Ken Sasaki has completed his fifth year in football management. In these five years he has managed three clubs, two of whom were clubs in which Sasaki played for in his playing career. He is currently the manager of Colo-Colo, statistically Chile’s most successful footballing side – quite a position to be in after just five years! This post will look back at Sasaki’s managerial career so far, taking in the highs and lows before reviewing the 2024 season with Colo-Colo.
For an introduction to this save and manager Ken Sasaki, do go back and read the introductory post here: https://vivalavidafm.com/2019/11/20/vivaglobetrotting-fm20-1-introduction/
5 years and counting – it’s been a rollercoaster of a journey!
Ken Sasaki began his managerial career with the last club he played for in a glittering football career. Deportes Puerto Montt hired Sasaki prior to the 2020 season and he would begin his managerial journey in the second-tier of Chilean football. To say it started badly was an understatement.
It took until his 9th game in charge to record his first win as manager. In those opening eight games, Puerto Montt managed one point and scored just 3 goals. Puerto Montt did recover and went on a run of games that saw them finish in 11th place – not terrible but far below the media prediction of fifth. A magical run in the Copa Chile perhaps saved Sasaki his job.
Sasaki’s side knocked out three top-tier opposition on their way to the semi-final of the cup and came incredibly close to reaching the final, losing out on penalties to another Campeonato Nacional side in O’Higgins.
After performing so well against top-tier opposition last season, Sasaki would certainly have hoped his side could kick on and really push towards promotion over the next few seasons.
Sadly, this was not to be. Puerto Montt struggled in the league and a run of four straight defeats prompted the board to relieve Sasaki of his duties.
|Deportes Puerto Montt||P||W||D||L||F||A||GD||PTS||Win %|
|Chilean Primera B||49||15||13||21||45||60||-15||58||30.6|
*sacked in 13th
This was not the end for Sasaki’s 2021 season though. Impressed by the run of games which saw Puerto Montt come so close to the 2020 Copa Chile final, Coquimbo Unido decided to invite Sasaki for an interview for their vacant managerial position. The club were in a relegation battle in the league above and as such this would be a huge risk for Sasaki – a relegation and consequential sacking could be detrimental to his reputation. Coquimbo offered Sasaki the job and, after some thought, he accepted.
Under new management, Coquimbo Unido won just two games from ten to end the 2021 season in 14th place, one place above the relegation zone. This was not a good start for Sasaki at all.
Over the offseason, Sasaki developed a managerial identity containing three principles in which he would like to follow in order to improve his results as a manager. These principles included playing attacking football, focusing on youth and targetting specific attributes when signing and selecting players.
Sasaki began to implement his philosophy at Coquimbo Unido and by mid-season the fruits of his labour had begun to show. Whilst nothing spectacular, Coquimbo sat in 9th place and had shown in recent performances that the only way was up. At this stage in the season, Sasaki’s thoughts were fully focused on pushing towards the continental places. What he could never have expected was a job interview to become Colo-Colo’s manager!
Colo-Colo stressed when approaching Sasaki that he was not first-choice and that his previous experience as a player for Colo-Colo had persuaded them to give him an opportunity.
And his interview went as well as he could have hoped. Colo-Colo approached Sasaki to become their new manager! Though a truly difficult decision for Sasaki, Colo-Colo were perhaps the only club who could have tempted him away from his project at Coquimbo. Sasaki duly accepted the job offer.
|Coquimbo Unido||P||W||D||L||F||A||GD||PTS||Win %|
|Chilean Campeonato Nacional||33||10||10||13||40||50||-10||40||30.3|
14th* – joined in 12th.
9th* – left after 23 games
Colo-Colo trailed league leaders Universidad de Chile by 4 points with seven games left. They also faced the league leaders in the semi-final of the Copa Chile too.
The Chilean leaders were too strong for Colo-Colo in the Copa Chile, winning both legs, but in the league Ken Sasaki managed to produce a miracle. Colo-Colo trailed Universidad de Chile by six points with three games to play. The leaders lost their next two matches with Colo-Colo winning theirs, meaning the two teams sat on equal points. On the final day, Universidad de Chile faced Sasaki’s ex-club Coquimbo Unido, knowing that failure to pick up a win would see Colo-Colo crowned champions after they won their final game.
Coquimbo Unido scored first and managed to hold on for a draw to ensure that Colo-Colo were crowned champions.
With the magic of last season behind him, Ken Sasaki had planned to spend the offseason preparing to implement his own managerial identity at Colo-Colo. He’d done so in part with the attacking mindset already playing a huge role in the tactical setup of the side, but the players at the club were perhaps not the perfect fit for Sasaki’s philosophy. As such, many players departed the club.
However, the board decided that now would be the perfect time to sell up and move on. This brought in a transfer embargo that scuppered plans to bring in talent to strengthen the Colo-Colo squad. In fact, it meant that the squad was considerably light for a title-defending side.
Many experienced first-team players left the squad and were not suitably replaced, meaning that Sasaki would have to rely on youth. Though this would benefit Sasaki’s ideology of focusing on youth, relying on youth is a different prospect and one that Sasaki was not too comfortable with prior to the beginning of the season.
He needn’t have worried, however, as Colo-Colo performed beyond expectations again in 2023 and won the league at a canter. Consecutive titles raised Sasaki’s reputation sufficiently that interest in his services arrived from abroad – Argentinian club San Lorenzo approached Sasaki for an interview. He declined. Sasaki was beginning to carve out a legacy with Colo-Colo.
Can Colo-Colo make it three titles in a row?
2024 Season Preview
Now into his fifth season of management, Ken Sasaki is beginning to feel at home. His manager identity is clear and the implementation of his ideology and philosophies has resulted in a successful start to his career with Colo-Colo. The aim now has to be to continue to achieve domestic success whilst improve in the continental competitions. Let’s see how Sasaki and his side have fared in the 2024 season.
After last season’s transfer embargo, Sasaki was keen to make full use of the unrestricted transfer window. One of the main rules in Chilean football is the limit of foreign players. In league and cup matches the limit if five foreign players in the matchday squad. Clubs can have 9 foreign players registered though, meaning that four would have to settle with missing out on matchdays. In the Copa Libertadores, however, there is no limit on foreign players, meaning all nine could theoretically play some part in the competition.
This means that signing foreign players can be key to both domestic and continental success.
Claudio Villagra was a signing from before Sasaki’s time. He was a key member of the title-winning side of both the 2022 and 2023 seasons however for a foreign player he could definitely be improved upon. Bolivian winger Luis Velasquez (signed for free!) certainly comes in as a direct improvement on Villagra.
A key area in which Sasaki had targetted for improvement last year was left-back. However, due to Dylan Gissi’s broken leg, a centre-back had to be brought in instead. This year saw Sasaki dramatically improve upon Ronald de la Fuente at left-back. Brazilian youngster Maicon Favera looks an excellent prospect and will certainly provide Colo-Colo with the much-needed quality that was missing from this position last year.
Alvaro Morales and Ignacio Jeraldino were signed to bolster the attack force for Colo-Colo. Morales, in particular, looks like a brilliant signing.
Sasaki was very pleased with his transfer business prior to the 2024 season. His squad certainly contains far greater depth than the squad of last season which will certainly be needed if Colo-Colo are to progress far domestically and continentally.
- Tactical setup
With the additional strength in attack now added to the squad, Sasaki has chosen a two-striker formation for the upcoming season. Marco Bolados was a star out on the right-wing last season and new signing Velasquez will hopefully replicate Bolados on the left-wing.
Colo-Colo will utilise a 4-2-4 system with attacking wingers supporting more selfless strikers. The central midfield players need to be more defensive-minded with the lack of defensive support from the wingers. Star player Vicente Pizarro and last season’s signing Nestor Cantero will be the first-choice pairing.
Tactically, Sasaki is pleased with how his side will set up this season. Though the side will perhaps be vulnerable at the back with a lack of wing support, it is part of Sasaki’s identity to be attacking.
2024 Season Review
Defending the title was easier than perhaps Sasaki could have expected last season, especially considering his imposed lack of transfer activity. Winning a third title should, theoretically, come a little bit easier with the quality of transfers coming into the club. But football rarely works like that and Sasaki was prepared for a tough season.
- Super Copa
Last year, Colo-Colo fell short in the Super Copa, losing out to Universidad de Chile. This season saw them face Universidad Catolica, perhaps the strongest Chilean side behind Colo-Colo.
What followed was a crushing victory for Colo-Colo, winning 3-0 to really excite Sasaki and the club’s fans ahead of the league season. Two new signings managed to get on the scoresheet too, Alvaro Morales and Luis Velasquez netting their first goals for the club.
- Campeonato Nacional – First 15
Colo-Colo started the season with an emphatic 5-1 victory over Universidad de Concepcion. It took until game six before Sasaki’s side were able to keep a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over Cobresal.
Colo-Colo sat 1st heading into the mid-season break but were by no means comfortable with Everton de Vina and Union Espanola providing the main challenges, Universidad Catolica trailed in 4th but should not be underestimated.
- Copa Libertadores – Group Stage
A 1st place finish last season again secured direct entry into the Copa Libertadores group stage. Last year, Colo-Colo failed to register a win, losing twice and drawing the remaining four matches.
This year, drawn against Gremio (Brazil), Libertad (Paraguay) and Oriente Petrolero (Bolivia), the Chilean champions fared much better. Two opening wins against Petrolero and Libertad gave Colo-Colo confidence and despite two losses against Gremio, Colo-Colo progressed through to the knockout rounds comfortably in second place.
- Mid-season transfers
One of the club’s aims stated in their vision is to sign high profile players. This is something that Sasaki has not been able to achieve and as such the board revealed their devastation with the lack of high profile signings.
To remedy this, Sasaki brought in two free signings from Europe. Felipe Caicedo arrived first after his contract expired at Lazio. The ageing striker agreed to sign as an impact sub and will be used to mentor some of the younger players at Colo-Colo. His mental attributes are insane! Nicolas Otamendi joined the club as an important player and will go on to start the majority of Colo-Colo’s games this season.
- Copa Chile – Knockout Rounds
Several of the earlier rounds of the Copa Chile gave Sasaki the opportunity to rest key players and focus on youth. This was done to little detriment to the outcomes of the matches with Colo-Colo reaching the semi-finals with relative ease.
Victory against Uniervsaidad de Concepcion secured passage through to the final of the Copa Chile, the first time Ken Sasaki will appear in the final as manager.
- Copa Libertadores – Knockout Rounds
One of the main aims for Sasaki with Colo-Colo is to achieve continental success. The main barriers to achieving this are teams from Argentina and Brazil. Chile trail these nations by quite some distance in terms of club quality. This has been highlighted in every game in which Colo-Colo have faced Argentine or Brazilian sides. A draw against Flamengo in the 2nd Round of the Copa Libertadores would give Sasaki’s side opportunity to develop against top opposition.
The home leg did not go according to plan. Colo-Colo trailed early and a 1-0 defeat would not have been terrible. But a late goal from Flamengo really made the scoreline difficult to overcome.
Indeed, a 2-0 defeat from leg 1 could not be overturned. However a 1-1 draw away from home against Flamengo is a very good performance and will give Sasaki confidence that his side are not miles away from where they need to be to compete.
- Campeonato Nacional – Final 15
The second fifteen matches began with a draw against Palestino. The next nine matches all ended in victories for Colo-Colo, a run that saw them extend their lead at the top of the table to fifteen points. This meant that a point from any of the remaining five matches would see Colo-Colo win a third straight title.
What followed was a terrible loss of form that came from nowhere. Three consecutive losses against sides all in the lower half of the table suggested that the pressure was getting to the players. The lead at the top was cut to six points with Universidad Catolica winning consecutively to ensure that Colo-Colo would have to earn a point tow retain the title.
2-0 down to Universidad de Chile added more pressure to Sasaki, but two late goals secured the point that retained the title. Three in a row for Colo-Colo.
- Copa Chile – Final
In amongst the loss of form in the league came the Copa Chile final. Everton de Vina were Colo-Colo’s opponents and Sasaki’s side were clearly favourites.
The first leg was won 2-0 by Colo-Colo, a lead surely insurmountable in the second leg?
Unfortunately not. Colo-Colo capitulated. Their loss of form in the league transferred over to the Copa Chile final and it did so in dramatic fashion. A 4-0 loss was Colo-Colo’s heaviest defeat under Sasaki and it left questions as to why their drop off in form was so sudden, especially after a run of nine wins in a row!
Nonetheless, 2024 has been a good season for Colo-Colo.
- Standout Performers
3 of the 5 standout performers for Colo-Colo this season were signed by Sasaki earlier this year. Left-back Maicon Favera led the way in terms of average rating with a 7.39. His partnership with Velasquez down the left helped provide a constant attacking threat throughout the season. The same can be said with the right-sided partnership between Vejar and Bolados.
- Areas to Improve
AMR – backup player
One of the main areas in which Colo-Colo need to improve is in their depth out wide on the right. Bolados played the majority of games this season, but when he didn’t play his position was filled by either Leonardo Campana (who has now left the club) or youngster Ivan Salamanca. Neither provided the quality that Bolados possesses.
A great end to Sasaki’s first five years in football management
Ken Sasaki has enjoyed a rollercoaster of a first five years in management. He has already been sacked. He has been to more board meetings than press conferences. Yet he has still won three top-tier titles!
|Chilean Campeonato Nacional||67||44||13||10||134||65||69||145||65.7|
|1st*, 1st, 1st|
|SF, QF, RU|
|Chilean Super Copa||2||1||0||1||5||3||2||3||50.0|
1st* – joined in 2nd with 7 games to play
Sasaki has now managed over 200 games, winning 94 of them. A distinctly average set of numbers that will surely improve the longer he spends with Colo-Colo.
Let’s hope Sasaki can continue to bring success to Colo-Colo and improve his managerial numbers!
Thanks for reading.