Though it is hard to find good things about this board in recent years, the return of Rubén Darío Insúa might be the best thing that happened to San Lorenzo in a long time. In the wake of a massive clásico win over lifelong rivals Boca Juniors, there is growing optimism in El Gallego.
Yes, there’s still a long way to go in the 2022 Liga Profesional. And yes, anything can happen between now and October, when the tournament comes to an end. We have already witnessed how former San Lorenzo managers got off to a strong start, eventually losing their job after a string of bad results. But somehow, there’s a feeling that things will finally be different this time.
It’s been years since San Lorenzo spent at least one year with the same guy on the dugout. In Argentina, it is not usual for managers to stay at the same club for a long time – Marcelo Gallardo at River Plate is an exceptional case. But what’s been going on at San Lorenzo is not usual either.
Since the departure of Edgardo Bauza at the end of 2015, San Lorenzo have appointed 10 different coaches before Insúa arrived: Pablo Guede (2016), Diego Aguirre (2016-17), Claudio Biaggio (2017-18), Jorge Almiron (2018-19), Juan Antonio Pizzi (2019), Diego Monarriz (2019-20), Mariano Soso (2020-21), Diego Dabove (2021), Paolo Montero (2021) and Pedro Troglio (2022).
That without considering all the times an interim manager has taken care of the first team. While Biaggio was the caretaker boss before the board decided to make him permament, Monarriz had four different stints as interim coach: first in 2018 after Biaggio was fired, in 2019 he temporarily took over with Almiron gone and a few months later replaced Pizzi before being named permanent, and in 2021 he took the reins when Montero left.
Additionally, Hugo Tocalli took charge after Monarriz was sacked in 2020 and Leandro Romagnoli – with Monarriz as his assistant – was the interim boss when Dabove stepped down. In 2022, Fernando Beron took over after Troglio walked away and laid a good foundation on which to build for the next manager.
A chaotic background
Despite the expectations around his appointment, Troglio failed to get El Ciclón back on their feet this year. With only one win in 10 games, a humiliating Copa Argentina elimination at the hands of third-tier side Racing de Córdoba sealed his fate. And the string of failures continued. No manager since Biaggio (September 2017 – October 2018) was able to stay in charge of San Lorenzo for at least one year. In fact, the last coach who lasted at least six months was Soso – though that could have been different if it weren’t for the months-long lockout in 2020.
The biggest problem at San Lorenzo, for years, has clearly been on the top. The same board that began their stint by leading the club to domestic and continental glory would later ruin their reputation by stop caring about the roles they were elected for. In his last year as president in 2019, Matias Lammens was more focused on his political campaign to run as Buenos Aires’ mayor. He would later continue (on paper) as vice president, but after being named Argentina’s tourism and sports minister, he barely showed up at El Nuevo Gasometro.
Marcelo Tinelli, the renowned TV personality and lifelong Cuervo, also let San Lorenzo fans down. He ran for the club’s presidency after Lammens, comfortably won the elections, but he never lived up to the expectations. After Dabove’s lack of success in 2021, Tinelli took a leave of absence to focus on his TV show. Since then, San Lorenzo fell apart, had a disastrous performance in the Liga Profesional and jeopardized their future in the top-flight (the club is in a tough spot in the 2023 Promedios). After a year as interim president, Horacio Arreceygor became the official chairman when Tinelli quit in May. In a nutshell, the club has been a mess on the pitch, but especially off it.
The atmosphere at San Lorenzo has been far from nice since crowds were allowed back into stadiums in October 2021, with a disgruntled fan base making their feelings loud and clear in every home game. It took months, a number of marches, and an alarmingly growing anger among the fans for the board to finally make steps towards an early call for elections.
But on the pitch, things would slowly start to improve when Berón promoted some promising youngsters to the first team. The team got back to winning ways after so long, and fans understood that the kids deserved support. The club started to lose professional players due to debt (Gino Peruzzi, Gabriel Rojas, Alejandro Donatti) and would continue to do so (Nicolas ‘Uvita’ Fernandez, Yeison Gordillo), therefore San Lorenzo were left with not much but a number of young footballers with little or no professional experience whatsoever.
That, in addition to the club’s delicate financial situation and the fans’ desperation for results, made a number of managers doubt whether taking over at San Lorenzo. Berón made it clear he wanted to go back to his role as the coordinator of the club’s youth football, so he wasn’t an option either. In that chaos, one man showed no fear in taking the reins amid a chaotic atmosphere.
A man from the house comes to the rescue
In other circumstances, Rubén Darío Insúa may have not been the chosen one. In fact, the board made him wait for some days even after he said yes. The 61-year-old hadn’t coached in Argentina for a long time, his résumé was not as decorated as other managers’ and his latest jobs weren’t very attractive. But he had one thing that no other candidate had: a strong understanding of what it means to be the manager of San Lorenzo de Almagro.
San Lorenzo are not just an important club in Insúa’s football career, San Lorenzo is his life. Insúa was born a few blocks away from the Viejo Gasometro – San Lorenzo’s old stadium, where everything began for him. His father was a lifelong socio, Ruben emerged from their ranks and was coached by some of the most emblematic coaches in their history, such as Osvaldo Zubeldía – from whom he learned some big lessons that are essential for his current stint.
Ruben would go through some of the darkest episodes in the club history while he was a young player on the senior squad, like the loss of El Viejo Gasometro and the relegation in 1981. But El Gallego, born and raised a Cuervo, played a pivotal role in San Lorenzo’s resurgence, scoring the penalty that sealed their return to the top-flight in 1982. 20 years later, an already retired Insua took charge of San Lorenzo, leading them to their second international title in the first edition of the Copa Sudamericana.
Insúa later worked in other countries such as Ecuador (where he succeeded with Barcelona and Deportivo Quito), Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia. While some people considered his time away from Argentina was a weakness, in his first day back in Boedo, he made something clear: “Football is played all over the world.”
His past as head coach or his latest jobs didn’t matter much: San Lorenzo needed a man who cared, who was not afraid of taking over in these chaotic times, who understood what it means to represent this club, how the fan feels and how to work with young players.
Insúa, 61, is a much more experienced coach than 20 years ago, when he promoted the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Gonzalo Rodriguez, among other youngsters, in that Copa Sudamerica-winning team. He knows a good product of the academy when he sees it, and he gives them opportunities. He is also an example for them, who see in El Gallego a respected club legend who knows every aspect of San Lorenzo.
His calm but sincere approach to the players is something that San Lorenzo also needed: a leader who made clear from the very first moment he was the one in charge. In his first weeks since he returned, Insúa showed a great ability to deal with the dressing room. There are no untouchable players. The rules are the same for everyone, no matter what’s their age or past with the club.
Insúa has in Sebastián Torrico, Néstor Ortigoza and Nicolás Blandi three veteran players with a lot of history at San Lorenzo, but what matters is what they can bring to the table today. While Torrico can still appear between the sticks, the other two seem to run from behind as their best days look far behind them.
El Gallego didn’t hesitate to show some discipline to the younger players either, helping them grow and understand that everyone has to work hard to be on the team. There’s a phrase that Insúa once heard from Zubeldía that he likes to repeat from time to time: “To succeed in San Lorenzo, you have to work hard.” That’s the message he sends to his players since he took over.
However, Insúa is also fair. When he sees hard work or results, he rewards it. After the win over Boca, he gave the team two days off to not only enjoy the win and clear their minds, but also to make them realise that hard work pays off.
San Lorenzo still have a mountain to climb, but they seem to be on the right direction with Insúa. El Ciclón have only lost once since he arrived, in a controversial defeat to Barracas Central. They may have not won much so far, but the team showed signs of progress.
Whenever San Lorenzo conceded before, it practically meant they were losing that day. That’s no longer the case. While they have yet to work on not conceding first, the Cuervos now have an ability to react they lacked before. San Lorenzo started trailing in five of their seven games this season, and in all of them they bounced back.
Getting the best out of this squad
It’s crystal clear that San Lorenzo lack depth and experience in their squad. While they have many promising prospects, the roster looks quite unbalanced for a club that aims to challenge for an international berth. When you look at El Ciclón, you have kids with less than 10 appearances alongside veterans in the final stages of their careers.
Insúa knew this was the situation before he accepted the job, and he also knew the club would have a hard time at the time of signing players. The board are still to blame for being unable to bring new faces, but it speaks highly of Insúa to get results without any help.
As we’ve mentioned before, Berón laid a good foundation on which to build on. By playing with five at the back, he strengthened San Lorenzo defensively, which allowed them to stop conceding defeats. Insúa took it into account and it’s paying off.
This system seems to work the most for El Ciclón, as they don’t have much options up front. With two promising youngsters on the flanks such as Agustín Giay and Nicolás Fernandez Mercau, the team can produce dangerous attacks while it can also protect itself at the back. San Lorenzo also have dependable center-backs in Federico Gattoni, Gastón Hernández, Cristian Zapata, and Jeremías James, who unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury against Boca.
The middle of the park seems to be the biggest weakness of the team, but that could change with the arrival of Juan Ignacio Méndez (a free agent from Talleres). While Jalil Elías does a great work, Siro Rosané struggles to do the job a typical holding midfielder is required to. Another option is Francisco Perruzzi, but he’s still very young.
El Ciclón also needs to strengthen itself up front. Adam Bareiro got off to a hot start, but the team lacks alternatives to the Paraguayan forward – which is why Insúa has been desperate to bring back Martín Cauteruccio all these weeks.
Other than that, they seem to be fine. Ezequiel Cerutti became a key player this year, earning a contract extension with the club, while Nahuel ‘Perrito’ Barrios got back to his best under Insúa. Iván Leguizamón is another option in attack, as the young winger has made an impression since El Gallego took over.
It’s not a large squad, but San Lorenzo have yet to see the best of other two players this term. Agustin Martegani, who established himself in the lineup in the Copa de la Liga, may have lost his spot in the starting eleven but he still has a bright future and can return anytime. Gonzalo Maroni has yet to make his debut since arriving on loan from Boca, so it will be interesting to see what he can bring to the table.
At the end of the day, results rule in football, especially in Argentina. Therefore, Insúa, like any other coach in the Liga Profesional, will inevitably depend on them to keep his job. However, you can feel that good things are finally on the horizon for San Lorenzo.