One of the football world’s more thoughtful and laid-back coaches, Oscar Washington Tabarez is nevertheless a man of firm convictions and clear ideas. Aptly known in the game as Maestro, the much-travelled Tabarez is set to lead Uruguay into the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the second time.
A solid right-back in his playing days, Tabarez began his career with Institucion Atletica Sud America in 1967 and ended it 11 years later with Club Atletico Bella Vista. In between came spells with fellow Uruguayan sides Sportivo Italiano, Montevideo Wanderers, and Fenix and a stint in Mexico with Puebla.
He took first steps as coach in 1980, training the youth teams at the unfashionable Montevideo club of Bella Vista. Three years later he was in charge of the national U-20 team, steering them to the gold medal at the 1983 Pan American Games in Venezuela, his first success as coach.
Next stop was the Uruguayan first division for consecutive spells with Danubio, Montevideo Wanderers and Penarol, where he won his maiden club title, the 1987 Copa Libertadores, the last time the famous Montevideo outfit won the biggest prize in Latin American football.
Following a short sojourn with Deportivo Cali in Colombia, Tabarez took charge of the national team for the first time, taking La Celeste to the final of the 1989 Copa America, where they finished runners-up to Brazil, and to the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™.
A 2-0 defeat to the host nation in the Round of 16 marked the end of his stewardship and a year later he crossed the River Plate to take over at the mighty Boca Juniors, helping them to the Argentinian championship for the first time in 11 long years. That success proved the springboard to Europe, where, as well coaching Cagliari in two separate spells in the nineties, he also took the reins at AC Milan and Spanish side Oviedo.
Returning to Argentina, he was in charge at Velez Sarsfield in 2001 before being reinstalled at Boca Juniors in 2002, overseeing their second-place finish in that year’s Apertura. After more than two decades in the hotseat, he then stayed out of the game for nearly four years, only returning to the game in March 2006, when the Uruguayan FA invited him to return to the national side.
His achievements in his second coming have been considerable. As well overhauling the national set-up and leading his side to fourth place at the 2007 Copa America and masterminding their qualification for South Africa 2010, Tabarez has also revitalised the country’s youth football. Proof of that came in 2009, when, along with Brazil, Los Charrúas were the only side to qualify for both the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups.
As welcome as those successes have been, Tabarez’s overriding ambition is to see his side shine in the world finals and thereby add his name to long list of legends who have helped shape the history of Uruguayan football.