Carlos Queiroz has been in charge of the Colombian national team since February. With only two friendlies in the pocket so far and the Copa América in Brazil around the corner, the Mozambique-born Portuguese manager gives his first impressions on the job.
Flowers and coffee are not the only things that Colombia excels at exporting. Carlos Queiroz, the country’s new manager told a recent press gathering that footballers are also high on the list. “One of my first tasks was to find out how many professional players Colombia had across the world, and this took a long time. When we added them all up there were 1,064 on our list.” He added, “I have to tell you that this number did surprise me though, because Colombia must be the second or third biggest exporter of players of any country in the world.”
“Many weren’t playing in the top leagues or for the biggest clubs, which will always be my priority, but you still have to consider that Fernandinho was a Brazil player when he was playing in Ukraine. My obligation has therefore been to open the doors to all professional Colombian players wherever they might be playing.”
Queiroz isn’t planning to throw Pékerman’s work overboard but will try to implement some changes to playing style. “Burning bridges after Colombia’s good results and all the positive things the team has achieved in recent years isn’t the way to go. We have to respect the path that Colombia has trod to reach this point,” he said. “Colombia does not need a revolution.” However, of course the new manager sees room for improvement: “What I need to do is make surgical decisions in order to perfect the team’s harmony within its realities.”
What he’s looking to do is ensure continuity of play, regardless of who is on the pitch. “Sometimes important players aren’t available but you have to maintain the team’s organisation in order to be efficient and win games,” he says. “Every team needs to have defensive and attacking processes, while also maintaining a style of play. Colombia needs to have its own style. For me, when the team doesn’t have the ball everybody has to defend. When we have the ball, everybody has to attack.”
June’s Copa America in Brazil will see Colombia’s first big tournament with Queiroz at the helm. Colombia will play Argentina, Paraguay and this year’s Asian champions Qatar in the group stage. The affable manager told journalists that he’s already identified 38 players to work with in the run up to the competition. “The idea is to have more or less three players per position, as well as five goalkeepers,” he said.
But with the event just around the corner, several key players for los cafeteros face injury troubles, a challenge that Queiroz touched on. “As everyone knows, over the last few months Colombia have lost a lot of players to injury and that’s a huge concern for me.”
“This is just my opinion but by studying Colombia over the last few years and seeing that they have played the World Cup in 2014, the Copa America in 2015 and 2016, World Cup qualifiers in 2017 and the World Cup last year, it is clear that they have endured a very heavy schedule for three, four or five years.”
Put simply, they need a break. “Some players haven’t really had the chance of a proper holiday. In my experience, that explains the injury situation as players have been overworked.”
And Queiroz has got a special programme for several players in mind. “Right from the very start, I’ve told my coaching staff to follow all players, especially right now in the cases of [Yerry] Mina, [Cristián] Zapata and [Juan Guillermo] Cuadrado, who will have somebody working with them at their clubs because we want them to be back for the Copa America.”
In the longer run, it looks like we’ll see a very player-centric approach from the newest name in Colombian football. “For me it’s really important that my players feel good and aren’t worried about fatigue or getting injured,” Queiroz finished.
Copa América 2019 schedule
On May 15, Queiroz will announce the 40-player provisional squad list for the Copa América, while on May 30 the final list of 23 players to feature in Brazil will be announced.
Colombia vs Argentina
Salvador, June 15, 5pm
Colombia vs Qatar
Sao Paulo, June 19, 4.30pm
Colombia vs Paraguay
Salvador, June 23, 2pm
Copa América 2020
Colombia will host the 2020 Copa América alongside Argentina next year. The tournament, which usually takes place every four years, will happen only a year after the this June’s Brazilian edition, in order to line up with with the European Cups, which take place two years after each World Cup.
The decision from the South American federation to hold the tournament in two countries on opposite sides of the continent is also a first, but several journalists claim it is a political decision that has got little to do with football reasons.
*additional reporting by Carl Worswick