The previous post in the VivaGlobetrotting series was a big one. If you missed it, do go back and catch up on it before reading this post by following this link. This post will review how the start of the 2023 season has gone so far for Ken Sasaki and his Colo-Colo side.
Ken Sasaki fell on his feet last season. The year began with Coquimbo Unido in the top-tier of Chilean football. Sasaki spent time creating and implementing his own managerial identity at the club with some success. He took the club up towards the continental places in the league, far above the board’s expectation of mid-table. It was this good league standing that prompted Colo-Colo, Chile’s most successful domestic footballing side, to approach Sasaki to be their new manager.
Sasaki accepted, albeit with some degree of hesitation. He had implemented his own identity at Coquimbo Unido and would not have left had any other Chilean club approached him. His playing past at Colo-Colo effectively secured his signature. Sasaki began managing his new club at a crucial point in their season, battling for both the league title and the Copa Chile. What followed was an intense few months, culminating in the last day drama that saw Colo-Colo win their first league title since 2017.
Now, with a long break until the new season, Sasaki would need to start implementing his managerial identity at Colo-Colo.
Sasaki’s plans for pre-season
Sasaki’s identity consists of three key points: attacking mindset, focus on youth, target specific attributes. These ideas were developed after a poor start to his managerial career where he was sacked from Puerto Montt and won just two of his opening ten games with Coquimbo Unido.
The attacking mindset was already partly implemented over the past few months of last season, however more work was needed to ensure that the tactical setup of the side suited certain key players. Focusing on youth would come naturally with Colo-Colo producing several first-team squad ready youngsters through their youth academy. The main aim of the break in-between seasons was to clear out the squad of any deadwood and bring in quality that would help the club progress in the Copa Libertadores.
At the end of the 2023 season, Colo-Colo’s first-team squad consisted of 53 players. This number would be reduced naturally through the creation of Colo-Colo B, but there were still several players who would need to leave the club. This was Sasaki’s plan for the break. But the board were not going to make it easy.
Board Takeover = Transfer Embargo
Days before the opening of the Chilean transfer window, word came through that the Colo-Colo oners were looking to move on from the club. this began an infuriating process whereby a transfer embargo was imposed on Ken Sasaki, prohibiting player signings. Players could still be sold, but with no guarantee of when the embargo would be lifted, selling players would have to be done with due consideration.
The season drew ever closer and still Sasaki was unable to make any signings. Players did leave the club to ensure that the number of players in the first-team was suitable and enabled the progression of youth players. Having too many older first-team players would either hinder the development of younger players or lower morale due to a lack of playing time.
£625k was brought in through player sales as seven players left permanently.
But still, Sasaki remained unable to replace any of them. This remained the case up to and beyond the transfer deadline, meaning that no strengthening of any kind was made to the first-team squad.
Colo-Colo squad for 2023 season
Colo-Colo’s fixture list would certainly require some squad depth to be able to cope with league and continental football. However, as a result of the transfer embargo, Ken Sasaki would have to rely on 24 players to use throughout the season. Of these 24 players, 5 are teenagers with high potential but who are not quite ready for first-team football. There is a pertinent worry amongst the Colo-Colo staff team that a bad patch of injuries could cripple the squad’s chances of success this season.
Nonetheless, Sasaki pressed on with the season and began to think about which players would need to be relied upon to get the squad through to the mid-season transfer window.
- Brayan Vejar
Star player last season, Brayan Vejar is again the key player for Colo-Colo this season. He’s won 9 caps for Chile and is valued at £1.1m, second in price only to Marco Bolados.
- Vicente Pizarro
Vicente Pizarro is the player Sasaki intends to build a team around. The defensive midfielder is just 20 years of age and he has the potential to really grow into a dominant central midfield player. With Sasaki’s focus on youth, Pizarro is likely to be given plenty of opportunities to develop into a star.
- Marco Bolados
Marco Bolados is the highest-valued player in the Colo-Colo squad. Last season, he scored 7 goals in 29 league appearances. Already this season he has scored 7 goals in 7 league games.
Areas to improve
Ronald de La Fuente is the first-choice left-back at the club and assistant manager Gonzalo Villagra believes that he is a weak link of the Colo-Colo defence. Sasaki agrees. Yet since Sasaki’s arrival, La Fuente has consistently performed well and so he remains first-choice left-back until a better player can be brought in.
- Central midfield
Two high-potential players are currently fighting for the central midfield role. William Alarcon is the man in possession with Ethan Espinoza closely on his heels. Neither man is truly capable of running the midfield, especially in a role that requires great tactical awareness. As such, this is a position that needs to be addressed come the mid-season break.
The final area of weakness in this Colo-Colo side is in the striker area. Alexander Oroz is leading the line. The 20-year-old is a player who Sasaki would prefer to use as an impact substitute, but a real lack of depth up top means that Oroz is not only first-choice but the only choice!
Sasaki to be replaced?!
League winning manager last season, under pressure manager this season. Ken Sasaki’s luck does not get any better. As a result of the board takeover, new owner and president Leonardo Goicoechea has made plans to relieve Sasaki of his duties.
Sasaki’s job security had become precarious and the pressure was on to win every game at all costs for a defeat could see him lose his job.
After weeks of worry, the league win last year clearly had some impact upon the new owner as Sasaki was given news that his job was safe and the transfer embargo had been lifted.
Three teams unbeaten after 10
Colo-Colo have started well in the league and remain unbeaten after ten games. These games include a 1-0 win against title favourites Universidad Catolica and a draw against last season’s challengers Universidad de Chile.
Two other teams are also unbeaten – Everton de Vina del Mar and Sasaki’s old side Coquimbo Unido. Pundits have suggested that Coquimbo may have Sasaki to thank for the successes this season with acknowledgements being made over how well the club is set up for the future.
The Copa Libertadores has provided a sterner challenge for Colo-Colo and they are currently winless after five matches alongside Colombian side Atletico Nacional. It was against Atletico where Colo-Colo came closest to victory, throwing away a 3-0 lead by conceding 3 goals within the last fifteen minutes.
Plans for the mid-season break
Ken Sasaki must now start planning for the future and this begins with a mid-season break after 15 league matches. During this break, clubs can sign a maximum of three players. As such, Sasaki will be looking to strengthen the three areas of weaknesses highlighted earlier: left-back, central midfield and striker. These three signings could make or break the second half of the season.
The Copa Chile also takes place during the mid-season break. Sasaki has been knocked out in the semi-finals of the competition twice in three years as a manager. Can he take his young side one step further and reach the final this year?
Thanks for reading.