Hello and welcome to Part 7 of VivaGlobetrotting, a Football Manager 2020 series that follows the managerial career of Ken Sasaki. As you will see by the thumbnail, Sasaki has found a new job in Chile. This post will reveal all and is without doubt the most important post of the series so far. If you have missed any posts so far, now is a great time to catch up! Follow the link below.
So, Ken Sasaki has joined Chilean giants Colo-Colo.
The manager who was sacked from Primera B side Puerto Montt just over a year ago has now joined the most successful domestic club in the country. Colo-Colo have won 32 top-tier titles in their history and they remain the only Chilean club to never have been relegated from the Campeonato Nacional. They have also won 11 Copa Chile titles (a record) and one Copa Libertadores (the only Chilean side to have won the top continental competition).
So why did Colo-Colo choose Sasaki? First let’s review how Sasaki performed with Coquimbo Unido after the mid-season break.
Coquimbo Unido | Overachieving?
The previous VivaGlobetrotting post discussed how Sasaki had begun to implement his own managerial identity at Coquimbo Unido. This had seen an improvement in form when compared to last season and it gave Sasaki confidence to continue to make necessary changes to improve the fortunes of the club.
In the first half of the Campeonato Nacional season, Coquimbo Unido conceded 52 clear-cut chances in 15 games. In attack, the side created just half this number. This was something that had to change. Sasaki and his backroom staff review footage of the first 15 league games and analysed where the side could improve tactically. They found that many of the clear-cut chances conceded were from through balls or long balls over the top. This led to pacey strikers running onto the ball and having a clear chance at scoring.
Brazilian goalkeeper Marcao can be thanked for ensuring that many of these clear-cut chances did not lead to goals. He has made 152 saves in 23 starts so far this season. He sits 3rd on the list of both saves held and saves parried after 23 league games, highlighting how busy he has been this season.
Over the mid-season break, Sasaki began to train a slightly altered formation with a few additional instructions. The image above shows the altered formation. In an attacking sense, the left-sided winger has been made into a second attacking midfielder. This was largely to suit star loan signing Matheus Anjos. However in order to help solidify the defence, Sasaki has moved one of the central midfielders back into a defensive midfield position to provide extra support to the backline. This may encourage one of the centre-backs to sit slightly deeper and reduce the chances of long balls and through balls from being effective.
This change has seen an improvement in form from Coquimbo Unido. In the 15 games prior to the mid-season break, 52 clear-cut chances were conceded. In the 8 games after the mid-season break, just 10 were conceded. This is a staggering improvement and included just 1 clear cut chance being conceded in the most recent four matches. Incredible!
Four wins from eight games looks bang average, but in the games against Antofagasta and Huachipato, Sasaki’s side conceded no clear-cut chances and can feel aggrieved at having lost both matches. The table saw Coquimbo Unido sit in 9th place, above their predicted and expected mid-table finish. Certainly a club who were punching above their weight.
It was during an international break that Ken Sasaki received a completely unexpected message. Colo-Colo had invited him to an interview to take the reins at a club who had been searching for a manager since sacking Americo Gallego in March. Since then, the club have been under the care of interim manager Gualberto Jara. Coquimbo Unido’s upturn in form has clearly been enough to prompt Colo-Colo into seeking Sasaki’s employment, coupled with the fact that Sasaki spent two years at the club towards the end of his playing career. In these two seasons, he helped guide the club to back-to-back titles and so he has clearly left a positive impression on the club. Sasaki attended the interview and was offered the job.
The Decision – Should Sasaki take the Colo-Colo job?
There were several factors to consider before Sasaki took the Colo-Colo job. Let’s review these factors in the format of pros and cons.
- Sasaki has previous experience at the club in a playing role
- Sasaki’s contract at Coquimbo Unido expires at the end of the season – his request for a new contract was DENIED
- Colo-Colo have far better facilities and resources, better allowing for Sasaki to implement his managerial identity and philosophy
- Colo-Colo present the chance for Sasaki to challenge for titles immediately, as well as competing in continental competitions
- Sasaki has successfully implemented his ideology at Coquimbo Unido, changing clubs now would mean implementing it again at a new club
- Colo-Colo have sacked their past four managers, with the longest tenure being 1 year and 53 days
- Expectations will be far higher at Colo-Colo
After setting up at Coquimbo Unido, it would take a special club to be able to encourage Sasaki to leave voluntarily. Colo-Colo were probably the only Chilean team capable of this and so on the 9th September 2022, Ken Sasaki left Coquimbo Unido for Colo-Colo.
Ken Sasaki joined Colo-Colo in a fantastic position. The club sat in second place in the Campeonato Nacional, four points behind leaders Universidad de Chile. In the Copa Chile, Colo-Colo had reached the semi-final where they would play, you guessed it, Uni de Chile.
The first port of call for Sasaki was to decide on a starting tactic. With just days to implement a playing style prior to Sasaki’s first game in charge, time was of the essence. Sasaki began to implement two of the three keys elements of his identity – play attacking football and focus on youth. He decided to use the tried and tested formation that was successful in the latter stages of this season with Coquimbo Unido. This attacking style would suit his squad who were regularly favourites to win games.
Colo-Colo have an abundance of hot youth prospects and so focusing on youth was an easy part of Sasaki’s team selection process, with the only struggle being which youth prospect to play! Pizarro, Espinoza and Villanueva stand out as players with huge potential for the future. These three became key members of Sasaki’s Colo-Colo side.
Sasaki won his first game as Colo-Colo boss, dispatching Universidad de Concepcion. Next up – Copa Chile action against rivals Uni de Chile.
Copa Chile | Universidad de Chile
This cup tie would provide a stern test for Colo-Colo. Uni de Chile would be out looking for revenge after Colo-Colo triumphed in the latest league fixture. And revenge would be had as Uni de Chile won both legs, winning 5-1 on aggregate. This scoreline would suggest that Colo-Colo had been completely outplayed, but the stats suggest different.
In both legs, Colo-Colo had the better of the chances but simply could not take them. 4 clear-cut chances were missed in the first leg, which finished 2-0, and 4 more were missed in the second leg (1 clear-cut chance was scored). Though disheartened, Sasaki can certainly take the positives from these two legs.
Universidad de Chile were running away with the league. After Colo-Colo drew with Cobresal, Uni de Chile held a six point lead with just three games to play. Let’s review what happened in the final few weeks of the 2022 season.
Colo-Colo and Uni de Chile both won the next two games, meaning that with three games to play, Uni de Chile sat six points ahead with Universidad Catolica (5th), Palestino (9th) and Sasaki’s old team Coquimbo Unido (11th) to play.
- Gameweek 28
Catolica were very impressive in their victory over league leaders, winning 2-0 as Colo-Colo beat Santiago Morning, reducing the lead at the top to just three points. However, with two mid-table teams to play, the title was certainly still Uni de Chile’s to lose.
- Gameweek 29
Universidad de Chile played a day earlier than Colo-Colo. Perhaps the pressure was getting to them, or perhaps fate was dictating the way in which the title would be played out. A defeat to Palestinoopened the door for Colo-Colo, knowing that any sort of win would see them overtake Uni de Chile to lead the league on goal difference.
And win they did. A professional 2-0 victory over Antofagasta meant that Colo-Colo leapt ahead of Uni de Chile on goal difference. This win meant that a win in the final match would see them win the league, providing that Uni de Chile did not win by enough goals to overtake on goal difference.
- Gameweek 30
This week, Colo-Colo played first to apply all of the pressure onto Uni de Chile. A 3-0 victory over bottom-placed Union Espanola meant that Uni de Chile would have to beat Coquimbo Unido by five goals to win the league.
Ken Sasaki himself attended the game and received a warm reception from fans. Sasaki always maintained a positive relationship with the club’s fans and although they were disappointed to lose him, they still were able to display some positivity towards the Japanese manager.
Knowing that a Coquimbo Unido goal would go a long way to winning Sasaki the title, he cheered them on as though he was still manager. And in the 25th minute, Renato Tarifeno scored for Coquimbo. A great finish from a tight angle saw Coquimbo lead. It was a goal that, barring a miraculous recovery from Uni de Chile, would secure the Chilean top-tier title for Colo-Colo for the first time since the 2016/17 season.
Uni de Chile pulled a goal back but ended drawing the game 1-1, gifting the title to Colo-Colo.
It has been talked about as one of the greatest comebacks in Chilean football, turning a six point deficit around with just three games left. Colo-Colo ended the season with 59 points, two ahead of Uni de Chile. Ken Sasaki has taken all the plaudits, with many pundits eating humble pie after suggesting that he was wrong for leaving Coquimbo, that he would regret his decision and be sacked within a year.
A league title just three seasons into his managerial career. It started with a sacking and now we’re here – league champions.
Thanks for reading.