Three years ago Brazilian club Corinthians embarked on an ambitious project to fill an embarrassing hole in their trophy cabinet. Andrés Sanchez came into office as the president of Corinthians with a clear mandate to deliver the Copa Libertadores.
The situation back then was grim for the Corinthians with the club having suffered relegation to the second tier of the Brazilian league for the first time in their history.
The signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano a few years earlier had turned out to be yet another false dawn as irregular finances brought the São Paulo outfit to their knees.
Sanchez's claims that the club would win the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history in the coming years was met with bemusement in Brazil.
Despite having a rich history and over 30 million fans in Brazil the team calling itself the Campeão dos Campeões has never tasted success in South America’s premier club competition.
The new president's first move was to install Mano Menezes as head coach at Corinthians. The youthful coach had already proved himself fit for the task ahead by guiding Grêmio back to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A after they themselves had suffered the misfortune of relegation.
Another achievement on Menezes' CV which made him so appealing for Sanchez was Grêmio’s appearance in 2007 Copa Libertadores final, just two years after being promoted back to the top flight.
Lightening seems to be striking twice for Menezes at Corinthians as once again he won promotion to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A at the first attempt. Menezes also brought home the regional Campeonato Paulista to Corinthians the following year just as he had won the Campeonato Gaúcho while at Grêmio.
The head coach of Corinthians then went on to plant an even bigger smile on the face of Sanchez as the club won the Copa do Brasil in July last year to book an early berth in this year’s Copa Libertadores.
This week Corinthians took their bow in the 2010 Copa Libertadores just three short years after suffering relegation. The fairytale dreamt up by Sanchez is one step closer to coming true with the added magic of this year marking Corinthians' centenary of existence.
As well as drafting in Menezes the president of Corinthians has surpassed himself in the transfer market by pouring a generous helping of stardust on his team. Sanchez has proven very creative in securing his marquee signings with private companies queuing up to help out with the wage bill in return for endorsements.
The signing of Ronaldo was undoubtedly a gamble but it has already paid dividends for Corinthians. The three time World Footballer of the Year scored the goals to claim both the Campeonato Paulista and the Copa do Brasil and therefore a place in the Copa Libertadores.
Now Ronaldo's fellow geriat-tico Roberto Carlos has signed up for the project. With the whole project geared around one successful Copa Libertadores campaign the age of these players is not the issue, one more season is all that is required.
While the former Real Madrid stars are household names across the world Sanchez has also been able to bring other players with a wealth of Copa Libertadores experience.
Creative midfielder Tcheco is a player Menezes knows well from his time at Grêmio and at 33-years-old he still has the game to unlock a well drilled defence.
Also in for this season is 35-year-old forward Iarley who won the Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup with Internacional. Despite reaching the autumn of his career Iarley remains one of the most exciting players to watch in Brazil.
Another player who has been on the books at Corinthians for less than a year is the attacking Argentine Matías Defederico. At a mere 20-years-old Defederico is from a different generation than most of his team-mates but has proven he has the skills to keep up with the very best.
With signings of this calibre it is evident that Sanchez’s dream does not stop at merely wining the Copa Libertadores but doing it in style.
As it turned out Corinthians were less than inspiring in their Copa Libertadores opener this week as they came from behind to beat Uruguayan minnows Racing Club at home. A capacity Pacaembu was rocked when the visitors took the lead in the first minute through Martin Cauteruccio.
Corinthians responded 10 minutes later when clever play from Ronaldo and Tcheco created an opening for Elias to stroke the ball home and level the scores.
Elias is generally known for his work in the engine room but it was he who popped again with what turned out to be the game’s winning goal 20 minutes from time.
With three points in the bag Corinthians have taken an early lead in Group 1 of the Copa Libertadores. Another huge step has been taken on the road to glory for Sanchez and his centurions.
© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com