This is episode five of a wider series. To start at episode one, please click here.
The streets of La Paz are a vibrant explosion of colour.
The locals move at a frenetic pace, their urgent energy charging around the textile and food markets that line the uneven streets perhaps only matched by the enthusiasm of the traders in the famous witches’ market. Perhaps Fernando Teixidó has visited some of these merchants before. It may explain The Strongest’s magical unbeaten run of form.
Speaking of the Boliviano 2019 champions’ manager, Teixidó is currently driving through La Paz in the old and battered ‘bronze green’ Land Rover the club provided to him to get around the city. Not heading anywhere specific, just driving.
The Peruvian likes to do this from time to time.
Something about the contrast of listening to his favourite jazz album (John Klemmer’s classic ‘Touch’ from 1975, if you are interested) in the serenity of the Land Rover’s cabin, versus the bustling chaos of the streets, keeps him calm and focused.
There’s an old sandy pitch, just off the busiest streets, where the local kids love to play football. As you’d expect, there is, as always, a group of rampaging youngsters, all chasing the same ball in a pack and bickering over who should go in goal next. I am convinced that kids’ early experience of football in the street is the same the world over.
Teixidó is sat at the traffic lights opposite the dusty pitches. ‘Glass Dolphins’ calmly creeps out of the stereo speakers, barely audible above the blasting aircon. Fernando adjusts his sunglasses to see something incredible.
Normally the kids are all wearing one from quite a specific selection of replica shirts as they furiously chase each other (and the old torn ball) in circles. The blue and red of Barcelona with ‘Messi 10’ on the back. A mixture of Real Madrid and Juventus tops with ‘Ronaldo 7’ on them. Occasionally you’ll see a Bolivia national team shirt, but not since the days of Marco Etcheverry has there been a real Bolivian talisman for the youth to idolise.
But times are changing. Teixidó has turned The Strongest into an exciting team to watch. Only 3 matches lost from 62 in charge and the birth of the promising ‘Rolando y Ronaldo’ strike partnership has clearly captured the attention of the younger generation. Four of the cluster of kids playing today all wear the black and yellow stripes of The Strongest.
A smile develops across Teixidó’s face. He removes his sunglasses and looks down at the passenger seat briefly to grab his phone. Assistant Manager Raúl Gutiérrez has to hear about this.
Unbeknown to Fernando, the traffic lights have since turned green and an overly confident young driver in a Honda saloon has come tearing round the corner behind him, with signature La Paz freneticism.
Although the 1993 Land Rover is a tough old beast, it does lack the refined safety features of its modern equivalent.
About a minute passes by. The longest minute of Fernando Teixidó’s life. The 44 year old wearily lifts his head. A solitary claret stripe of blood trickles down his forehead and off the end of his nose.
Outside the car, there is a mixture of smoke and crumpled Honda bodywork. Inside, the relaxing jazz is now the soundtrack to disaster.
Welome back to Bolivia!
Dramatic car crashes aside, the first half of Teixidó’s second season as The Strongest manager could not be going much better.
When we last caught up, a couple of new faces had joined, and the La Palanca 4312 system was almost religiously followed.
The addition of a target man who can dribble (Rolando Sánchez) and a tough-tackling midfielder you haven’t met yet, has led to Teixidó tweaking his system marginally. With new boy Jorge Rojas playing a sort of deep Rino Gattuso-type role in midfield, Teixidó’s Ancelotti influence reaches another level.
The right-sided Segundo Volante is now a Ball-Winning Midfielder on Support, and the second striker now drops a little deeper as a Complete Forward on Support, where he used to be an Advanced Forward. This gets a lot more value out of Ronaldo’s clear strengths, his height and his dribbling ability.
At the mid-way point of the 2020 campaign, The Strongest are again unbeaten. Undefeated in the Libertadores group stage the second year running, this time it was 5 wins and 1 draw, and not the other way round. So our Bolivian campeones sail through to the second round, for only the fourth time in their history. Going any further would be a monumental achievement for Teixidó and his Stronguistas.
There is personal and club level progress to report on too. Forgive the onslaught of images, but it’s the easiest way to tell you about them.
In the middle of juggling the Boliviano and Libertadores campaigns, in came a bit of a curveball. Teixidó’s former (and favourite) team from his playing days in his native Peru, FBC Melgar, actually approached us about their managerial vacancy. While tempting, Teixidó remains in the high altitude in Bolivia, ideally until we get somewhere continentally.
With a tweaked 4312 in play, potentially back to back unbeaten domestic campaigns in the pipeline, and the opportunity to go further in the Libertadores than the club ever has before, there is a bright future here in Bolivia. That is, if our beloved manager is still with us…
Thanks for reading.