It was a little over a year ago that striker Alan Pulido was being touted in the British press as a possible newcomer to the Premier League, with Manchester United mentioned as a potential destination.
But as he celebrates his 22nd birthday this Friday, Pulido will look back on a year where his development has been hampered by a serious lack of first team opportunities for Tigres in the Liga MX.
In the 12 months since his last birthday, Pulido has started just six league games and coach Tuca Ferretti has used him almost exclusively off the bench.
When most observers agreed that Pulido was starting to show signs that he was ready to become Tigres’ starting striker, the club signed 32-year-old Spaniard Luis Garcia from Real Zaragoza last summer.
Garcia has netted just three times in 17 starts since joining the Monterrey club and has generally not lived up to the hype of a player joining the Mexican league from Europe.
There was no better game to highlight the frustration Pulido must feel than last November’s clasico against Monterrey. The youngster replaced Garcia at halftime and scored the winning goal to give Tigres their first win in the Estadio Tecnologico in four years.
Then the next weekend against America, it was Garcia who got the nod to start the game and Pulido was again on the bench.
Over the last offseason, Emanuel “Tito” Villa was snatched from Pumas in December and has been sensational since with eight goals in eight games. But with the Argentine out injured for the next month, it was Garcia that Ferretti handed the start to against Seattle Sounders on Wednesday.
That would’ve been a major blow to Pulido, who has only 11 Liga MX starts and a clear sign that Garcia is the preferred option for Ferretti.
Regardless of his match-winning goal against Sounders, in the second leg, Pulido is again likely to be on the bench, despite his record of four goals in four starts in the CONCACAF Champions League.
It seems difficult to pick holes when Tigres sit on top of the Liga MX, but Pulido isn’t the only youngster who seems to have been restricted at the northern club.
Midfielder Jorge Espericueta won the award for second best player at the U-17 World Cup back in 2011, yet that illusive league debut has still not happened.
While World Cup winners Marco Bueno, Carlos Fierro, Julio Gomez and others have gone on to get playing time in the Liga MX, Tigres have signed full internationals Carlos Salcido and Jose “Gringo” Torres since that World Cup win and the prospect of Espericueta being given regular minutes any time soon seems remote.
Then there was the July 2012 signing of Taufic Guarch, who had left Estudiantes Tecos just a year earlier to try his luck with Espanyol in Spain. One of the most talked about Mexican players at the U-20 World Cup in 2011, Guarch has played 138 minutes in the Tigres first team and mainly features for the Under-20s, even though he is now 21.
Former youth team stars Victor Garza, Juan Pablo Ocegueda and Abel Fuentes have all moved on in recent months.
There are some exceptions. Enrique Palos has made the goalkeeper spot his own, Israel Jimenez has won international caps at left back and Manuel Viniegra has shown signs that he may have a future at Tigres.
But for all the positives that Tigres has shown as a progressive club in Mexico, its youth policy does give some cause for concern.
Players like Pulido now need regular soccer at the top level.