Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre joined an illustrious group on Monday. He became the latest manager fired by Chivas de Guadalajara – the latest in a long line of incompetent business decisions that have turned Mexico’s most important club into Mexico’s most impotent club.
It’s an impotency that can be seen beyond the technical area, both on the field and off. Owner Jorge Vergara struggles enough when things were going well, but now the Omnilife founder is locked in a feud with wife Angélica Fuentes about assets with the club at the center. The club’s value is going down, with the team itself threatening to do the same.
Chivas currently is spared last place in Mexico’s relegation rankings only by newly promoted Dorados. That might suggest the team should make a change on the touchline, but Chepo’s men earned 26 points in the recently concluded Clausura – the highest point total Chivas have managed over the six-tournament span used to determine relegation.
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His team had been hit by injuries, with defenders Jair Pereira and Oswaldo Alanís and creative midfielders Marco Fabián and Isaac Brizuela among those who have missed significant time in the Apertura, but it’s not only injuries that held the club back. Chivas is still the only club in the world still maintaining an ethnic-only player policy, with only Mexican players permitted to pull on the shirt of the Rebaño Segrado.
In terms of building a competitive squad, this presents a number of problems. The first one can be seen by looking at the top goalscorers in the league. After eight matches, Chivas actually has the top Mexican goalscorer on its roster, but veteran striker Omar Bravo in a tie for ninth place on the list. South Americans (and Andre-Pierre Gignac) dominate the goalscorers. Just six of the 31 players who have scored three or more goals in the Apertura are Mexican.
Mexicans, like any other group of players in the Americas, ultimately set their eyes on Europe and suit up there if they are able. But as Mexico’s national team managers have found out, there isn’t a huge pool of good Mexican goalscorers at the moment.
Of course, Mexican players, and more importantly their agents, know that Chivas don’t have many options in the transfer market. That means top Mexican players on the way out can demand the highest dollar from Chivas or use the team as bargaining chip to drive the price up.
It doesn’t seem like a transition away from the policy is on the horizon, but from an outside perspective, Chivas bringing in non-Mexican reinforcements wouldn’t be the end of the world. Plenty of teams around the globe are able to sign foreign players without sacrificing their regional identity. Look no farther than the recent Girard Pique scandal at Barcelona to find a club still linked with its fans on a level much deeper than soccer – though the Barca faithful surely don’t mind being European champions thanks to a few South Americans either. Even insiders might whisper that allowing non-Mexican talent into the squad would be more palatable than going down.
Chivas hasn’t helped itself by sticking to its guns, letting far more players leave this offseason than join, worsening its depth issue. But perhaps the most successful window in recent memory for Chivas was the one overseen by Chepo after his arrival, with Carlos Salcedo joining the team from Real Salt Lake, Brizuela from Toluca and Miguel Ponce and Fabián coming back from loans. The recently fired manager worked to mold the club in his image, experimented with the players at hand and ended up in the playoffs despite Chivas’s policies.
But those policies only go so far. Adding insult to his exit, the former Mexico manager has been replaced by Matías Almeyda, an who coached River Plate and Banfield in Argentina. The 41-year-old Argentine showed up in Guadalajara on Sunday before word had come down that Chepo no longer had a job.
Yes, you read correctly, the club which won’t let a player with foreign blood pull on its sacred jersey doesn’t mind at all who is giving that player instructions. In fact, at various times Chivas have been coached by a Chilean, some Hungarians, a Scot, an Uruguayan, a Peruvian, various Argentines, a couple of Dutch guys and a Spaniard.
While it’s clear Chivas’ Mexican-only policy is holding it back in these days of globalized soccer, it’s not like the club shouldn’t still succeed. Athletic Club in Spain maintains its all-Basque status and keeps its La Liga status without issue, and while Liga MX is still the class of CONCACAF, it’s nowhere near the caliber of the Spanish league.
The organization has the money and branding to woo top Mexican players, it simply has been poor in its decision making. Booting Chepo is simply the latest for a club that likely will escape relegation again but is unlikely to return to the heights it once achieved without a significant cultural change.
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