“I want to be remembered for winning the 30th star for Colo Colo.”
Those were the words of Omar Labruna during his 257 days in charge of el cacique – Chile’s biggest club. However, as they slumped to 10th place in the Torneo 2013 after a 1-0 defeat to Rangers in Talca Labruna’s position was under threat as it emerged on Tuesday that the club had given him an ultimatum: win against Ñublense or face the consequences.
Twenty four hours later, during which time Labruna proclaimed he would walk if given an ultimatum, he was shown the door as Colo Colo announced the decision on their twitter account.
Carlos Tapia, Colo Colo president, told the media that “the dismissal of Omar Labruna was a unanimous decision of the board”, adding “this departure was based only on sporting factors”.
The latter quote was due to Labruna’s increasing tendency to attract headlines off the field but, following moderate success in the 2012 Clausura, inconsistencies in team selection and mediocrity on the field he became the 13th different manager to leave the club since the turn of the century.
Hugo González now takes the reins until the end of the Torneo 2013 in May when a permanent manager will take over with the number of managers linked to the post already, ranging from Nelson Acosta to Marco Antonio Figueroa to Claudio Borghi.
Labruna was brought in from Audax Italiano to replace Ivo Basay and tasked with returning the club to continental football and winning the so far illusive estrella 30.
On taking over he witnessed Bryan Rabello, one of the most talented players Chile, let alone Colo Colo, have produced in recent years, leave for free, while the club itself was at a low ebb having witnessed arch-rivals Universidad de Chile become one of the most revered teams in world football over the previous two years, becoming tricampeones and of course winning Copa Sudamericana in thrilling fashion.
That Copa Sudamericana meant los albos were no longer the only Chilean team to have tasted success on the continent – Colo Colo having won the 1991 Copa Libertadores. But as Labruna walked through the door in Macul they were a long way away from reaching those heights again. Qualification for one of the continent’s two tournaments was a must with the 2011 Copa Libertadores the last time they competed against the best South America has to offer (think Manchester United not playing in Europe for more than two years).
Worse still, they have not won a title since the 2009 Clausura under Hugo Tocalli.
There were barely two weeks for Labruna to impart his preferred playing style onto his new players between the club getting knocked out of the Apertura play-off semi-finals to La U to the opening match of the Clausura, a tense 1-0 away win against Deportes Iquique.
The lack of preparation forced Labruna into using the opening fixtures to experiment, drawing four of the next five games 1-1 and losing the other. Even if the results were not positive they were in terms of discovering the ideal shape of the team and the personnel that made it work.
Discounting the Copa Chile where copious changes were made the club set off on a fruitful run; winning six and drawing one.
On the left-hand side Colombian internationalist Juan Domínguez was electric, forming a devastating partnership with Matías Vidangossy who acted as the number 10, drifting in off the left-flank. Álvaro Ormeño and Gonzalo Fierro provided adequate balance and boundless energy on the opposite side of the pitch. The base of the team were Rodrigo Millar and Fernando De la Fuente with el chino (Millar) overcoming injury and patchy form to provide a driving force from midfield. Up front were the potent Carlos Muñoz and mercurial Felipe Flores. Labruna had stumbled upon a 4-2-2-2 that worked in the favour of his players’ qualities.
If the league form, which was propelling los albos up the table, was causing excitement amongst the fans of el popular then the two results in the derby matches against the two other Santiago teams that make up the tres grandes provoked scenes of jubilation.
First up was the 2-0 away win against Católica before a tempestuous 1-0 win against La U at a packed and fervent Estadio Monumental. Four red cards were split between the two rivals as Muñoz’s goal proved the difference before confrontations between both sets of coaches and players.
Labruna proclaimed before the game that La U had “lowered its standards and Colo Colo “has risen a lot”. After it he simply stated that La U’s “trend is over” – Colo Colo had suffered a 5-0 and 4-0 defeat to La U already that year. At that point it was hard to look past Colo Colo winning the title as they went on to finish top of the regular Clausura table and confirmed their place in the 2013 Copa Sudamericana. But of course they would have to go through the play-offs.
Ten days prior to opening the play-offs against his former side Audax Italiano, Labruna had managed Colo Colo to a 5-1 win against los italicos. A simple progression to the semi-finals was inevitable. But then came problems on the field and controversy off it.
In November before the play-offs commenced Labruna was involved in a car accident in Las Condes when the car he was driving, with his wife in the passenger’s seat, collided with a taxi with the driver of the taxi having to be pulled out by the fire service.
An innocent accident, but then the couple construed to say the wife was driving the car. It wasn’t until days later that Labruna admitted to being a “moron” and “acting like a fool”, admitting his guilt.
Despite being knocked out of the Copa Chile there appeared to be no issues on the field with a 2-0 away win in the first-leg and at half-time of the second-leg they led Audax 4-1 on aggregate. Yet in 22 second half minutes they conceded four, two of which were scored when Audax were reduced to ten men. Labruna was saved by the introduction of Maura Olivi with a brace in the final 10 minutes.
The defensive frailties would reappear in the semi-final of the play-offs as Colo Colo succumbed to a 5-1 aggregate defeat against Unión Española.
Labruna was unable to play his strongest eleven in any of the four games, and, for what would prove for the first time, he was incapable of finding the solution changing players in each of the four games.
But Labruna believed Colo Colo were on the right step to finally breaking that trophy-less cycle, especially as he and Jorge Fleitas would have a considerable time period to work with the players in pre-season before the start of the torneo transición.
Like every manager he wanted to strengthen, believing that if he was given the players he wanted Colo Colo would win the 30th star. Reinforcements were sought at centre-back, left-back and in forward positions, including a number 10. A central midfielder was then added to the wish list after the significant blow of losing Rodrigo Millar to Mexican side Atlas de Guadalajara.
Labruna was keen to revert from the 4-2-2-2 which achieved relative success to the 3-4-1-2 system he used at Audax Italiano. But those early plans were affected by the injury to Sebastián Toro. Tensions soon began to rise between Larbuna and the board as signings were not forthcoming. He wanted centre-back Lucas Domínguez who had been frozen out by Audax Italiano. The board were unwilling to pay the $350,000 fee. Mario Paglialunga was suggested as a midfield replacement for Millar and looked to be a matter of inches away from putting pen to paper. He ended up at Hercules on loan from Catania.
Then there was the Emiliano Vecchio transfer saga. One of the star performers of the Clausura he would be a significant coup and the club’s priority signing. Once again money was an issue so Colo Colo offered three of their fringe players to bring the price down. Except the players they wanted to get rid of didn’t want to go. It was protracted but they eventually got their man, plus ex-La U player Emilio Hernández as well to boot.
It did not stop from Labruna from being critical of the board for their reluctance to work efficiently bringing players into the club. And then there were words exchanged between Labruna and Álvaro Ormeño who moved to Deportes Iquique after leaving on a free transfer despite thinking he would be offered a deal.
The season started – without a centre back or midfield reinforcement – disastrously with a 5-2 defeat at Cobreloa. A solid 2-0 win over Unión La Calera followed before Labruna learnt of his punishment for the traffic incident in November. He would have to serve community service, but three of the police officials involved were suspended/sacked depending on who you believed.
Another away defeat followed at Deportes Iquique, who have also recently sacked their manager Cristián Díaz after poor performances and hitting a fan.
Labruna was unsure of the ideal formation to coax stirring performances from the personnel he had. 4-2-1-3 was tried. So was 4-2-2-2. The goals had dried up from Carlos Muñoz, De la Fuente was lost without the company of Millar and defensively there was little cohesion. The only positives were the performances of José Pedro Fuenzalida and the gradual improvement in Vecchio.
With Lucas Domínguez finally procured Labruna opted for a 3-4-1-2. With Domínguez on the bench they won two on the bounce. But then came a 3-3 draw at home to Antofagasta which convinced Labruna he had to make changes. A meek 1-0 defeat against Rangers proved to be the end.
And this past Wednesday he was relieved off his duties. But he is determined not to go quietly, dragging los albos into the controversy surrounding lying to police and hinting that Colo Colo had advised him to do so. A statement refuted by Carlos Tapia.
Now Colo Colo, currently nine points of the summit of the Primera División, face eleven games between now and May starting with Sunday’s game against Ñublense at the Estadio Monumental under the interim stewardship of Hugo González.
But who will be next? Claudio Borghi, José Luis Sierra and Eduardo Berizzo have all distanced themselves from the post. The next decision the club’s hierarchy make is crucial as Colo Colo look forward to returning to continental football in the second half of this year.