Notes from Uruguay

  1. Notes from Uruguay

    PRELUDE

    With a tired sigh from the engine, the bus jolts forward before pulling off and swinging left at the junction as we weave our way out of the city north towards the highway.

    A stream of grey buildings, graffitied and in various states of disrepair, are intermittently broken as a grocery store, pharmacy, veterinary and then a small primary school disrupt up the sequence of residential properties. I take note as a young child dangerously runs ahead of its mother near the side of the road, behind her a faded Heineken sign adorns a crumbling grey wall. The paving slabs they walk on are uneven and broken, above them a chaotic spider web of overhead cables linking up to every building. Life along the side of avenida flickers past my window as we pick up speed.

    We're heading back to Sarandi Grande.

    The four-hour round trip to Montevideo and back is now a well-worn route of mine. It's been over six months since I first made the trip from the capital up to Sarandi Grande. I'd never assumed when managing in South America first became a distinct possibility that the setting would be a small rural farming town. But then, very little of how I envisaged football management in South American bore true.

  2. 'THE GROUP' - February 25th, 2017 (three games into the new season)

    We continue our journey for another couple minutes until we pull into our usual stop at an Ancap petrol station where most of the squad depart the bus and return to their cars which are parked around the back. Most of the players live in the city so don't travel back with us to Sarandi Grande. The bulk of squad brush past me as they go to collect their kit bags which this week's driver, who seems particularly miserable and unhelpful, hauls off numerous random bags not knowing who is actually getting off at this stop or continuing the journey.

    "Well done", I tell young Bruno Martino who'd made his full professional debut earlier this afternoon. "Boss, see you Monday," says my recently acquired centre-forward Martin Colombo with a resigned look as he departs down the steps of the bus holding his right thigh. We both know that he's had a poor afternoon and that he's still not performed well enough to justify my decision in giving him a two-year deal and the chance of playing at a higher level.

    Some of the players reboard the bus after going into the petrol station to get food and drinks. We'll make one more stop in the La Pas district on the outskirts of Montevideo where we drop off another three players, leaving just six or seven of us, including staff, on the bus for the duration of the drive back to Sarandi Grande.

    Leaving Cerrito's Parque Maracana stadium is one of the easier grounds to get away from which is fortunate as I couldn't wait to get from there after a disappointing display. We were heavily beaten 5-1, and just three weeks into the new season, I've already got a nagging worry that we might not be good enough this year.

    The board's briefing at the start of the season was that the team avoided getting into a relegation battle and in truth, with the players we brought into the squad I had some confidence in my belief that we would be able to hold our own in the Segunda Division this year.

    Last year was my induction into Uruguayan football and it neatly coincided with a reduced Segunda Division programme with the season calendar reverting to a January-December season and the league expanding to 16 teams for this coming season. I arrived in Montevideo last July unsure what to expect. I initially had no idea the club would be based so far from the city and the complications that would bring, so undertook a cautious approach in my first months in management as we eventually finished 12th out of 13 teams in a tightly packed league table.

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