Nick Dorrington wonders whether the return of a legendary figure will help to lift Columbian football from the doldrums
It is hard to view Colombia's inability to qualify for the last three World Cups as anything other than a failure on behalf of the Colombian Football Federation (FCF) considering the popularity of football in South America's second most populous nation. In the appointment of former national team coach Francisco Maturana to oversee the development of the country's football the FCF believes it has a man capable of making the necessary changes to ensure more regular participation in future tournaments.
Maturana presided over Colombia's qualification for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups – having previously guided Atlético Nacional to the first Copa Libertadores triumph for a Colombian side. He melded together the pressing techniques of the influential Uruguayan coach José Ricardo De León with a short passing style focused on the retention of possession, but with the ever-present threat of an explosion of power and pace in the final third.
Even as coach of the national team, Maturana was always looking at a bigger picture, mindful of projecting a positive image of Colombia at a time when the country was far more famous for its drug barons than its footballers. He encouraged his players to seek further education and counselled them and their partners on how to dress and speak.
Primed for his new role by his work on FIFA's Technical Study Group at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Maturana was appointed on the back of an extensive presentation in which he outlined his vision for the future of domestic football. In among specific goals for both the men's and women's games, his main focus was increased financing for the development of coaches at all levels.
Colombia hope to follow the example set by Germany since their abject failure at Euro 2000 by investing heavily to increase both the quality and quantity of coaches available to players of all ages. Ascenfutbol, the association of Colombian football coaches, of whom Maturana is president, have put forward a proposal for a grading system, similar to UEFA badges, that will ensure coaches are properly qualified. They also seek to strengthen the bond between Colombia's coaches and related professionals such as physical preparation specialists, doctors and psychologists. These ideas and more were discussed at a recent seminar entitled Analysis of the Weaknesses in our Football; In Search of World Cup 2014, and with Maturana now in a position of power Ascenfutbol will be better positioned to translate their vision into reality.
While the development of young players is clearly the primary impetus for increased funding, there is also a need for a better quality of coach at the top end of Colombian football. The options available to Maturana and the FCF when seeking to appoint a new coach for the national team were embarrassingly scant, with Maturana's former number two, Hernán Darío Gómez, eventually getting the nod despite his less than impressive record since leading Ecuador to the 2002 World Cup.
Many, such as El Tiempo's Luis Noe Ochoa, were critical of the decision, primarily because it is seen as a regression to an outdated style of football when new ideas were seen as what was required. "Again we will not see a foreign coach, someone independent," wrote Ochoa upon news of Gómez's appointment. "Again we are back to the tap-tap style, the rosca paisa, and that is nothing."
It is easy to see his point, although the quicker, more physical approach of the last couple of qualification campaigns has hardly been an unqualified success either. Maturana would argue that Gómez is a safe pair of hands, capable of leading Colombia to the 2014 World Cup, by which time the fruits of Ascenfutbol's labour will hopefully provide a number of sufficiently qualified candidates to take over.
With the days of plentiful drug baron funding long since passed, Colombia's clubs are generally in a poor financial state, many of them months behind on the payment of players' wages. The utopian view espoused by Ascenfutbol is that better coaches equals better players equals a healthier league. The realism of that view is open to debate, but certainly for the benefit of the national team there is genuine hope that increased investment in coaching can stimulate an upturn in fortunes.
From WSC 285 November 2010