It’s a long way from the bright lights of London to the dim ones at Estadio Mario Camposeco in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Yet just over a week removed from their triumph in London, El Tri Olympic champions Marco Fabian and Miguel Ponce found themselves in Central America.
The outcome on the field couldn’t have been any different from that Olympic gold medal run. Nor could the vibe surrounding the team for which the pair turned out. In Chivas’ CONCACAF Champions League opener, playing with a first choice lineup, the Goats embarrassingly fell to Guatemalan champion Xelaju, a team with a budget that’s certainly less than ten percent of the Mexican giant’s.
As for Fabian and Ponce, after the highs of the Olympic tournament, the return to a Chivas side that has won exactly one match in the last five months couldn’t have provided a more glaring contrast. Chivas continues to struggle despite off-season changes. The loss in Guatemala only highlights that.
At a time when the club is struggling, it’s easy to pick out the one glaring difference between this club and others, and tee off on the policy of playing only Mexicans.
But for those calling for some sort of change in Chivas’ all-Mexican policy, it would be better to think twice. Such dedication to youth and the Mexican game - though it could easily be labeled reactionary - is in fact ahead of its time. In 2012, Chivas’ commitment to the Mexican game is an example to be followed, not discarded.
These have indeed been hard times for the Goats, but it’s not because they use only Mexican players. In fact, Chivas has produced much of the core of this outstandingly successful generation of young Mexican players.
To some extent, that success has meant a severe bump in the road on the field for the Guadalajara club. Every time a national team calls camp, four or five Chivas players can be expected to be called away from the club. For the Olympic preparation and gold medal run, the team was missing no fewer than four players - three of them potential starters.
The association with the Mexican national team is so strong specifically because of Chivas’ commitment to Mexico and its youth. Few other teams show the dedication to developing and playing young Mexicans that Chivas does; no other team can match Guadalajara’s success in creating young stars.
Of course given the recent results on the field, calls for change are inevitable. Some would have Chivas tweak the all-Mexican policy to openly court nationalized players. Others would have the policy thrown out entirely.
Those who think that way are usually not Chivas fans, and are also missing the point. Chivas is special specifically because of its unique relationship with the country and its football. Any change would threaten a mystique that took decades to build, and undermine a structure that has nurtured a huge and widespread fan base.
It’s exactly those assets which have permitted the team so much success over the years - not just on the field, but in the youth ranks. The income generated from marketing to a fan base that appreciates Chivas’ unique stance on nationalism allows for investment in young players, and leads to the success developing players who end up benefitting all of Mexico when they suit up for El Tri.
Still, inching towards globalization in an increasingly international game, owner Jorge Vergara has tweaked the policy at times. He’s shown flexibility in terms of signing up Mexican-Americans, as long as their national team allegiance sides with Mexico.
Of late, Vergara has even called on the Dutch influence of Johan Cruyff and new coach John v’ant Schip. Time will tell if the results bear those decisions out, but the early returns for the geographically and linguistically challenged Dutch coach aren’t promising.
In fact, it would be just as easy to blame the latest failings of Chivas on the shortcomings of those Dutchmen in terms of leading a talented bunch of young Mexicans. If v’ant Schip didn’t even realize that Mexico isn’t in South America before taking the job, how can he hope to manage the cultural idiosyncrasies that are not only important to the Mexican game, but have also played a key role in forging this new generation of Mexican champions?
No, Chivas all-Mexican policy is just fine as is. If anything, it would be wiser to toe the line more closely, by using an all-Mexican coaching staff and personnel.
Mexicans have proved emphatically that they can get the job done with the best in the world on and off the field. The age of “si se puede” is over. Despite the slump, Mexican talent on the field and sideline are still the way to go, not only at Chivas, but everywhere in Mexico.