mercoledì 1 agosto 2012

How Maturana changed football

A country with a small population that had never previously produced anything but  a victory in 1946 Central American Cup and in 1970 and a qualification to the 1962 World Cup. It was Colombia. Things changed in the latest '80s, when Colombian Federation brought on the most important component of its road to the glory days. Francisco Maturana was a former player that had a good success as football player for Atletico Medellin, Deportes Tolima and Atlético Bucaramanga. The first experience as head coach for "Paco", who had retired as a player in 1983 and was exercising his profession as a dentist in Medellin, was with Once Caldas. Linked to what was always his philosophy and way of watching football Maturana, in just six months, gave the team his football idendity. The touch of the ball and the respect for it was the priority such as a 4-men defensive line and zonal marking. Then, he lead Atletico Nacional to win a Copa Libertadores, the first one for a Colombian club. Important to note that the roster of Atletico Medellin was a kind of youth team of the future National Team, having Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon, Faustino Asprilla and Mauricio Serna among others. They played a brend of football based on defensive strength and great technique in midfield and attack. The 'Alviverde' squad commanded by Francisco Maturana gave football names like Rene Higuita, Andres Escobar, Luis Herrera, Luis Carlos Perea, Leonel Alvarez, Victor Marulanda, Albeiro Usuriaga, John Trellez and Victor Hugo Aristizábal. Then, Maturana will head Colombia National Team from 1987 to 1994, and later between 2001 and 2003. In 1990 Colombia get its  bert for their first World Cup since Chile 1962 after winning in Barranquilla 1–0, and tying in Israel 0–0. Maturana marked that experience and his career with a futuristic 4-2-2-2 pattern that drawn the attention of a lot of coaches around the world. It was a flexible system that made Colombia able to switch from a 4-4-2 in defence to a 4-2-4 in attack, with the wide midfield payers in a more advanced role to run a true 4-2-2-1-1, attacking with four lines of depth. The system relied on a lot of possession although it sometimes resulted in a slow build up with too much backward passes. Maturana was the best example of the zonal marking tactical revolution in South America, bringing on concepts such as line, lateral pressure, defensive diagonal...Andres Escobar, Gilardo Gomez, Luis Herrera, and Luis Perea formed a strong defensive four back line. The line tried to play high, near to the midfield, counting on the eccentric René Higuita as goalkeeper sweeper, a role rarely seen on the big stage at that moment. It was the most strange decision made by Maturana: take seriously Higuita. Maturana was not a conformist: he had and rejected the possibility to play with naturalized keepers in the National Team. When people proposed the nationalization of Julio Cesar Falcioni and Carlos Navarro Montoya, he simply said 'no'. "That's a given football is not our football," he said. Simply, he stayed with his goalkeeper, also after Higuita, playing as entertaining sweeper, had the ball stolen by Roger Milla in one of his adventurous tricks during the 1990 World Cup campaign.

All those defensive movements exhibited by Colombia, and Athletico Nacional revolutioned  the enthusiasm for football in the Colombian nation. To prevent a quick change of the attacking side, Colombia worked to put pressure on the flanks, in the way to close interior lines of passes, moving the holding midfielder and the full-back near to to the ball carrier. The work rate of both central midfielders Leonel Alvarez and Gabriel Gomez was very high. The goal of Maturana was to close the spaces centrally, leaving the opponents moving the ball on the flaks, i.e. where the pressure started. Then there was Carlos Valderrama. The 'Blond Gullit' was the attacking midfielder but also the playmaker of this team. The Colombian No.10 collapsed behind in the way to receive the ball from the defensive front 6 acting as deep-lying playmaker - one of the best in the game. The offensive action passed often though Valderrama and was developed by a web of passes the made them a kind of ultra-passing squad: as almost every South American team, they had an old Brazilian mark – slow passes, slow build up, ball on the ground, quick blitz forward  –  that make them like a downsized version of the Spanish Tiki-Taka side. Although the team played the fast-break, the long balls was low on the ground. Despite the infamous elimination in the sweet sixsteen, a game in which Colombians faced Cameroon in the wrong way and where Rene Higuita were more a showman then a goalkeeper, Colombia left the 1990 World Cup impressioning folks. The shocking murder of defender Andres Escobar after 1994 World Cup, dashed the idea of Colombia as a airy team, bringing back the World's eyes to the real problems and tragedies of a nation. Still, the South American qualifying zone for the 1994 FIFA World Cup relaunched Colombia's aims, specially when they achieved one of the more shocking result of the last decades. It was the l5 September 1993 when Colombians beat Argentine 5-0 in a game played in Buenos Aires as qualifying match for the World CupThat team had world-class players such asValderrama, Freddy Rincon, Faustino Asprilla.
"That result was excellent because we showed the world that Colombia can rise to the big occasion. Not for nothing did we reach three World Cups in a row. Some say that win went to our heads but that's football. It's a vehicle for dreams and disappointments and winning never does you any harm. That result has nothing to do with what happened later on." Francisco ‘Pacho' Maturana in 1993.
After the 1994 World Cup, Maturana had the opportunity to dispaly his soccer idea in Europe. It become one in a list of 43 coaches who went through the Atletico Madrid in two decades ruled by Jesus Gil y Gil. History tell us that Maturana already had a inglorious stint in Spain, after having been at Real Valladolid between 1990 and 1991, before to come back in South American to take charge of the America de Cali in 1992. This second stint too was far from the glory:  he made his debut with Atletico on 4 September 1994 suffering a defeat against Valencia, 4-2 at the Vicente Calderon. It was the first of six defeats in nine matches. He will be back yet in the international stage in 2001, leading Colombia to six wins out of six game and to its first Copa America win. Playing at home, the Cafeteros was lined up by Francisco "Pacho" Maturana with his classic 4-2-2-2 formation, making Arrigo Sacchi falling in love with this. Then Ecuador and the struggle to reach the World Cup, a sad step with the Millionarios, a job in Peru, coach of the tricolor failing to reach 2002 Korea and Japan World Cup when he was given a ranked team, the troubles in the third adventure with Colombia and with Trinidad and Tobago. So at the end a question remains: Maturana has been a great coach or just lucky, one that had the opportunity to train the Golden Generation Colombian football? The former dentist was certainly a great coach, capable of creating a revolution in modern football,  just one less known. No one was emplying a 4-2-2-2 formation at that level. As rarely was the tactic to defend against set piece organizing a line of players ready to go forward before the ball was played, in the way to put on the offside all the opponents. He was the architect of happy memories for Colombian football, that he lead to two consecutive World Cup appareances. Maturana was a demanding coach. He was a student of the game and didn't not wast a chance to accumulate experience and knowledge. He had not victories like Rinus Michels, Arrigo Sacchi or Johan Cruyff but still deserves to be considered as one of the best coaching mind in the latest 30 years of football.

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