Throughout his playing days, Pablo Bengoechea grew accustomed to the role of provider. The former midfielder supplied the bullets for his strikers and was the midfield general of the Uruguay sides that won the Copa America in 1987 and 1995. With his silky touch and fine dead-ball skills, his presence on the pitch brought balance to a team traditionally noted for its commitment, strength and gritty determination.
He retired from the game in 2003, whereupon he set about pursuing a new profession, as he revealed in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com: “As soon as I gave up playing, I started thinking about going into coaching.”
When he eventually moved into the dugout, he occupied a similar role to the one he once performed with distinction on the pitch, lending support to others in a new capacity as an assistant coach.
In 2005 he joined Oscar Aguirregaray’s coaching staff at Uruguay’s River Plate and five years later he became the right-hand man of the then Peru boss Sergio Markarian, passing his extensive knowledge on to his superior. Then, in March 2014, he finally became the main man, succeeding Markarian in the Peru hotseat and offering continuity in the process.
“By the time the World Cup qualifiers had come to an end, I’d made my mind up about wanting to be a head coach, and it was then that this opportunity with Peru came up,” he revealed. “I took it because I know Peruvian football better than anything. I’ve been living in Peru for four years already.”
Giving his views while attending a conference in Panama on tactical developments and other aspects of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the 49-year-old Uruguayan added: “I’m aware that coaching a national team is a very big and important challenge, but I know all the players on the domestic scene and abroad.”
Playing to win
Bengoechea was no stranger to success in his playing career. It was only a year after making his debut with Uruguayan club Wanderers in 1985 that he made the move to Europe, spending four seasons with Sevilla.
A spell with Argentinian outfit Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata followed, after which Bengoechea returned home in 1993 to enjoy an unforgettable association with Penarol, one that began with five consecutive championship wins and brought two further league titles in 1999 and 2003, at which point he announced his retirement.
We’ll just have to wait and see if Peru’s key players are in form when next June comes around.
The 18 years he spent on the field of play stood him in good stead for the next phase of his career, as he explained: “I learned something from every coach I worked with. I always paid attention to what they said in team talks and training sessions and I picked things up along the way. After that, it’s a question of knowing when to use what you’ve learned, because you’re faced with many different situations.”
In taking on his first job as head coach, Bengoechea has the task of leading Peru back to the FIFA World Cup, a stage they last graced in 1982. The Peruvians finished some way short of a place at Brazil 2014, collecting only 15 points to come in seventh in the CONMEBOL Zone.
“There is not much between the teams in the South American qualifiers,” said Bengoechea, a world finals veteran with Uruguay at Italy 1990. “There’s a fine line between qualifying and not making it, as we’ve seen with Uruguay in the last two World Cups.
"They came very close to not making it but they produced some very good performances when they needed to and got the right results. You have to peak at the right time and be lucky enough to fulfil all your potential when it comes to playing the decisive qualifiers.”
Before they take on the challenge of attempting to reach Russia 2018 and ending a painfully long absence from the world finals, the Peruvians face another test – the 2015 Copa America in Chile. Having finished third the last time the competition was held, in Argentina in 2011, Bengoechea’s charges will not be lacking confidence.
“Peru made it to the very last day of Argentina 2011, even if it was only the match for third place," Bengoechea said. "This time round I hope we make it to the final. Every Copa America is different. There’s a four-year gap between them, like the World Cup, so we’ll just have to wait and see if Peru’s key players are in form when next June comes around and if we can compensate for the absence of the great players who’ve retired from international football.”
Known in the game as El Profesor, the Uruguayan will be looking for his charges to combine the stylish play they are known for with a committed brand of football.
“Peruvian footballers have always had a reputation for being technically gifted. They’ve got really good touch,” he explained. “We’ve now got to bridge the gap between generations and try and add some drive and determination to that skill. When you’re on the ball you have to know what to do with it, and when you’re not you have to work really hard to get it back as quickly as possible. And that’s what we’re trying to do, to make Peru a team that can hold its own against anyone.”
Having set the objectives for his side, and with the Copa America now less than a year away, Pablo Bengoechea has plenty to keep him occupied as he bids to restore Peru’s fortunes.