Payback time for Lanus?
At a time when some of Argentina's older clubs are being questioned for attempting to continue as civil, non-profit-making associations, Club Atletico Lanus continue to show that it can be done, and in some style. For more that 15 years now, the club from the south of Greater Buenos Aires have been growing into a prosperous entity thanks to the unity of purpose of its members.
Now, all that Lanus need to show that a club can flourish with suitable and well-intentioned people is a title. But it may not be missing for much longer: with just three matchdays to go in the Apertura Championship, El Granate have a three-point lead over immediate pursuers Boca Juniors. "We're very pleased with our campaign, but the best prize of all would be to win the championship," said coach Ramon Cabrero. However, having flirted with success many times before, no one will be taking anything for granted just yet. Read on to find out more...
Club Atletico Lanus was founded on 3 January 1915 with the merger of El Progreso and Lanus United, two clubs then struggling for survival. The resulting entity was devoted to the practice of football, tennis, croquet, aviation and fencing, among other disciplines, although it was the first of these that soon captured the imagination of the majority of members.
The origin of the club's garnet (dark-red) strip is less clear, though it is generally accepted that the traditional shirt colour was European in origin. The team's first ground was right in the heart of East Lanus, where they would remain until 1929. On 14 February that year the fledgling club then moved to a new stadium, quickly dubbed La Fortaleza (The Fortress) because of the team's formidable home record there.
Lanus took part in the first tournament of Argentina's professional era in 1931, and would remain in the country's top flight until 1949. On their return to the first division in 1956, El Granate managed second place in the league championship behind giants River Plate. So showy were that particular side, in fact, that they earned the moniker the Globetrotters after the legendary North American basketball team.
Rock bottom and back
For the most part, the 60s and 70s were years to forget for the Buenos Aires club. Back-to-back relegations in 1977 and 1978 left them languishing in the Primera C, the country's old third division. With debts of over a million dollars and a mere 2000 members, El Granate were in real danger of going under.
However, like a phoenix from the ashes, the club found new life and capped an extraordinary turnaround with a return to the Primera B in 1981, by which time it boasted an impressive 10,000 members and a much healthier set of finances. In 1986, Lanus ascended to the newly-created Nacional B League, the rung below the country's top flight. Officials at the club took advantage of the improving fortunes to push membership past the 30,000 mark and create the conditions for the next stage of development.
Unity above all
Under the tutelage of Miguel Russo, the same coach who today is at the helm of Boca Juniors, the club's principal rival in the race for this year's Apertura, Lanus made it back to the country's first division in 1990 after a 13-year hiatus. That same year work began on refurbishing their old wooden stadium, and a sense of common purpose and unity took hold at the club. Not even relegation in 1991 shook their confidence, with Russo staying the course to bring them straight back up the following season.
By the time Hector Cuper took up the reins in 1995, players like Ariel Ibagaza and Gaston Coyete (both U-20 world champions with the Albiceleste at Qatar 1995) had successfully emerged from the club's youth academy, helping Lanus to third place in the league on two occasions. Paradoxically, while still battling away for their maiden domestic title, El Granate got their first taste of international success, lifting the Copa CONMEBOL in 1996.
A year later, the mantle passed to Mario Gomez, an industrious and unassuming coach who had hitherto been in charge of the B team. Under his guidance, Lanus finished runners-up in the 1990 Clausura with 40 points, their biggest points haul since the twin league format was introduced. That campaign also put the club on the radar of several big sides, resulting in the sale of top players for in excess of 15 million dollars.
Instead of spending the proceeds on replacements, officials realised the best way to grow the institution was to invest the money in improving the infrastructure and youth academy. This process was not without its setbacks, however, like in 2002, when the club needed a play-off to preserve their top-flight status. In spite of this, by 2003 the club had finished remodelling work on their stadium, now one of the most modern in Argentina.
It was not until the appointment of current coach Ramon Cabrero that the club looked capable of taking the next step. Born in Santander, Spain, in 1947, Cabrero's family moved to Lanus when he was just three. By the age of 14, he had made his first appearance for the club, earning his first-division debut a mere five years later. The Spaniard would later hone his coaching skills with the under-age sides, where, apart from a brief spell in charge of the senior team in 1984, he would remain until November 2005.
Then, finding itself managerless, Lanus handed the top job to Cabrero, who, after promoting several promising youngsters from the club's youth sides, led his squad to runners-up spot in the 2006 Clausura. As well as securing a berth in the 2008 Copa Libertadores, Lanus figured prominently in the destination of that year's Apertura, defeating Boca on the final matchday to hand eventual champions Estudiantes a league-title play-off with the Xeneizes.
It comes as no surprise therefore to see Lanus currently leading the way in Argentina, and doing so with the help of home-grown stars like Lautaro Acosta, a recent U-20 world champion at Canada 2007, and Diego Valeri, one of the country's most exciting young prospects. In fact, of the 11 habitual first-team starters, 8 have come through the ranks at the club.
"Lanus play simple and unambiguous football that fans of any club can enjoy. The team plays with character and have been competing for top honours for two years now. We're very pleased with our campaign, but the best prize of all would be to win the championship," said Cabrero recently.
Could this finally be Lanus' year? All will be revealed shortly...