The tear-stained Edgardo Bauza seen celebrating victory last week over Fluminense in the final of the Copa Libertadores 2008 was a far cry from the battle-hardened, temperamental player of the 1980s. Liga de Quito's Argentinian coach was a formidable opponent in his day, a gifted central defender with a fine aerial game and eye for goal, qualities that helped him make the Argentina squad that finished runners-up at the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™. Today, however, the only remnants of that warrior of old are his trademark gestures and angular features.
"I never expected him to burst into tears the way he did. I'd never seen him like that before. I suppose it was a release of everything he'd been keeping inside: his desire to win the Copa and memories of his mother, who recently passed away," says Edgardo's father, Hector Bauza.
Bitter memories, promising future
When El Paton (The Big-Footed One) arrived in the Ecuadorian capital in 2007 to take over the reins from the Juan Carlos Oblitas, Liga De Quito's situation was far from ideal. "Just a year ago, I needed a police escort off the pitch as the crowd wanted to lynch me. The press were saying my time was up and that the club president didn't know what he was doing," he said with the composure that comes from winning out in a hostile environment.
That said, turning things round was far from easy. Los Albos began to show signs of recovery in early 2007 and went on to win the Ecuadorian championship later that year. For 2008, their overriding objective was simple: to survive the group stages of the Copa Libertadores.
"We knew that at local level we were a match for anyone but that we must make an impact internationally," said the former player and coach of Argentina's Rosario Central, who he guided to the Libertadores semi-final in 2001. "Then we found out we were in Group 8, and that hit us hard as we felt we'd been drawn the toughest group.
The coach had good reason to feel hard done by. His entire team's annual budget was only $6 million, the kind of money some of his group rivals routinely spent on bringing in a couple of players. "," he added. "At that stage I knew we'd be difficult to beat."
And he was right. San Lorenzo were dispatched in the quarters, then America in the last four, before their triumph last week over Fluminense in a dramatic decider at the Maracana.
As the 100-plus goals Bauza netted from defence goes to show, the Argentinian is not short of ambition or fighting spirit; attributes that have played an integral part in his current success. "When I began coaching ten years ago, I wondered when it would be my turn to win this cup. Now, I have it; the cup is ours. It's a great prize for a daring yet no-nonsense team."
Despite taking the continental trophy, the clubs form during the knockout phase was not always convincing. In fact, the team won only one of their last seven games in regulation time, albeit the most important one: a triumph over Fluminense in the first leg of the final.
That 4-2 win, coupled with a battling second-leg display in the intimidating Maracana, would change forever the coach's standing in the football-mad city of Quito. "The change was incredible. They treat me almost like a god now," he joked of the press.
On the horizon now for Bauza is an even greater challenge: the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008, where this December Los Albos will compete with teams of the calibre of English giants Manchester United and Mexico's Pachuca. Without doubt it is a challenge the club and its fans are relishing, with all concerned hoping El Patón remains at the helm, leading them in their quest.
In this respect, club president Rodrigo Paz has being trying to reassure anxious supporters. "It will be hard to retain his services as everyone wants to have him now," he explained. "However, he himself wants to stay and I do too, so . He'll be with us until the end of the year, as he is a man of honour and a man of his word."