months.


Up front most of the usual suspects will return: Apertura scoring champion Iván Alonso is back, and so is Alvaro Recoba, and really, what the hell else do they need? What, you say you need more? How about if we add speedy Carlos De Pena, plus Gastón Pereiro and Gastón Pereiro’s ridiculous Recoba tattoo? They’re all coming back, too. Oh, is that not enough either? OK, what if they bring 21-year-old Gonzalo Bueno back from Russia on a six month loan? According to the player he might finalize his transfer before Christmas Day (UPDATE: the press is reporting that Bueno’s transfer is a done deal. Merry Christmas Nacional!). Young promise Leandro Barcia is also around, although he may be loaned out if the team manages to resign Henry Giménez (negotiations are ongoing). The team is so set at forward they’ve already loaned Juan Cruz Mascia to Wanderers for the semester, and he’s only one of the stars of the national team generation that reached back to back Youth World Cup finals in 2011 (U17) and 2013 (U20). They don’t need him, and they’d rather he play for one of their main rivals than sit on the bench for 6 months. They also told club idol Sebastián “El Loco” Abreu thanks, but no thanks when he all but threw himself at the team last month.


So will Nacional put together a strong enough team to build on their Apertura campaign and make some noise in the Libertadores? They’re looking like a good bet to keep the team’s nucleus together and avoid unnecessary distractions (you know I love El Loco like a play cousin, but he’s not known as a person who is easy to get along with, especially when he’s riding the bench). Still, it’s early in the offseason and the reality of the Uruguayan League is that anyone can swoop in and steal just about any player at any time, so we’ll see who’s left wearing the glorious Tricolor once the smoke clears. Still, it’s nice to go into a transfer period actually expecting to keep most of your team around for a change.


As the Manya Turns


PSYCH!!! (La Diaria)
PSYCH!!! (La Diaria)


Remember last week when I told you all about Peñarol politics, as Juan Pedro Damiani was elected to a third consecutive term as team President? Well friends, it has been a most interesting week over in Manya-land as the shenanigans continue. With the election out of the way, Damiani looked to follow through on his promise to return close friend Diego Aguirre to the coach’s office. Aguirre met with Damiani and members of the newly-elected council several times to hammer out an agreement, but when members of the opposition (remember, Damiani won the election but not a council majority) balked at giving Aguirre full control over operations (Damiani had promised him a coach/GM dual role), things took a turn for the worse. By Sunday night, Aguirre was calling Damiani to pull his name from consideration, and on Monday morning he was announced as the coach of Internacional de Porto Alegre of the top Brazilian division. he also found some time to call a radio sports talk show and rant about not being received “with open arms” and how the opposition had tried to use his signing to play politics. He told the host that he had only agreed to take the job because of loyalty to Damiani, his love for the team and its fans, and his desire to stay close to his family, and that he had told team executives “no me jodan que me voy” (if you fuck with me I will leave). By the afternoon Damiani had announced former team star Pablo Bengoechea (who just got handed his walking papers by the Peruvian national team after months of widespread fan protests against him) as the new coach.


So what did El Bolso think on Monday morning when he checked his favorite Uruguayan sports media sites and found out Aguirre had dropped the bomb? Well, after the initial bellowing laughter and “holy crap thank the lord that’s not my team” euphoria I got to thinking about this whole situation, and in my opinion it stinks to high heaven. When Fossati was fired after the 2-1 loss to Nacional, Aguirre was the odds-on favorite to take over after the Apertura ended, but he deflected the rumors by saying it wasn’t the right time. He then made a big show of staying out of the way until after the elections, but he kept dropping little nuggets in the local press like “I don’t want to interfere with club politics, but I just don’t see Peñarol without Damiani” and “I’ll take over as coach, but only if Damiani wins.” So Damiani won, and now Aguirre had to follow through with his promise of taking on this train wreck of a team in the face of more lucrative offers abroad. So when the negotiations started, he (allegedly) took a hard line on having full control over personnel matters. The opposition, still hurting from their failure to unseat Damiani but wielding the power of a combined majority, questioned whether handing all power over to one man was wise (I mean, if Mourinho can’t make it work, who can?). And that’s where it all broke down. Aguirre told his agent to negotiate a deal with Internacional and he was out the door, pausing only to take one last shot at Damiani’s rivals (“if Juan Pedro had a majority this deal would have gotten done”).


This is just my opinion, but I think this went down exactly how Aguirre and Damiani drew it up. Aguirre’s pledge to take over bolstered Damiani’s position at a critical time, and the opposition’s insistence on building checks and balances into the team’s leadership structure (imagine the nerve!) gave Aguirre the excuse he needed to take the money and run. Look, I get that the team’s situation is not an attractive one for a new coach to take over, and that there are a lot of veteran players on this squad that would not necessarily have bought into Aguirre’s system (or hate him outright). And there’s no comparing the resources he will have at Internacional with what he would have to deal with at Peñarol. However, if he didn’t think this was the best move at this time, he should have had the decency to say so up front rather than playing kingmaker for his buddy. Still, Damiani got what he wanted, and so did Aguirre. Even the opposition benefited from this, because it gives credence to their “Damiani is a bumbling, corrupt fool” narrative. The only losers in this are the Peñarol fans, although the longer they put up with these shenanigans the harder it is to feel bad for them; at some point you have to take responsibility for your poor electoral decision-making, people. The other big loser in all this is Bengoechea: for all we know he will turn out to be a great coach, and this is a decent spot after the Peruvian disaster, but bringing him in like this, as an emergency replacement for someone else, is not the way to empower him as he embarks on a difficult journey. Not being Aguirre will be a plus in the early going, but as soon as the team stumbles on the field fans will remember that he was no one’s chosen one.


And who is the biggest winner of all? El Bolso, who doesn’t have to root for this freak show.


And that’s all for this week. I’ll have a special treat for you next time. See you then!

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.