Weekend at Joely’s

In the first of what will surely be a series of captivating installments, Soccerchronicle.com columinists John Jagou and Joel Aceves will publish their weekly conversation. The first of edition of this new feature, Weekend at Joely’s, expands on a topic that they both discussed on the dos a zero futbol podcast, the decision by FMF to limit Liga MX gameday rosters with only 8 Mexican nationals.

John Jagou:  Earlier this week, FMF decided to “limit” the number of foreign and naturalized players to 10 per convocación, which would only leave room for 8 natural born Mexicans to dress for a game. What do you think the motivation was for FMF to do this?


Joel Aceves:  It’s all about ratings. The Mexican Football Federation (FMF) is run by two competing media conglomerates whose main interest is selling the product of futbol. That said, the availability of football from the world’s top leagues makes FMF believe that in order to maintain fan interest they need to bring in high profile players.  That makes sense but the reality is for every Gignac we get 30 Fantiks.  FMF is foolhardy to believe that a Mexican kid will watch Champions League, La Liga, EPL, then go to Liga MX stadium and be bored. They completely overlook the cultural aspect of the sport and the fact that only a handful of Euroclubs play consistently exciting games. While that same kid can watch Barcelona on tv he still won’t get the excitement that comes with going to the stadium, being part of the club that represents your community and feel pride at their achievements.


JJ:  It doesn’t seem to make sense, though. Mexico’s structure, at least at the U-Level for the national team has enjoyed unprecedented success over the past 10 years.  It would seem logical, then that the FMF and the member clubs would give the youngsters as many opportunities as possible to see how much better they can become. Limiting the player pool to 154, while allowing 170 spots to foreigners or naturalized players, when we take it face value, seems to be a very quick way to throw away all the progress that has been made.

Now, there are some who will argue that you can’t just give a player a spot, he has to earn it. And there is plenty of truth to that. If a kid beats out the veterans and foreigners, then there is no question that he is a special talent. But there are so many who don’t really blossom until later in their careers – mainly because their limited opportunities stunted their growth. Oribe is a perfect example.  How many others make their top level debut after the age of 24?  Too many.


JA:  I absolutely agree with you that this new rule does not make sense but we have been seeing it since the 05 U17 World Cup win. Very few players since then have gotten opportunities despite the constant success at the youth levels. It almost feels like Liga MX despises their own talent. A few years back the league had implemented the brilliant 20-11 rule, which guaranteed youngsters playing time, and clubs fought tooth and nail to get it removed. It also becomes difficult for Mexican upstarts to compete for a first team place given the short season format that demands instant results. So, clubs would rather bet on a 2nd rate foreigner than nurture their own talent.

As a Chivas fan, I can already see some of the adverse effects the increased amount of foreigners in the league is causing. The club has a very difficult time in the transfer market as there are fewer quality local players available. Chivas desperately needs a striker for next season. A quick look at Liga MXs top 10 goalscorers shows us that there’s only one Mexican player, ironically its Oribe the late bloomer who plays for the dreaded rival, America. He is on the wrong side 30, so his career is winding down. Ideally there should be 3-4 Mexicans on that list and its worrisome that having very little presence is a non-issue for the league.


JJ:  Frankly, it is not surprising that there are so few Mexicans among the top scorers. Clubs tend to shop internationally for strikers almost exclusively.  But back to Chivas; the club has a small pool to pick from, and then also has to pay a premium for talent as well because of their personnel policies. The answer for Chivas, at a minimum, is to heavily invest in their youth system. But with Jorge Vergara changing coaches every time he feels a breeze cool his rosy cheeks, he continually sabotages his most sustainable method of talent acquisition.

A lot of this foreign influence also has to do with promoters (which I quite haven’t figured out how different they are from agents) who have embedded themselves in certain teams. They will make more money, no doubt. The bright spot, though, is Pachuca. Their youth system has become Mexico’s most productive. They won the U17 and the U20 Champs this season and are not afraid to give young players chances. There should be more like them, but with this new rule, the incentive is not to make the investment in the future. It is a shame, there are a lot of talented youngsters with nowhere to go.


JA:  Pachuca are indeed a good example that it is possible to nurture talent and have foreigners. In addition to their youth success, Tuzos finished the season 2nd in the table. But this is the exception, not the rule.  With the wheels are already in motion for most clubs to easily build up squads with foreign born players, Liga MX will soon mirror the English Premier League with matches having 1-3 nationals on the field.


JJ:  Exactly. I guess that is the existential question FMF needs to ask itself. “Do we sacrifice our own identity to make a move that we think will make our league better? Do we improve Liga MX at the expense of the Mexican player?”

England has a top flight, entertaining league that is popular all over the world. England’s national team has made 2 semifinals in international tournaments over the past 50 years. One would think that England would look to the Continent for inspiration, but why would the foreign owners of EPL teams care if the 3 Lions did well at a World Cup? What is their motivation?  On the other hand, Germany was humiliated in 2004 by crashing out of the group stage of the Eurocopa. They committed to overhaul their entire youth and development structure to limit the chances of a repeat performance. I say, so far so good. Italy did the same after their 2010 fracaso. It is true that the Italian league has suffered and may not be as strong as others in Europe, but they have also committed to strengthening the player pool. We will probably start seeing if they were successful or not soon.

One thing none of these countries have, though, is a rule that forces them to play locals like the new FMF rule. But they are also in the EU, so I guess it is moot. Nevertheless, Mexican players may need to start looking elsewhere to make a living.


JA:  On that note Major League Soccer must be licking their chops with all the possibilities that will open to them. They have always gone after Mexican talent given the large Mexican community in the U.S and for the most part have been unsuccessful. Either the aging star is burned out or the younger player never adapts. We’ve seen a shift in this however with Giovani Dos Santos joining the league in his prime. We’ve also seen relative unknown youngsters rise up to get called into the national team or return to Mexico with Erik ‘Cubo’ Torres and Carlos Salcedo being prime examples.

So, it is a very good possibility that we will see more and more young Mexican talent flourishing in MLS, being capped for youth national team, and then either going abroad or returning to Mexico.


JJ:  They should be licking their chops, and, coincidentally, MLS commissioner, Don Garber, spoke to the Mexican press about his desire to bring in more Mexican talent into the league. It makes nothing but sense. The demographics of the MLS fan base indicate as much. Not to mention the fact that MLS hopes to expand to 28 teams. 28 teams!  There are a lot of roster spots available to fill the 8 new franchises. I am not so sure the NCAA system can fill it all. The irony of a situation where MLS catches up competitively to Liga MX because of Mexican players would be at worst… delicious.


JA:  John, are you telling me that Liga MX is about to turn into a bargain bin of young talent for MLS and some of the Euro leagues?  And can such a move be a blessing in disguise provided many players go abroad and succeed?


JJ:  I certainly can envision a future where Mexican players can establish a beachhead in MLS. Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Paraguayans have done the same in Mexico for decades.  Mainly because Liga MX has always been an importer’s league. If you look at the historical superstars of most teams, a good chunk of them were foreign born players. There is nothing wrong with that. But with the new rule in place, I suppose Liga MX is trying to become more of a global brand. It would help immensely if Gignac has the Euro of his life.

But it will still be hard for Mexican players to make the jump to Europe from either MLS or Liga MX.  They are still, even today, unproven in the European market. Yes, there are a few players who are making a name for themselves. Compare a dozen or so Mexicans to hundreds of Brazilians, Argentines, even Uruguayans.


JA:  That’s the Tricolor fallacy right there; believing that having a dozen players in Europe is enough to truly compete against the top national teams. It is not.  Not by a longshot.  The one thing all of those countries have in common is a very strong and competitive domestic league where their players can flourish. Looking at the last 3 World Cup champions (Germany, Spain, Italy) they all had squads with a core group of players that play for the same home club. It is something we have talked about in the Dos a Zero podcast.


JJ:  Those three national teams benefited from having a strong base from 1 or 2 clubs. With the new regulations in place in Liga MX, it would take a very special group of players to even take the field, much less translate that on a national team level. Maybe Chivas will be the answer one day…


JA:  Hopefully someday soon.


JJ:  Well, don’t get your hopes up.  Haha!  It has been fun, Joely.  We’ll do this again next week.


JA:  Hasta la proxima


Be sure to tune in to the dos a zero futbol podcast special Liguilla editions.  Next one will be Sunday at the Conclusion of the Pachuca-Santos match

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