By Mike Rice.
As the Copa Libertadores qualifiers continue, Peru’s representatives have sadly fallen once again in their bids to reach the group stages.
2022 saw César Vallejo dominated by Olimpia of Paraguay in round one. The side from Trujillo struggled to create any form of attack despite registering more possession in both legs.
The Peruvians have only managed two goals in their first six games of the season, including the Copa Libertadores, where they bowed out 3-0 on aggregate.
The Paraguayan side showed more clinical attacking and were far more threatening with the possession they had. In the first leg in Peru, Olimpia managed to win 1-0 with 19 shots, five on target compared with César Vallejo’s nine shots with five on target.
As Olimpia hosted the second leg, they once again showed their cutting edge and superiority. The hosts registered 33 shots with 11 on target compared to César Vallejo’s six shots with one on target.
In both games, César Vallejo registered 61% possession, but there was no clear attacking identity. The Paraguayan side showed themselves to be far better prepared. The three-time Copa Libertadores winners progressed without a worry from the Peruvian challengers.
From César Vallejo’s point of view, they had lost key players from last season, notably Christian Ramos, the Peruvian International central defender who moved to rivals Alianza Lima for the 2022 season.
Key forward Yorleys Mena also departed last season on loan until July 2022 to the United Arab Emirates to represent Club Ajman. These two players were key to César Vallejo’s success last season, and the club’s recruitment has not been able to replicate the impact Mena especially had in the final third.
FT Olimpia 2-0 Universidad César Vallejo
A triumph in Asunción for El Decano who ease through 3-0 on aggregate to the 2nd Qualifying Phase to take on Atlético Nacional in what will be a tougher test.
Guillermo Paiva the man on fire, scored the opener today his 4th of the season pic.twitter.com/V1t3y72DP6
— Ralph Hannah (@paraguayralph) February 17, 2022
As Universitario, one of the top Peruvian sides historically, came into the second round of qualifying they faced a very difficult challenge.
They faced last season’s Copa Libertadores semi-finalists Barcelona SC of Ecuador. Despite their successes in the Libertadores, Barcelona could only finish fourth in the Ecuadorian Serie A and had to go through the qualifying phase of this season’s competition.
They are favourably considered one of the best sides in the qualifying rounds and expected to proceed, which left Universitario as serious underdogs going into the match. After a 2-0 defeat in Ecuador, Universitario had a mountain to climb going into the second leg in Lima.
La U were offered a slice of fortune with central defender Luca Sosa being dismissed for a last-ditch tackle on Peruvian International striker Alex Valera. The home side had over an hour with a man advantage. They managed to get the ball in the back of the net twice, but both were ruled out.
As frustrations became harder to contain, Alex Valera was dismissed in stoppage time at the end of the game and Barcelona progressed to face Brazilian side América Futebol Clube in the final qualifying round.
Despite going out there were some promising signs for Universitario, and no one more than Piero Quispe shone over two legs.
The youngster from the Universitario academy is making his first real steps into the first team this season, after making nine appearances last year. Quispe is a talented midfielder who shows technical class and composure beyond his years and has been able to step into a Libertadores tie without showing his inexperience at all.
He is a slight player and only around 170cm tall though competed well throughout and has become a key part of the Universitario midfield this season.
There has been a long-running concern about how young players find opportunities in the top Peruvian sides, with many managers favouring experience over youth in short term planning for their own futures.
So-called smaller sides like San Martin de Porres will regularly give opportunities to young players, though the big sides like Universitario and Alianza Lima often find promoting players from their academies difficult.
For this reason, the development of young players in Peru has become hopeful rather than planned. There is limited long term planning from academy to the first team.
Financial constraints are one reason that academies are not favoured as much as bringing in players with regular experience in Liga 1 or leagues around South America. There is not the guarantee they will be able to develop players enough to compete in the league considering the money that will need investing.
Even for top sides like Sporting Cristal who will await the group stage draw for the Libertadores, the academy system has been able to flourish due to the investment into the club which many sides across Peru just don’t have.
Academy training is often limited in time available to train, and it can be difficult to run them like the senior training sessions or some of the top academies in leagues around Brazil and Argentina.
This is a struggle for clubs as many voted to remove La Bolsa, a rule which ensures a certain number of minutes must be completed each season by players under 22. Some sides feel they would be better off ignoring it and taking the points hit for not complying than they would if they played their young recruits.
The league is struggling due to this lack of planning and the continual shuffling of players on one-year deals around the league who continue to take their places in starting lineups due to the number of appearances they have previously made.
By continuing with these players who have shown the inability to compete at Libertadores or Sudamericana level the league continues to remain at the level it is, stagnating in comparison to others who look to develop and improve.
Independiente del Valle have been a side that are raised frequently in these conversations, focusing on their academy development, and providing the Ecuador national team with a number of their new young stars who have gone on to play in stronger leagues in Europe. This has come from raising the standard of their league without having to buy players from abroad.
This is obviously well planned and thought out, the philosophy and development planning are intricate and professional, something a long way off in Peru at present across most of the country.
To be able to start working towards developing the standard of the league, the development of young players needs to be improved. Without raising the level of the league itself, the competitiveness of sides in continental competitions will remain underwhelming at times or show good effort but lack of quality costing them.
The Federation of Peruvian Football (FPF) need to look at how to support their club sides in improving the base level of academy football and support their young players coming through.
Ricardo Gareca uses an experienced squad in the national team and the young players looking to try and become the future of the national side need to look at leaving the league as soon as they can to improve their development to be able to be considered.
It’s not a quick fix or an easy formula to follow, but there are more players like Quispe in academies now, just not getting their chances to develop in a first-team environment.
Peru will hope that Sporting Cristal and Alianza Lima will compete well in the group stages and hopes of either reaching third place and qualifying for the Sudamericana will be the most realistic of hopes in 2022.