A change in the rules affecting naturalized players in Liga MX has drawn both praise and criticism.Liga MX president Decio de Maria announced Monday that foreign-born players with Mexican citizenship will automatically count as a domestic player in the Liga MX starting from next season.
The Liga MX ruling previously stated that a naturalized citizen would need to have played for at least five years in Mexico to register as a Mexican with the league and therefore not take up one of the five foreigner berths each club is allowed.
What does it mean in a practical sense?
Firstly, players from Latin America, Spain and Portugal - who are eligible to apply for Mexican citizenship after just two years living in Mexico - will be encouraged to apply so they don’t take up any of the foreigner spots. For example, Cruz Azul’s Christian Gimenez, Tigres captain Lucas Lobos and Atlas’ Matias Vuoso are all currently registered as foreigners. All have played in Mexico’s top division continually for over five years and are Mexican citizens.
But the new rule speeds up the process for others drastically.
Current Liga MX players like Duvier Riascos, Fidel Martinez, Marc Crosas, Matias Alustiza, Cesar Delgado, Humberto Suazo, Joao Rojas, Pablo Aguilar, Leandro Cufre and others could, at least on paper, become citizens before the Apertura 2014 (or the Clausura 2015 depending on how fast papers are processed).
Clubs are likely to encourage those players to do it because, at a minimum, it would free up foreigner places to widen the potential pool of transfers they can draw from when putting together a squad for the season. Previously, those players may not have applied for citizenship, simply because there was little point.
The race to fill the five foreigner spots clubs engage in before every Liga MX season is ample evidence to suggest that if there is a chance of signing more foreigners, the majority will do so. There aren’t many teams that don’t use up their five permissible foreigner spaces each season, the obvious and notable exception being Chivas, and Latin American players are attracted to the high wages Liga MX clubs are able to afford.
The idea, said De Maria, is to improve the quality of the Liga MX and make it more attractive to current and potential new followers.
It is a sentiment that has split the Mexican game in recent days.
The most vocal opposition to the rule is Mexico’s most successful player in recent years, Rafa Marquez.
“Unfortunately we are looking towards other countries when there really is a lot of talented people in Mexico,” said Marquez after training in Leon on Thursday. “We need to bet on and work with the youngsters so that, in time, litters like the one I was in at Atlas (Pavel Pardo, Oswaldo Sanchez, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, Jared Borgetti) can come through.”
Marquez went on to speak at length about how the 2011 Under-17 World Cup winners haven’t been given sufficient opportunities yet in the Liga MX and that it will become increasingly difficult for those youngsters to get chances.
Cruz Azul coach Luis Fernando Tena – who guided Mexico to Olympic gold in 2012 – agreed that the rule will have an impact for young Mexicans, as did Chivas manager Jose Luis Real.
But various pundits and players have supported De Maria’s point of view that the rule change will not affect the national team and add to the Liga MX’s appeal.
Oribe Peralta said it was “beneficial” for Mexican soccer and that there is enough quality in Liga MX club’s youth systems to cope and see the best players get playing time.
Argentina international Jose Maria Basanta – who also holds a Mexican passport – argued Wednesday that each citizen should have equal rights to work whether they were born in the country or not, while America coach Antonio Mohamed took a more laid back approach, simply stating he doesn’t look at nationality when deciding who to pick each week.
Of course, there are also potential implications for El Tri. The fact more foreign-born players are likely to become Mexican makes more players available for the national team, if they haven’t already won caps for their home nation.
Simply put, the debate surrounding naturalized players in the Liga MX is only set to intensify.