Nolberto Solano, the first Peruvian to ever play in the FA Cup final, is certainly remembered fondly by the majority of Premier League fans. After a brief spell back in Peru he ended his playing career at Hartlepool. At the end of May he returned to his native country once more, again with Universitario, only this time in a managerial capacity.
Despite having no experience in such a role, La U, as they commonly nicknamed, are the nation’s most successful team with 25 league titles to their name. But with only two league triumphs since the turn of the millennium the club have been plagued by financial problems with has bred inconsistencies in the club.
Player strikes have become increasingly common in Peru as many teams have fallen behind on payments due to endemic mismanagement. The start of 2012 season brought about another strike and many of the members were forced to field youth squads during the early stages of their campaigns. In 2008 this helped Universitario as they began building a young squad that went on to win the title the following season. This time around a similar effect may be some way off, but the introduction of Solano was a ploy to raise levels of optimism around the club after a disappointing start to the season.
The club have had to sell off promising talents in Raul Ruidiaz, Alvaro Ampuero and Andy Polo (though the later two remain at the club for now) in order to raise funds to keep the club afloat, yet Solano appears to be getting the best out of a young and inexperienced squad. When he took over the Cremas were 14th out of the league’s 16 teams with just 10 points to their name from 15 games. Solano’s return has seen their points total double in just five games. They may have only climbed one place, but the early signs are positive for the burgeoning manager.
In an attempt to continue his revolution, Solano has reportedly offered a contract to goalkeeper Mark Cook. The pair worked together at Newcastle United and Hartlepool and after a series of loan spells in non-league football, the 23-year-old keeper has been offered a fantastic opportunity to be a part of his former team-mate’s project.
Cook will be taking a rarely trodden path. Not only is the appearance of Englishmen in a European league irregular, but to be swapping hemispheres and crossing the Atlantic Ocean is very intriguing. But it is not just a gimmick. Solano has been quick to praise the young goalkeeper, stating to The Chronicle:
“He is still only a young lad in goalkeeping terms. He was unable to get his chance at Hartlepool and was at Newcastle beneath some great keepers like Shay Given and Steve Harper. It is a really good opportunity for him in Peru.”
The 37-year-old faces a tough task to return Universitario to their former glories, but despite some departures he still possesses promising youth in Edison Flores and Nestor Duarte while John Galliquio, Rainer Torres and Miguel Ximenez supply the experience. There is a decent blend to the side that under the stewardship of a national hero have had the desired effect of creating an air of optimism around the club.
Of course while the financial issues remain it will be difficult for the club to move forwards. Any future success could see their young talents snatched away at below-average transfer fees. But Solano’s impact has been positive, and if he can pass through this baptism of fire relatively unscathed then a potential Premier League job could well be a reality somewhere down the line.
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