Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughAucas - the inside story (Part 1) - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Aucas - the inside story (Part 1) - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Aucas – the inside story (Part 1)

I was recently in Ecuador, South America, to spend time with a team called Sociedad Deportiva Aucas. It is a club that has fallen from grace in the last 10 years and now lies in the third tier of the league system. This giant club is now beginning to re-awaken, and swept on by the support of Quito’s most dedicated and passionate fans, it could finally be time for them to start climbing back up the ladder of league football.

There are times when a club can no longer maintain its status in the country’s top division, and as painful as relegation can be it is always accompanied by the optimistic hope that the club will immediately bounce back and gain promotion the following season. For many this proves a reality, not least due to the fact that the players at the relegated club are usually better than the current lower division opponents. However, star players at a relegated club normally leave at the first opportunity, as they are unwilling to play at an inferior level. Sometimes the club will be more than happy to offload several big earners as it looks to reduce its wage bill, but ideally it will try and keep as many as financially possible.

Occasionally we are surprised by players who decide to remain at a team that has dropped down a division, highlighted a few seasons ago when Juventus were thrown into Serie B as part of the Italian match fixing scandal. Key men such as Buffon, Del Piero, and others remained loyal to the cause and spent an entire season in the second division, despite many opportunities to sign for top sides across Europe. This was quite a shock for the football community, and extremely refreshing for fans who are used to seeing players show no loyalty to the badge on their shirt.

Ecuador has 2 professional football divisions, La A and La B. Both are comprised of twelve teams and below this is La Segunda. This is the third division, but instead of being a standard league where teams play each other twice, it is split into regional leagues. The winners of the regional leagues move on to play in zonal leagues, and then the winners of that play in a national league to determine the overall winner that is promoted to La B. It is an epic tournament that lasts almost an entire year, and is notoriously difficult to win, in part due to the amount of games played. Trying to maintain a squad focused and motivated for such an extended period requires great skill, and the managers are constantly battling to reduce the number of injured and fatigued players through the use of squad rotation.

The idea behind this league setup was that it would reduce on travelling times and costs, as Ecuador is a huge country, and this would be particularly helpful for semi pro and amateur teams who have very little money to spend. In reality, although this element was achieved, it actually made it much harder for smaller teams to gain promotion; their smaller squads can’t cope with such an arduous and lengthy campaign, and if they do pass the regional phase then they have to start travelling anyway.

It is in this division that Aucas have been stagnating for several years, unable to push their way through and take the final step to promotion. Qualification at the regional level is fairly easy, and the zonal phase is also not the most difficult to manoeuvre, but they have come unstuck at the national level to the immense dismay of their fans. In fact last season they were so unhappy and angry about the team’s failure to go up that they hurled stones and objects at the players and coaching staff, who were forced to take refuge in the changing rooms!

There is immense support and passion for this team and it is worth pointing out that they regularly have higher attendances than many 1st division teams in the capital city of Quito. To put that into context it would be like Sheffield Wednesday regularly out selling teams like Arsenal or Liverpool. They are also one of only several teams in the entire country to own their own stadium, and considering that La Segunda is mainly comprised of amateur and semi-pro teams, you would be right in assuming that a pro team such as Aucas have a distinct advantage. The downside to all this is the incredible pressure and expectation that the team should steamroller everything in their path, qualify through each stage with ease, and stroll over the line to promotion.

Upon arriving at the start of pre-season training I was informed that almost the entire squad was made up of new signings. Apparently this is fairly common for many teams at the start of a new season, although I did wonder how long it was going to take for them to start playing with any type of understanding or cohesion. The manager was Jose Vicente Moreno, an ex-player who displayed his goal scoring talents at Liga de Quito in the 90’s, and had studied for his coaching qualifications in Spain. His assistant, Luis Granda, had been a very successful player in Ecuador, and had also been an assistant manager at many top division sides. Forming the rest of the coaching team were fitness coach Cesar Benalcazar and goalkeeping coach Cesar Ramos. Both were hugely experienced and talented and there was a feeling that this was going to be the year that Aucas finally achieved promotion.

Training took place in several locations, and a typical week would start with a match on Sunday. The whole squad would then have a rest day on Monday and only the coaching staff would get together to discuss the coming week’s plan. A morning training session in La Carolina park (a vast expanse of greenery right in the heart of Quito) would take place on Tuesday, and Wednesday was normally a double training day; morning training at the Aucas complex, followed by an additional session in the stadium in the afternoon. The afternoon session would always be purely football based, with a focus on tactics and working as a team. Thursday’s training would be either at the military school facilities or at the Aucas complex, and Friday was again at the Aucas complex.

Saturday morning would involve a short session, normally a small sided game, and then the players would stay at the training ground for the rest of the day. Often they would go to the cinema in the afternoon, or participate in some kind of activity, and all were required to sleep at the facilities before going direct to the match on Sunday. This is common practice in Ecuador and many other South American clubs. Apart from the idea that this focuses the players’ minds on the upcoming match due to no distractions, it also allows the coaching staff to monitor and supervise them the day before a game to make sure that they are not doing anything they shouldn’t be.

There was a priority placed on fitness work during the first few weeks, with the coaching staff well aware of the physical demands of the season ahead. Plenty of exercises aimed at improving agility, sprinting, and stamina were used, along with basic ball exercises in small groups and teams. The atmosphere was positive, the training slowly but surely increasing fitness levels, and the new players were beginning to integrate into the side.

Coaching staff and players would eat together on a Wednesday when they had a double session, and this allowed for a relaxed and pleasant ambience within the squad. Friendly matches were arranged, and potential signings were talked about in hushed circles by those in the know. Some players were given a trial period to see if they were of the required ability, and others were allowed to train with the team to maintain fitness, despite not being registered to any club.

One of these was Omar de Jesus, a veteran 36 year old right back who had played at the club about a decade earlier. After amassing almost 300 appearances for Aucas between 1993 – 2002, he had gone on to play for El Nacional, where he won a championship medal, and then Barcelona Guayaquil before being released at the end of last season. He was affectionately known as ‘tio’ and initially invited to train with the team to improve his fitness. However, the coaching staff quickly realised that he was still good enough to be considered a regular starter, and so offered him a contract. It seemed like this was to be the most surprising signing of Aucas’ pre-season, but the news was about to be eclipsed by the arrival of an Ecuadorian football superstar…

…The story continues in Part 2…

Frustrated Coach