The next time your team goes on a rotten run of form, just remember: there's always someone worse off than you are. Here's Juan Arango.
There’s an old adage that says that “there’s no evil that lasts one hundred years or a body that can endure it.” What better culture to know about this than in Colombia. After almost sixty years of armed conflict there seems to be no end in sight in that particular situation.
On a more scaled-down version of the athletic kind, Primera A outfit Deportivo Pereira are undergoing a suffering that has become unbearable even for the most die-hard Matecaña. From early contenders just a short year ago, they have become a poster child for the worst case scenario of the economic crisis afflicting Colombian football. Their situation is football’s version of a long march down a short cliff and into the abyss of relegation.
Nobody in their right mind would mistake Deportivo Pereira for one of Colombia’s historically big clubs. Their history has not been one littered with success and record-breaking feats. But right now they are in the midst of one of the longest losing streaks ever seen at first division level.
The club looked to have quite an impressive project evolving, with Oscar Quintabani – a retired goalkeeper who started out with River Plate and had a stint at Argentinos Juniors (he was on the bench the day that El Diego made his debut) – at the helm. Quintabani headed for Colombia in 1977 and never return to Argentina. After retiring he took up coaching, and helped Deportivo Pasto to their only national title, in the 2006 Apertura. He would then lead Atlético Nacional to a feat achieved by no other team since the introduction of the Apertura-Clausura season in 2002. The Verdolagas won back-to-back titles in 2007.
His time at Pereira initially saw him find more success, helping his team both avoid relegation as well as securing a spot the playoffs in the 2009 Finalización. The 2010 Apertura looked promising as the team notched up thirteen points in their first eight matches, but then the roof would completely collapse. The team’s economic situation saw players forced to leave, with the team’s performance suffering accordingly. Quintabani would shortly thereafter leave the club due to lack of wage payments, as well as the club's decision to make his salary public in a supposed effort to justify the stalling of three months salary that they owed the players.
Walter Aristizabal returned to the club but was not able to revert the tailspin that they had fallen into. Five matches into his reign and twenty-one into the winless streak he decided to give up and switch to the role of club adviser. This opened the door for rookie coach Einar Angulo – who six months before was still playing for Oscar Quintabani.
Fast forward eleven matches and Angulo still does not know what it feels like to win as a coach. The local press have already called for his head and despite the demands to keep him on by both players and club hierarchy, he is expected to be relieved of his duties in the coming days.
The club’s administration pinned their hopes on a thirty-five-year old Freddy Grisales. That alone is a sign of desperation no matter how you look at it. One of the heroes of the 2001 Copa América victory for Colombia, the former Atlético Nacional idol nevertheless has seen better days – quite a while ago at that. This past weekend he played in his first match for over a year.
March 27th of last year was the last time Deportivo won a league match. The run has reached unprecedented numbers for any club in any league on earth: thirty-three matches and counting. A loss to Independiente Medellín this coming weekend and they will have been winless for over a year. Although you might expect a string of thumpings to litter their record, that is not the case. In this terrible run that have only been outscored 45-26. Nevertheless, the only thing that saved the club from relegation last season was the fact that Cortuluá had a worse average than they did.
To make matters worse their performance on the pitch was compounded by the equivalent of a PR (im)perfect storm during their February 27th match at the Estadio Roberto Melendez against Junior. Panamanian international Luis Moreno was involved in a situation that must have placed him on PETA’s most wanted list after kicking an owl that was injured during the run of play after it was hit by the ball. Moreno apologized for the incident saying he was “trying to get the owl out of the way.” If he was defending his goal, that would have been the same way he would have gotten the ball “out of the way”.
The entire stadium as well as the football world seized upon the news and Moreno instantly became the game’s most hated player. He not only kicked an innocent animal, but he kicked an animal that became the symbol of their opponents. Every time the owl landed in the stadium, Junior would win. That owl became a good luck charm of sorts that helped Junior to their sixth league title, nine months before the unfortunate incident.
Despite all of this doom and gloom, Deportivo are, amazingly, just .051 points adrift of Envigado in the labyrinthine relegation race. In other words, a Pereira win combined with a couple of Envigado losses would see a profound reverse of fortunes. This is definitely an indication of the current situation in Colombian football.
However, their relative close proximity to safety should not disguise the numerous negatives surrounding the club. Tactically, they are a shambles as their defensive shortcomings prevent them from being offensive enough to win a game. Offensively, they are not able to overcome their defensive handicaps. Many observers have compared it to the person sleeping with a short blanket: covering their heads at the sake of uncovering one’s feet and vice versa.
If there is one bit of good news is that they have won matches during this streak, but they have only been in the Copa Colombia, versus Pasto and Tolima. A significant run in that tournament or an even more improbable triumph would have them in a position where they could yet be one of the Colombian qualifiers for the Copa Sudamericana in 2012, which is, when you consider their overall form, mind-boggling.
Somehow watching Pereira play every weekend is equivalent of death by nail clippers. Each match is an experience that takes a little bit out of the team and the end result is sadly unavoidable. Thanks to the relegation system, fans will have to wait until November to find out whether their club will play top-flight football in the future. For the Matecañas, there is no end in sight.
To read more from Juan, visit his website, Simply Futbol, and follow him on Twitter @Simply_Juan.