Tom Marshall: Gentlemen’s Pact comes under renewed fire

A long-observed tradition of the Mexican league could be abandoned if put-upon players get their way
Nothing is written down, but everyone involved knows how it works and individual players taking a stand against the practice are excommunicated from the domestic soccer community.

It’s Mexico’s infamous “Gentlemen’s Pact” (Pacto de Caballeros).

“It threatens fundamental rights,” explained labor lawyer Javier Martinez in a recent interview with respected Mexican daily El Universal. “Imagine getting rid of free contracts.”

El Universal published a wide-ranging report on Monday, citing interviews with players and directors. It is the latest bit of pressure put on a practice that is increasingly polemic in the Mexican game.

“The directors are the ones that have to be gentlemen and not make these kinds of pacts,” Leon defender Rafa Marquez told the same outlet.

The Gentlemen’s Pact started, according to the report, a little over a decade ago as a bid to protect clubs’ investments in producing homegrown players. When a player’s contract is up, he is not at liberty to choose his next club, as FIFA statutes state should happen. Instead, if the player moves, a deal must be struck between his new and old club, as if the player still had a contract.

If that doesn’t happen, the only option for the player is to seek refuge outside of Mexico, but when he returns he will likely to be reliant on his new club doing a deal with the club that he left.

“It was to protect the interests of the investors because the players were going to ask for a lot more money,” former Toluca president Rafael Lebrijia told El Universal. “We don’t have the professionalism that exists in other countries.”

The most famous cases have been those of Gerardo Torrado, Omar Bravo and Aaron Galindo, but it is worth stressing that all three came to light because they went to play abroad when their contracts ended.

How many more other cases or players moving to other domestic clubs against their will exist is not known.

Explained Galindo to El Universal: “The famous ‘Gentlemen’s Pact’ is a well known secret that exists and that benefits the clubs. It’s just here in Mexico. I don’t think it will disappear, but trying to strengthen the Players’ Commission could be important for us.”

Galindo walked away from Cruz Azul when his contract ended in 2006 and decided to try his luck with Hercules in Spain’s second division. He moved on to Grasshopper club in Switzerland and then to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, before Chivas came to an agreement with Cruz Azul to bring him back to Mexico.

Bravo, Galindo and Torrado – all of whom currently play in the Liga MX – were only able to return to Mexico after their clubs agreed to settle up with the clubs that they had left, according to various reports in the Mexican press, despite no contract actually existing between player and club.

A lesser-known case is that of current Merida player Bardo Fierros, who says his contract ran out back in 2009, but that the president of his then-club Atlante, Jose Antonio Garcia, wanted him to sign for another Mexican club.

Fierros instead went to play in Argentina and then Colombia, but adds that in order to return to Mexico, because Garcia was left empty-handed when he left, there had to be a dialogue with Atlante.

“It was something that had to be analyzed so that I had the permission of the directors to play in Mexico, but fortunately it is now sorted out,” Fierros told El Universal.

For Dorados de Sinaloa and Mexico legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco, players need to stand up and form a strong union against the practice, something that Spanish players successfully managed to do in the late 1970s.

“We have to support (the footballers’ union) properly,” said Blanco. “Make it as it is in Europe, because remember that Spanish soccer went on strike because they owed money to the second or third division players.”

Added Blanco: “We should fight to get rid of (the pact).”

What is increasingly obvious is that the practice continues to damage the image of the newly created Liga MX and leaves many wondering why Mexican soccer can’t work according to the same rules laid out by FIFA and practiced by other nations.

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