From 2006 until the present, only 3 men have managed Uruguay’s national team. If you didn’t know El Maestro Tabarez is one of those names, where you been for the past six years? The other two, are not so well known, maybe because when they managed Uruguay’s NT, they did so on a caretaker basis. In fact the other two names only managed one game a piece. Gustavo Ferrin managed Uruguay in March of 2006, in a friendly with England and Juan Verzeri managed the other game, right after the 2010 World Cup in a friendly against Angola.
In another universe, Verzeri would’ve been coaching against Ferrin’s Under-20 Peru but Ferrin was fired shortly after being named Peru’s Under-20 Manager in 2011. Verzeri coached his only NT match against Angola, the team Ferrin is presently coaching in the Africa Nations Cup.
Another curiosity that exists between the two former caretakers is that they both handed Nacho Gonzalez a cap, and each did so for only a minute. Ferrin capped Gonzalez in 2006 in the 90th minute of Uruguay vs England while Verzeri capped Nacho Gonzalez also in the 90th minute against Angola, and unless El Maestro recaps Nacho, both caretaker managers book-ended Nacho Gonzalez’s playing career with a strangely similar start and finish.
Beyond Nacho and Twilight Zone-like coincidences. Both managers coached Uruguay’s Under-20 side at one point in their coaching career, something Verzeri is still doing today. And it’s this angle I want to touch on, because in a way, both have affected the current NT by their actions, more so than the average caretaker coach should be held accountable for. In Ferrin’s case, the Cavani controversy is 50% his doing. I’ll explain why… If no one had seen Cavani play in the 2007 Under-20 South American tournament, no one would’ve minded too much that Cavani has been the formation abnormality in El Maestro’s starting eleven for most of his senior side playing career… but the thing is most of us do remember Cavani in that 2007 Under-20 side and most of us are convinced as was Ferrin, that Cavani can play as the centre-forward to build upon.
Tabarez opted for Suarez as his go-to guy to build upon, and fast-tracked him to the senior side shortly after playing in the 2007 Under-20 World Cup by incorporating him into the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers in late 2007. Cavani’s arrival on the other hand was delayed for about a year on the senior side.
Ferrin’s other major contribution was “discovering” Uruguay’s centre-back duo: Diego Lugano and Diego Godin, who were Ferrin’s starting centre-back duo when Uruguay faced England. Incredibly, it took Tabarez a full eight months to come to the same conclusion, that Lugano works best with Godin and vice versa. This partnership has survived to this day, and it remains unknown who if any could one day replace either player.
Verzeri on the other hand was responsible for Uruguay’s underwhelming 2011 Under-20 World Cup, blame was squarely placed on his shoulders for Uruguay’s disappointing performance… a subsequent bronze medal performance in the 2011 Pan-american Games was a redemption of sorts, as Uruguay with a combined outfit which featured some Under-20 players from the 2009 squad (such as Tabare Viudez) along with some domestic league players put forth an honest effort considering the downsized expectations that squad took to Mexico.
But returning to my main point, where both coaches have their fingerprints all over this current senior squad is failing to bring up players who should have maybe been a part of this squad already.
In Ferrin’s case you have the example of Enzo Scorza, the diminutive playmaker who despite being a Christian evangelical much like Cavani was considered a “rebellious” poison pill, played only one game in the 2007 South American Under-20 tournament and never made it to the 2007 Under-20 World Cup roster. His career has stagnated, clashes with the Casal Group means he’s persona non grata in Uruguay’s domestic league, he is currently continuing his playing career in Peru.
The one name on Verzeri’s squad which should have somehow found his way on the senior side by now is Diego Polenta, for whatever the reason, Tabarez has ignored Polenta’s talents… maybe Polenta is a scapegoat for Uruguay’s underwhelming 2011 Under-20 World Cup? In any case, even though Tabarez took the talented centreback — who Italy tried to poach from Uruguay last year — to London last year, curiously, El Maestro did not play him in any match and has not considered too much of Polenta despite Lugano’s injury/lack of form woes in 2012. One has to conclude that Verzeri shares some of the blame in Polenta’s non-NT career, right?
Of course, the blame for players failing to get a spot on the NT ultimately falls on the player’s lap, but the question that arises is just how much is the Under-20 coach responsible for missing pieces on the Senior Side set-up.
Many players are hit & miss proposals, a NT coach is responsible for deciphering who is ready and who isn’t, and it’s in this theater space where Tabarez has prospered. When Diego Aguirre was Uruguay’s Under-20 manager, Nico Lodeiro was promoted to the senior side and thrust into the role of savior when Uruguay faced Costa Rica in the intercontinental playoffs. While Lodeiro looked interesting playing for Nacional in 2009, from 2010 thru 2011, his elevation to the senior side remained questionable at best. Lodeiro’s second best game since joining the senior side came against Poland, for a long time, including the Olympics, Lodeiro would turn out so-so performances followed by regressive spells, so even though he played exceptionally well in the Poland Friendly, will he revert to his old question mark self?
So this leads us to our second question, how important is a youth setup to the senior side?
The youth system revealed two stellar talents in Cavani and Suarez and then Caceres but also retarded “can’t miss” phenoms like Scorza and Polenta. Gaston Ramirez is another example, although part of the 2009 side, and despite the tutelage of Raul Moller and then Victor Pua, it was Ramirez’s move to the Serie-A, which made Tabarez take notice.
Which makes me wonder, is Uruguay’s Under-20 system working at all?
While a caretaker has no real responsibility in deciding the outcome of a team in the long-haul mainly because his responsibility is limited to months, days, a filler for when the real boss is hired or takes over. A proper youth system, when it’s working right can turn out dividends for the senior side. Team objectives of course play an important role but if hiring someone like Tabarez made a world of difference in early 2006, hiring the right manager for the youth sides is just as important.
Sooner or later, the players Tabarez has been employing since 2006 will no longer be effective. Having adequate replacements in place would be the best of all possible worlds, but Tabarez has gone away from promoting “can’t miss” youth side players to the senior side, his last promotion Abel Hernandez has been quietly ignored since Verzeri himself promoted La Joya to the senior side in 2010.
This being 2013, If Uruguay fails to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, can’t turn it around, it’ll be the end of Tabarez as Uruguay’s NT manager. Regardless of whether Tabarez reverses Uruguay’s fortunes or not, Uruguay’s youth system besides qualifying to major tournaments should also identify potential senior side players long before the club sides spot them.
While results argue that Uruguay’s youth setup is fine, given the qualifications to countless youth World Cups and Olympics included, where Uruguay failed in 2012 was in finding the suitable replacement parts for the woes that plague the senior side, if those replacements can’t be found in professional leagues, a proper youth setup might have offered a potential solution long ago. Since Aguirre left, there hasn’t been too many promotions of which to speak of other than Hernandez who has had in-disciplinary issues at Palermo and may have entered El Maestro’s shit-list because of this.
If Aguirregaray represents the last youth player worthy of a promotion, then something is definitely wrong with Uruguay’s youth system.
Whatever ends up occurring with Uruguay’s senior side, i.e. qualification to the 2014 World Cup or failing to do so, the next NT manager whether it’s Tabarez or someone new should establish a line of communication with the youth system managers. If Suarez & Cavani are Uruguay’s last interesting youth player finds, then how to find the next Suarez and Cavani should take center stage in the NT, it starts first with identifying needs on the senior side and then finding the right youth team manager who can somehow search for potential solutions.