“La U are much more than a football club. They’re a legend that over the years have had us buzzing with their victories, suffering with their defeats and never fail to constantly rekindle our enthusiasm.” These words belong to famed Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2010, and capture to perfection how the fans of Club Universitario de Deportes, Peru’s most successful side, feel about their team.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at a team with a clutch of historic firsts to their name, and whose achievements have placed them firmly in the top three of the country’s leading clubs.
Birth of an institution
The origins of La U date back to 7 August 1924, when a group of students from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos set up the Federacion Universitaria de Futbol, which initially began life as an association of teams representing the university’s various faculties and schools. However, Federacion Universitaria soon became a university select, whose impressive results against other educational institutions led to an invite by the Peruvian Football Association to take part in the 1928 Primera Division championship.
By this stage, the team were already known as Los Cremas, despite the fact their original shirt was not cream, but white with a brown logo, inscribed with the letter ‘U’ surrounded by a circle. Rumour has it that when said logo ran in the wash, coinciding with an important win in the accidentally altered jerseys, it led to the permanent colour change, however, others simply put it down to a shortage of white cloth by those charged with producing the club’s kit.
Making of a legend
Whatever the reason, the nickname stuck, and it was during this amateur era, before the game turned professional in Peru around 1951, that Universitario really forged their reputation as a domestic force. In fact, Los Cremas finished second only to already established powers Alianza Lima in their very first top-flight campaign in 1928, a championship race that served to ignite the pair’s enduring fierce rivalry.
La U won 1-0 in the first official meeting between the two sides, a game unfortunately marred by violent incidents, and the result forced a play-off for a title that was eventually clinched by Alianza. All of which sowed the fiery seeds of a match now dubbed Peru’s Superclásico.
Universitario only had to wait until the following year for their first top-flight crown, with the 1929 success helping kick-start their reputation as a gutsy, determined outfit endowed with so-called garra crema. What's more, in 1930 Los Cremas supplied no fewer than eight players for the Peru squad that travelled to Uruguay for the first ever FIFA World Cup™. Standing out among that number was one of the club’s founders, Luis de Souza Ferreira, who went on to score Peru’s first ever goal at the final tournament.
There were further milestones in 1931, when La U separated from the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and took on its current guise of Club Universitario de Deportes. Furthermore, it was in November that year that the club’s all-time leading idol, Teodoro Fernandez, made his debut. During his 22 seasons at Universitario, Lolo helped fire his team to six titles and on seven occasions finished as top scorer in the Primera Division.
Winners of a seventh Primera crown in 1949, their last in the amateur era, that success was the start of the club’s longest drought to date. Indeed, La U clearly took time to adapt to the onset of professionalism, with their eighth title not coming for another ten years until 1959.
The 1960s, in contrast, was a golden era for the club, featuring as it did five national titles, among them the inaugural Torneo Descentralizado in 1966, which for the first time included teams from all over the country. It was that triumph which means fans can still point to being el primer campeón del fútbol peruano (the first champions of Peruvian football), while in 1961 they also became the country’s first representatives in the Copa Libertadores.
Their performance in the continental competition in 1967 was notable for two away displays on Argentinian soil, when Universitario defeated both holders Racing Club and River Plate in the short space of 48 hours. Yet it was in 1972 that La U, who have appeared in the Libertadores more often than any other Peruvian side, came closest to lifting the trophy. Though denied the services of their star men, who were on national team duty for most of the campaign, Universitario were able to field the likes of Percy Rojas, Hector Chumpitaz and Fernando Cuellar – as well as having Juan Carlos Oblitas on the bench – for the two-legged final defeat against Argentina’s Independiente
“That was perhaps the greatest Peruvian (club) team of all time,” said former Independiente defender Francisco Sa, when speaking to Conmebol.com in 2008. “They had the nucleus of the Peru side that had knocked Argentina out of Mexico 1970.”
Come 1974 and Los Cremas had more to celebrate when winning the domestic title after going a remarkable 36 games unbeaten, a record that still stands today, though it was not until 1982 that they would lift the trophy once more. To the delight of their fans, however, the 1990s ushered in a decade of dominance, capped by victory in the ’98, ’99 and 2000 championships. In the latter year, the club racked up 100 points spanning the Apertura and Clausura competitions, 22 more than nearest pursuers Sporting Cristal, the club’s rivals in El Clásico Moderno. Key members of that squad were Jose Luis Carranza, Roberto Foquita Farfan and Jose Guillermo Chemo del Solar, who is now the club’s coach.
Universitario were hit by financial troubles early in the new millennium which triggered a number of inconsistent campaigns. In the case of the 2002 season, for example, La U won the Apertura after a strike forced them to field a youthful squad, only for gifted coach Angel Cappa to resign in protest at unpaid wages and the team to finish second last in the Clausura, thus missing out on the season finale.
And though something similar happened in 2008, that year helped lay the foundations for the side which won Los Cremas’ 25th title in 2009, thanks to beating rivals Alianza Lima in a championship decider for the seventh time in the club's history. La U’s then went on to triumph in 2013 in dramatic style, needing a penalty shoot-out to see them past Real Garcilaso, with Nestor Duarte striking the winning spot-kick.
Officially unveiled on 2 July 2000, Estadio Monumental is one of South America’s most modern footballing arenas. Also known as the Monumental de la U or the Monumental de Ate, the latter referring to the district in Lima where it is located, the stadium is made up of 22 seven-storey buildings which surround the pitch and the stands.
Boasting a capacity of over 80,000, it is one of the region’s largest venues and has played host to Peru matches in three FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, as well as a variety of musical and artistic attractions. From 1952 until the opening of the Estadio Monumental, La U played their home games at the Estadio Lolo Fernandez, which is now used by the club’s academy.