Gracias, Don Jose!

Two weeks ago, Jose Nestor Pekerman has officially left his role as the head coach of Colombia’s national team after six and a half years.

Since Francisco “Pacho” Maturana, who was at the helm between the years 1987 – 1994, it was the longest period of any coach in this job. Pekerman’s contract has expired on August 31st and then he met with the president of the Colombian federation, Ramon Jesurun in order to discuss his future. From the Colombian side, they were interested in extending his contract but the conversations didn’t arrive to the salary issue: After six years and a half, Pekerman stepped aside.

The most successful coach in the history of Colombia decided that he completed his mission and wants to search for other directions.

The Success & the Numbers

Before we will deep dive in to his reign’s attributes, let’s have a look on his stats through all his period as the head coach since his appointment on February 1st, 2012:

Matches: 78
Wins: 42
Draws: 20
Losses: 16
Goals in favour: 124
Goals conceded: 59
Performance: 62.3%

Beyond the numbers, Pekerman managed to achieve all of his goals and more.
He was appointed when Colombia had 4 points out of 9 and ranked out of the qualification zone for the 2014 World Cup. Under his guidance, Colombia finished in 2nd place with a new total points’ record in any of their World Cup qualifiers campaign – 30 ; and most importantly, after 16 years of absence, Colombia returned to the World Cup.

Their impressive performances during the qualifiers helped them jump into the 3rd place at the FIFA world rankings, a fact which also gave them the opportunity to be top-seeded in the draw for the first time in their history.
They kept their good run also during the 2014 World Cup and all this when they lost their main figure, Radamel Falcao, 4 months before the tournament due to a serious injury. With tons of pressure on his shoulders, 22-year-old James Rodriguez, took the national team to the quarter final, their best ever World Cup achievement. In Brazil 2014, Colombia won four matches out of five and lost only once: 2-1 to the host nation.

For Colombia, it was a huge success and Pekerman received so much love and honor from the Colombian president and public. This huge success made Pekerman to be chosen as the best coach in South America three times in a row between 2012–2014.

Take us to the World Cup

After the success, Pekerman decided to renew his contract for four more years, which was accepted with great relief by the Colombian fans. The main goal was, of course, to qualify to the World Cup tournament for the second straight time since the 90’s.

During 2018, the football Colombia was playing was less convincing, the form wasn’t the best and the Yellow & Blue lost too many points in their castle at the Metropolitano stadium in Barranquilla. Eventually, they still managed to qualify in the last match after a 1-1 draw on the road with Peru which left the Chileans out.

In the World Cup itself, Colombia started badly with a 2-1 defeat against Japan, but Pekerman showed his influence once again when his players managed to overcome with a wonderful 3-0 win against Poland and another 1-0 win against Senegal to finish as the group winners.
It was the first time that Colombia qualified to the next round after they lost their opening match. Once again Pekerman had to deal without his biggest star, this time it was James Rodriguez who couldn’t play against England in the round of 16 due to an injury. Despite a late equalizer, Colombia lost in a penalty shoot-out and has been eliminated from the tournament.

Por La Camiseta 

Pekerman’s biggest influence on the players was the fact that he made them realize the importance of what they represent when they wear the yellow jersey of Colombia. The commitment that they have not only for themselves but also for other 50 million people who support them. This mentality made Colombia win tough matches that in the past they didn’t and helped them to pass the round of 16 barrier against a tough opponent like Uruguay.

It was Pekerman who decided to play the home games in the hot climate of Barranquilla with 95% humidity and at 15:30. It was Pekerman who decided to give up on the traditional blue shorts and red socks and to change them into white. His explanation? With the white color, the referee will see clearly tackles that the rivals will make and it will cause his players to get more calls in their favor. Pekerman’s brain worked overtime.

But not everything was perfect with Don Jose. His most disappointing missions were without a doubt the back-to-back Copa America tournaments in 2015 and 2016. The biggest failure was the 2015 tournament in Chile when Colombia came as one of the favorites after their impressive run a year earlier, but the players didn’t perform as they did in Brazil. Colombia scored only one (!) goal in four matches before they were eliminated in a penalty shoot-out against Argentina in the quarters. The main reason for the failure was the lack of form of key players like Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez, Zuñiga and Armero.

A year later, the CONMEBOL celebrated 100 years for the Copa America tournament in the USA and Colombia performed a bit better, but their form still wasn’t convincing enough. They still managed to finish as group winners, pass Peru in the quarter final only to disappoint the fans one more time by losing 0-2 in the semi-final against Chile. At the end, they finished 3rd with a 1-0 win over the USA.

Educating the Stars & the Media

Pekerman did enjoy the golden generation of Colombia, but we cannot forget that most of them reached their prime when he was in charge.
As one of the best youth coaches in the world,  this is exactly what he did in his six years in Colombia: Give opportunities to the youngsters.

Under his charge, Falcao and James played at their best; He handled with problematic players like Edwin Cardona and Teo Gutierrez who became key players for the national team; He gave the first chance to one of his most talented players, 21-year-old Juan Fernando Quintero, in the 2014 World Cup. Quintero somehow lost the right path, gained weight and seemed to end his professional career, but in the last moment he woke up: Pekerman called and Quintero was one of Colombia’s best players in Russia 2018.

The Jewish-Argentinean coach has built the base for Colombia’s bright future. During his campaign, he called no less than 97 players. He discovered players like Yerry Mina, Davinson Sanchez, Eder Balanta, Camilo Vargas, Wilmar Barrios, Luis Muriel, Santiago Arias, Miguel Borja, Duvan Zapata etc. And like I mentioned before, if someone has an eye for young talents, it’s Don Jose.

But Pekerman can also erase players from the national team pool if they have discipline problems. When center back Aquivaldo Mosquera criticized him in public back in 2012, he was never called again. Another incident occurred in 2012, when Dorlan Pabon decided to take a free kick in the last minute even though Pekerman ordered James to do so. It was the last time Pabon wore the yellow shirt despite wonderful form in his clubs.

Despite being a consensus in Colombia until his last day, it was actually the media who was pretty much happy with the fact that Pekerman won’t continue.

In his first campaign it was hard to criticise him since the team played excellent and was highly convincing with their performances, but once the form wasn’t good enough, it was the media who was the first to pick, sometimes unfairly.

It was hard for all the journalists to accept the fact that Pekerman almost didn’t talk besides the obligated press conferences; It was annoying for them that he never leaked his starting lineup until an hour before each match or waited for the deadline until he revealed his squad invitations for the games. It was impossible for them to accept the fact that the national coach barely attended domestic league games. Former International star, Freddy Rincon, was one of the main critics of Pekerman and said that the number of good performances that he saw was few.

A True Colo-gentino

During his six and a half years, Pekerman never talked against anyone, but in his last press conference he exploded. In his polite way, of course, but he seemed very angry. “The number of lies about me was very big and the national team was the main victim. This was my biggest disappointment because I’ve never seen anything like this in many countries”, said the 69-year-old Argentine coach.

In the end, most of the country supported him and he had only kind words to say about it. “I received so much love from this country who I know so well (Pekerman played during his career in Independiente Medellin). I want to apologize to my Colombian daughter, she is very sad right now, but it’s time for me to move on after I completed my mission”. Most of the country remembers where Colombia was since Valderrama’s generation retired and Pekerman was the one who returned them to the top of the football’s biggest stage. When Pekerman was appointed, Colombia was ranked in the 36th place, and since Pekerman was in charge their worst rank was 14th.

Pekerman and I

At last, here’s one personal comment from myself.
As a fanatic fan of Colombia since 1991, I knew many disappointing moments and only a few good ones. With Pekerman it changed. He made us fall in love with the national team again, with his unique style.

As a fan I will especially remember two great games, Pekerman’s best in my opinion: The first one was played in Barranquilla when Colombia needed a draw in order to qualify to the 2014 World Cup. They hosted Chile in front of 60,000 people and found themselves in a 0-3 deficit after 68 minutes. A huge comeback, the best that I’ve ever seen from Colombia, included three goals in 17 minutes to equalize the score and return to the World Cup after 16 years.
The second game was during the 2014 World Cup round of 16 vs. Uruguay. Colombia wanted to make history by reaching the quarter final for the very first time and managed to play their best game of the tournament. Old Colombia would probably choke, but Pekerman’s Colombia controlled the match, won 2-0 when James Rodriguez scored the most beautiful goal of 2014.

Unfortunately, his last game was most probably his worst one. Colombia played once again in the round of 16, this time in the 2018 World Cup, against an average English team. For some reason, Pekerman decided to start with three defensive midfielders. Instead of playing their usual attacking game, Colombia defended too much, managed to get a draw in the last minute, but eventually lost in a penalty shoot-out. It was a game that Colombia could and should’ve won.

Still, I would be very happy to see Don Jose continue in his job, but he decided to leave and maybe it’s not a bad idea. We will always be thankful for his great job and the faith that he brought back to the national team after so many failures.

Thank you very much, Mr. Pekerman. Muchas gracias, Don Jose.

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