Bauza: We can beat anyone

The name Edgardo Bauza might not mean an awful lot to football followers outside South America, but the man known throughout his career as El Patón (Big Foot) has been making a splash in recent times.

One of the finest Argentinian central defenders of the 1980s, the elegant yet temperamental Bauza had a remarkable eye for goal for a defender, scoring 108 times in a career that reached its pinnacle when he was called up to the Albiceleste squad for the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™.

His playing days long since behind him, the vastly experienced Bauza is now enjoying great success on the sidelines, having guided Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito to the Copa Libertadores de America crown earlier this year.

Five months on from that feat, the first triumph by an Ecuadorian club in South America's premier club competition, the strategist is preparing to lead his side out at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008, a tournament that will be his last in charge of Los Albos.

"There are many people I will need to thank when I leave," says Bauza. "The club and the people of Ecuador have been wonderful to me and there is no doubt that the Club World Cup will be a very special occasion for me."

The Argentinian did not have an easy start to his Liga reign, though, and a series of poor results soon had the fans clamouring for his departure. "I didn't go because Rodrigo Paz (the club president) and I had complete faith in what we were doing," explains Bauza, recalling those difficult days. "The team simply had to show what it could do, and finally the results started to come."

His faith was rewarded when the club claimed the Libertadores following an historic final against Fluminense. It was an achievement that earned them the right to represent South America in Japan, in company with the likes of European champions Manchester United and their CONCACAF counterparts Pachuca.

Ronaldo and Co aside, however, Bauza's main concern is getting his squad fighting fit. "We have a few players injured like Franklin Salas. We're not Manchester, where Wayne Rooney comes off and Carlos Tevez comes on."

Despite his side's injury worries, El Patón remains bullish. "We weren't among the favourites for the Libertadores, but we said that they'd have to kill us to get past us. And it's the same now. We'll be giving our all in every game."

Argentinian spirit
Bauza's reputation in South America is founded on his intense will to win, a desire to beat anyone, anywhere. It is a quality he has managed to infuse in his players.

"It's no coincidence that I chose Norberto Araujo, Damian Manso and Claudio Bieler as the spine of the side," he comments as he prepares for his final few days in the Liga hotseat. "By putting some excellent Ecuadorian players around them we managed to convince ourselves that we could go anywhere we want and beat any team we chose. That kind of spirit is contagious."

"The fact is, though, that I'm very tired now and it might be counterproductive for me to stay on. We've come to the end of an era," concludes Bauza, who will shortly be replaced by the Uruguayan Jorge Fossati, returning to Los Albos for his second stint in charge.

"I've gained so much from this experience," adds the departing Argentinian, "although I'm essentially the same person I was before. I feel just as much of a coach as I always have, but in this job trophies give you strength and a certain stature. Perhaps I didn't learn too much from the Libertadores, but what it did do was show me that the path I chose was the right one. It helped convince me of that."

And Japan 2008 might just convince the rest of the world that coach Bauza is a force to be reckoned with.