Just a few weeks ago, Chivas de Guadalajara technical director Johann Cruyff, on his whirlwind tour through Mexico, suggested that changes were afoot to Chivas’ staunch all-Mexican policy.
But despite early reports to the contrary, there was never any intention of allowing nationalized players or non-Mexicans to join the historic club. If recent transfer rumors are to be believed, though, there could be at least one major change afoot.
Within a few months, it’s possible that Herculez Gomez could be playing in Estadio Omnilife. If that were to come to pass, it would break indisputably with Chivas’ all-Mexican tradition in at least one major way: Gomez is without a doubt Mexican, but he’s also American, and has represented the U.S. national team for years, including in the World Cup and against El Tri.
“As long as they’re Mexicans, it’s allowed,” Chivas owner Jorge Vergara told Cancha on Tuesday, when asked if an American international could suit up for Chivas. “I’ve got to respect the constitution and the law. If a person decides to play for another national team, that’s their decision.”
It hasn’t always been that clear. In fact, it’s always been assumed that though dual-nationals are allowed on the pitch at Chivas, choosing another national team would mean finding another club.
Chivas has brought in a few Mexican-Americans in the past, but the unspoken understanding is that the eventual national team for them is El Tri. Miguel Ponce chose the green shirt, Omar Salgado left Chivas to choose the U.S., etc.
That would make Gomez a first. Identity is a tough topic to pin down, but there can be little doubt that at least in terms of soccer, the man known as Herculez sees himself as more American than Mexican. Born into a Mexican-American home in the U.S., Gomez came up through the American system and has represented the Stars and Stripes with pride throughout his career.
During the Americans’ first-ever win at El Azteca in August, Gomez was one of the more vocal and engaged Americans both during and after the historic victory, and could even be judged from post-game comments to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder as far as not being considered Mexican enough by some fans in the country.
If that’s so, it’s because Gomez is also a proud Mexican, and represents the country with pride in all other aspects of the game. In fact, his move south of the border resurrected a flagging career and jump started the late career surge to prominence.
So Herc owes a lot to Mexico. The bridge building between the Chicano and Mexican-born communities that would come from his being a part of Chivas de Guadalajara would be just another step in a remarkable career steeped in broken boundaries.
That unquestionably makes the potential move right for the player.
But for Chivas, it’s not.
Defining identity, as mentioned, is complicated. But in soccer terms, the maximum manifestation of national identity is the national soccer team. Gomez does not, and never will, play for El Tri. He may be Mexican by many other standards, but in soccer terms, Gomez is an American.
That means Herc is, by the strictest of soccer definitions, less Mexican than a nationalized player like Zinha or Guille Franco.
Despite Vergara’s comments on respecting the Constitution, Chivas is not a political body. It is first and foremost a soccer club. Vergara knows plenty about how to manage his brand, but this looks like a big mistake.
Chivas must stay Mexican.
Adding Gomez to the roster would throw that historic equilibrium out of balance, and scrub much of the uniqueness from the club’s international brand. It would also open the door for Mexico’s best youth system to produce players for other countries, most troublingly the U.S.
In a puzzling press release Wednesday, the club was quick to contradict its owner: “In Guadalajara, Mexican players that choose to play with the Mexican national team are the only ones that will be admitted,” read a statement on the team’s website.
Contradictory or not, that sounds right. Doing anything else would conflict with Chivas' image and its players.
The all-Mexican policy makes Guadalajara what it is. Fielding a player from a foreign national team irrevocably alters that, no matter how many other passports that player might have.
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