With a game to spare Universidad de Chile and Unión Española saw progression to the knock-out stages of the Copa Libertadores confirmed as Chilean football enjoys a fruitful period on the continental stage. After all, Universidad de Chile became the first Chilean side to win the Copa Sudamericana last year.
And if Universidad Católica can defeat Bolívar next week then – with some help from Unión Española – Chile will have a clean sweep of clubs in the last-16 of the South America’s elite competition.
For most neutral observers the names of Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica should be familiar – even if the familiarity with the name is the full extent of their knowledge. However, many may question the whereabouts of Colo Colo, the nation’s most successful club side.
Due to their status as one of Chile’s most popular and prominent clubs, Los Albos rarely escape the media spotlight. And this week more than most has been an eventful period at the Estadio Monumental, with a number of situations arising away from the pitch.
It began with striker Carlos Muñoz and the club confirming that the player had been threatened by a Colo Colo fans group – Garra Blanca – due to a perceived bad attitude towards the club in interviews.
However that incident would pale in significance to the hectic day in Macul on Wednesday afternoon as Carlos Tapia replaced Hernan Levy as the club’s new President. And the surprises kept on coming as Tapia got straight to work relieving coach Ivo Basay of his duties.
Basay’s sacking, the fifth managerial departure of the 2012 Apertura, does not come as much surprise. Ever since the 2-0 home defeat to Deportes La Serena in March, he has been clinging to his job while narrowly retaining the backing of Levy.
With Levy gone and lawyer Tapia in his place it is the beginning of a new era for Colo Colo. Tapia was blunt in his confirmation of Basay’s departure at a press conference on Wednesday: “Unanimously, the board agreed to end the term of Mr. Ivo Basay, the once great player of our institution. We have decided to terminate the contract because coaches have to be judged by their performance and purposes and those were not up to the expectations of the majority of people at the club.”
Some sackings, many even, feel unjust or debatable but it is difficult to provide a coherent argument against the replacing of Basay.
Hired in the summer of 2011 after Los Albos had scraped into the 2011 Apertura play-offs, where they were beaten over two-legs by Universidad Católica in the quarter-finals, Basay won five of his first seven games. But that was about as good as it got for the former Stade Reims player as a comprehensive defeat to Católica followed before a 2-2 home draw with arch-rivals Universidad de Chile, who went into stoppage time a man and a goal down.
Despite a respectable third place finish they never looked like having the quality to defeat La U over two-legs and as it transpired neither were they good enough to get past Cobreloa in the play-off semi-final.
The ‘winter’ break was supposed to bring about a transformation in the playing staff to complement the quality of Esteban Paredes, Carlos Muñoz and Rodrigo Millar. A statement of intent was made with the addition of experienced Chilean international defender Pablo Contreras and former player – and top goal scorer in the 2005 Clausura – Gonzalo Fierro, along with solid players from rival Primera División teams including Bruno Romo, Mathías Vidangossy and Miguel Ángel González.
Basay was tasked with reaching the Apertura play-offs and taking Colo Colo back into Continental competition – the 2012 Copa Sudamericana.
The glory days of Claudio Borghi are a far too distant memory for Chile's most successful club
However pre-season performances showed a team that was still gelling and finding a balance in system and playing style – even if they did defeat Universidad de Chile in a friendly once the season had started. Even then there were murmurings over the future of Basay, who was not helped by a complex goalkeeping situation.
Despite a number of goalkeepers in the squad, mistakes had been made in friendlies and the club looked to bring a better known name to fill the number 1 spot rather than concentrate on other areas of the team; though with no goalkeeper recruited, Francisco Prieto stepped up to become one of the side’s players of the season so far.
The season got off to a solid, if unspectacular start, with two wins and two draws from the first four games. It was week five that would signal the beginning of the end as Los Albos fell to a 2-1 home defeat to Universidad de Concepción followed by a draw at Santiago Wanderers and another home defeat to La Serena. That defeat provoked a heated reaction from those left in the Estadio Monumental; players, management and directors all came in for criticism from a fed-up support.
Yet disaster struck – in more ways than one – the following week as for the first time Colo Colo recorded three consecutive defeats at the Monumental. Palestino played through an earthquake and won 1-0. Basay hung on for another away day and won at Huachipato only for the alternate pattern of results to continue at the Estadio Santa Laura in Saturday’s 4-2 defeat to Unión Española. It would prove to be Basay’s last stand.
Injuries did not help his cause but every manager has to adapt to important players missing games. To put it simply, under Basay Colo Colo were too inconsistent; in terms of both results and team selection.
The vigorous recruitment policy undertaken in January has not proved successful with few of the new signings making a positive impact; a solitary goal from Mathías Vidangossy is all there is to show from the attacking recruits. Defensively, the team have not looked comfortable playing in a back three or four.
The chopping and changing of personnel – only three players have been involved in all 11 games (none of which were new signings) – has clearly not helped the side strive for a balance that has been hampered with square pegs being jammed into round holes.
There is little hope when months into a new job the manager still struggles to determine his best team and organise them in a system that will get the best out of the talents at his disposal.
In Basay’s place enters youth coach Luis Pérez, who now begins his third spell as interim coach of El Cacique, starting with the small matter of a derby against Universidad Católica on Saturday.
According to La Tercera, former Católica boss Juan Antonio Pizzi is the front-runner for the job. Pizzi is currently coach of Rosario Central in his native Argentina and his backroom staff includes Jorge Fleitas, who was part of the management team when Colo Colo won their last trophy – the Clausura in 2009 – under Hugo Tocalli. Other names mentioned to fill the vacancy are former Uruguay manager Juan Ramón Carrasco and illustrious names including former Argentina boss Sergio Batista.
Whoever is appointed will became the club’s seventh permanent manager since Claudio Borghi guided the club to back-to-back doubles in 2006 and 2007 and a Copa Sudamericana final.
The new incumbent is expected to lead the revival of one of Chile’s finest sporting institutions, with Tapia insisting that significant investment will be made into younger, more talented players.
All while trying to keep up with the Universidad de Chile steam train that threatens to run into the distance, leaving everyone else staring enviously into the distance.
Joel Sked is a journalism graduate, aspiring sports journalist and Chilean football enthusiast. Find all your football needs from the Andes to the Atacama at 'The Red One'.