Herculez Gomez came to represent the team-building which paved the way for Santos to unmistakably join Mexico's finest.After three failed attempts, Santos Laguna has finally earned the right to call itself four-time and defending champion of Mexico. But what does that title really mean? In a world of text messages, short tournaments, and generally instant gratification, what makes a true champion?
In Mexico, it’s all about context.
The short tournament and playoff format means titles definitely aren’t worth what they were, say, last century. Many a recent champions have failed to back up their titles with further exploits. Though no one can take away those stars, championship glory earned in May tends to fade away with alarming speed if followed by a mediocre couple months in August and September.
On cue, defending champions Tigres flamed out of the semis this season, and their predecessor Pumas was nowhere to be found in the Liguilla. So it’s clear that the title of champion in Mexico can be short-lived and quickly forgotten.
That said, the hegemony of a certain number of clubs over the last half decade has been notable. Since 2008 only eight teams have appeared in a total of eight finals. Pachuca, Morelia, and Tigres all had one title series appearance to their credit in that span, meaning the other 13 spots were filled by just five teams -- an average of 2.6 finals appearances each for Pumas, Toluca, Cruz Azul, and the latest finalists Monterrey and Santos.
Amazing it may seem given the somewhat arbitrary outcomes to which short tournaments lend themselves, those clubs have dominated the trophy haul over the past five years. That helps make this championship more meaningful to Santos than it might have been to another club. With the win, Santos joined Toluca, Monterrey and Pumas as two-time champion in the last five years, claiming its place at the pinnacle of Mexican soccer.
Santos also managed what Cruz Azul never could -- to ratify a string of second-place finishes with a title, and shed the infamous runner-up mantle for which the club was quickly earning a reputation.
Five finals in five years is a record well worth noting, but only a victory in the Clausura 2012 could put Santos indisputably among the league’s best. So Santos can take this championship pretty far. It’s not just another star for the Warriors -- this title establishes Santos, without argument, as a top club in Mexico and the Americas.
Now, with a foundation of championships solidly built at Territorio Santos Modelo, the question is: How long will it last?
Santos’ success has been built on a solid foundation of wise personnel decisions and player development. Intelligent international player signings like Marc Crosas and Herculez Gomez (who actually doesn’t count as a foreigner) -- not over the top expensive but solid complements to a squad-based approached -- have helped build a team deep and strong enough to succeed, come what may.
Santos has also built a track record of getting the most out of players discarded elsewhere. The spectacular Oribe Peralta is the best example of a player whose career has flourished in Torreon after fits and starts elsewhere, though Daniel Luduena and Felipe Baloy are others who have found a home at TSM, gradually developing into some of the best players in the LMF thanks to a long-term, patient, team-building project.
Titles are a fleeting thing in Mexico. Today’s champion can be tomorrow’s last place finisher. But this title for Santos, well-earned throughout the Clausura 2012, has an air of permanence.
In Mexican soccer, it’s all about context. And the context here says the Warriors have joined the big boys of Mexican football once and for all.