Unfortunately for Mexico, it’s not just Pablo Barrera and Efrain Juarez.
The two El Tri regulars made the jump back to Mexico this summer after bombing out spectacularly in Europe, and as Goal.com colleague Eric Gomez writes, their stories serve as cautionary tales for European scouts and young Mexican prospects alike.
Aside from Barrera and Jaurez, this summer has brought a relative flood of Mexicans back to their native land. Antonio Pedroza left Crystal Palace after failing to make an impact in the English Championship. Taufic Guarch returned after a quiet stint with Espanyol’s B team. Even Nery Castillo will play in Mexico for the first time, after receiving a better offer from Pachuca than he could get in Europe.
Of course it’s not all about poor quality. Details of the Mexican game intervene. There’s plenty of cash in Mexican clubs’ coffers to compete with the less renowned leagues in Europe or even mid-table teams in the big leagues. And thanks to the limits on foreigners, Mexicans are by definition more valuable to Mexican cubs. Thus, clubs go after them wherever they are.
But still, something doesn’t add up in the Mexicans abroad equation. There were already very few Mexicans in Europe compared to other nationalities such as, say, Ghanaians, Colombians or even Americans. Now there are considerably less. Give or take a few in Finland or Croatia, there were about 15 Mexicans in Europe for the 2011-2012 campaign. So this summer’s movement back to Mexico already represents a whopping 30 percent (approximately) of Mexicans abroad.
On the other end of the equation, El Tri are playing as well as ever, despite the inactivity of some of their stars in Europe. Few will argue the point that long term, El Tri - like any other national team - need to have their top players in Europe if the team is to reach the highest levels of the international game. For so many of the few Mexicans who have made their way to Europe to return so quickly is a bit of a setback for Mexican soccer.
If too high a percentage of Mexico’s national team players are washing out at the highest level, El Tri can’t reasonably be expected to maintain their success (unless you argue that the Mexican league is a top league worldwide; we’ll go there some other time).
The quality of El Tri relative to the amount of players abroad does suggest that the level of the Mexican league is better than it gets credit for, but the best still play in Europe; there’s no way around it. Mexico can’t indefinitely remain an exception to that rule - not if El Tri expect to continue to compete on the highest levels.
Player movement over the next few years, then, will be telling in terms of Mexico’s chances of truly becoming an elite soccer power in the world. The development of young stars is clearly on track. The next step in the blueprint is for Mexicans to start enjoying more widespread success in Europe.
Three or four stars in Europe simply aren’t enough. And as well as Gio Dos Santos has played for the national team despite sitting the bench in Europe, these things usually don’t work that way.
Though some players abroad will always be caught in subpar situations, the pattern of the best national teams worldwide is to have enough players at the top levels in Europe to ignore those struggling to get off the bench while they straighten out their situations. With the right numbers, others in Europe instead emerge, along with young players at home, to keep the national team stocked with players in top form all the time.
But that situation requires an average of at least 30 to 40 players in Europe’s top four or five leagues. El Tri have nowhere near that. Luckily, if things look to be headed in the wrong direction with the likes of Castillo, Barrera and Juarez, there’s a sizable new generation of young players primed to make the leap very soon.
Those young prospects can’t be scared by the travails of older Mexicans in Europe. The course to greater success for El Tri is for those players to go to Europe in significant numbers. Some will fail and return, but others will triumph and lead the national team to higher heights.
Though risky on the individual level, an increased flow of young players to Europe in the coming months and years is vital to the development of Mexican soccer. Mexican players simply must take on Europe, in greater numbers, if El Tri truly want to be world class. Only then can the mathematics of European soccer start to work in Mexico’s favor.
Follow BRENT LATHAM on