Aware of the need to find a rapid replacement, the clubâs directors offered the vacant hotseat to Liga Universitaria de Quitoâs Argentinian coach Edgardo Bauza, who wasted little time in accepting the post. Having recovered their equilibrium, San Lorenzo promptly went on to win their first Libertadores and with it earn a place at the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014.
âItâs the biggest tournament a football team can play in. Thereâs nothing that can top it,â the 56-year-old Bauza told FIFA.com, looking ahead to Morocco 2014 and 17 December, when El Cuervo play their opening game in the competition. âThe final is the game everyone wants to play in, the one that all the coaches want to be involved in. Itâs going to be my second time and Iâm so proud to be taking part again.â
Indeed, it was his extensive international experience, having also won the 2010 Recopa Sudamericana with LDU and reached the Libertadores semi-finals with Rosario Central in 2001, that made him San Lorenzoâs first choice to replace Pizzi.
Only the best will do
Known by pretty much everyone in the game as PatÃ³n (Big Duck), Bauza has a reputation for being a hard taskmaster, as he himself acknowledged in an interview with the Argentinian sports monthly El GrÃ¡fico: âI donât crack jokes and I can be very awkward when it comes to work.â
Yet there is more to Bauzaâs make-up than his high standards and obsession with hard work - he also knows what it takes to succeed. He proved this at the tender age of 13, when taking part in a trial at Rosario Central along with 500 other youngsters.
At the time he was a central midfielder, but when the coaches asked how many of the trialists played in that position and around 50 of them raised their hands, he decided to stay put. Far fewer arms went up when it came for the central defenders to make themselves known, at which point the wily Bauza raised his into the air, reckoning quite rightly that he would have a better chance of success.
It proved to be the start of a successful career, one in which he would score 108 goals, the fourth-highest tally by a defender in world football, behind Ronald Koeman, Daniel Passarella and Fernando Hierro.
He would later draw on that innate intelligence in his coaching career, bolstering his reputation with San Lorenzo, where he showed his players how to approach the Copa Libertadores.
Explaining his tactics for the competition, he said: âThe team had won the Argentinian league by playing a very attack-minded game, with everyone pushing forward. We had a lot of firepower up front but were weak at the back. What we did was restore the balance, which to my mind was the key to our success.â
That balance, which led to San Lorenzo conceding just the one goal at home in their successful Libertadores campaign, will be needed again in Morocco in December, especially if they end up facing Real Madrid in the final.
When everyone starts talking to me about Real Madrid, I tell them that we have to win the semi-final first of all.
Edgardo Bauza on ensuring San Lorenzo do not get ahead of themselves at the FIFA Club World Cup
Pondering that outcome, he said: âItâs very hard to contain the individual firepower they have. Their strikers and midfielder are always taking people on and getting past them, and you donât often see players like that together in one team. Thatâs what concerns me most, but weâll just have to try and plug the gaps.â
Aware that his side will need to do more than that should they come up against Carlo Ancelottiâs men, Bauza also pointed to the importance of having the right mindset.
âI get a kick out of trying to get the most out of players,â he explained. âIf youâre taking on the best players in the world, the ones who are at the very top, the only way you can compete against them is by showing the grit and determination Argentinian footballers are known for, by being motivated.
âThatâs what we did with LDU in 2008. Manchester United had [Wayne] Rooney, Cristiano [Ronaldo] and [Carlos] Tevez and they only beat us 1-0 in a tight game that we could have drawn. We managed to compete by finding motivation from within.â
The possibility of taking on the European champions in the final is firing imaginations to such an extent that there are many who believe such an outcome to be a formality.
Bauza is determined to fight against complacency, however: âWhen everyone starts talking to me about Real Madrid, I tell them that we have to win the semi-final first of all. Thatâs what Iâve been saying to the players.
âWeâre going to be up against the African champions (either AS Vita Club of Congo DR or ES Setif of Algeria, who drew 2-2 in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final last weekend). The team will know exactly what theyâre up against, but itâs going to be a very tough game in terms of fitness and physicality.â
Somewhat surprisingly, San Lorenzo have been struggling on the domestic front of late. Having registered just four wins in 13 games, they lie a lowly 14th in the league and have found it hard to adjust to the departure of some of the architects of their Libertadores triumph, with front man Angel Correa, attacking midfielder Ignacio Piatti and defenders Carlos Valdes and Santiago Gentiletti all having left.
âYou have to stand up and be counted, but you canât overlook the look the fact that Correa and Piatti scored 30 goals between them. Thatâs not easy to replace,â explained Bauza. âThe games weâre playing are not the same as the final of the Copa and weâre struggling to finish our moves off.â
Might there not be a case for saying that the players are holding themselves back in the league and keeping their powder dry for the Club World Cup?
âThatâs not whatâs happening,â came the answer, âbut there is something subconscious going on. At this moment in time itâs very had to replicate the level of motivation and concentration we showed in the final of the Libertadores. You might not believe it, but when you have the performance levels of six or seven players dropping by ten or 15 percent and you have a few people missing too, then you get situations like the one weâre in now.
âMy job is to get morale back up, work on fitness so that we head into December in good shape, and try to see where we can make tactical improvements.â
With the tournament now just a month and a half away, Bauza is confident nevertheless his players can excel on the big stage: âThe Club World Cup is one of those tournaments you really want to win, and just playing in it makes you that little bit more focused and motivated. I hope we can make the final. After all, thereâs a lot to play for and weâre also representing the CONMEBOL confederation, which has a lot of history behind it.â