If Liga MX is to improve its standing in world soccer, it will need to address a number of issues.The third of a three-part series focused on the Liga MX/MLS rivalry and ways the moving forward Mexican first division can make sure it stays CONCACAF’s top league as the northern league develops. Part one looked at taking the battle to MLS, Part two on improving the PR side of things and Part three at looking for the Liga MX to change.
Anyone who speaks regularly to Liga MX players, follows the Mexican soccer press for enough time and/or keeps a close eye on the Mexican domestic game in general will notice that things run differently down here.
A few examples:
- The “gentlemen’s pact” supersedes FIFA’s ruling on players being free to negotiate after a contract ends.
- The “draft” - “mercado de piernas” (legs market) as it is colloquially know - where owners meet up before the season and decide the fate of players, often without their acquiescence or them having agreed contracts with clubs they are set to join.
- Clubs move location at a whim eg. The shenanigans at the end of the Clausura 2013.
- There are numerous examples in recent years of clubs not paying on time
There are other rarities such as playing two seasons per calendar year with a playoff system, relegation only being one team per year, based on the Argentine model, and the club owners – not an independent league body – having the final say on every major decision. But let’s stay clear of them for now and focus on the other four mentioned above, as they have a direct effect on the players.
In the Liga MX, it is fair to say that players don’t tend to have rights afforded to them in the very top leagues in the world. But what they do have is money, at least if they can break from the low-paying youth system and become a first team regular in one of the Liga MX clubs.
There is a good reason much fewer Mexicans than Ecuadorians, Colombians or Argentines leave their country to make a living in the game: The Liga MX pays higher wages than any of those leagues and often higher than many European ones.
It is the Liga MX’s saving grace and its biggest competitive advantage over MLS. It is why foreigners like Christian Benitez, Humberto Suazo, Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero were attracted to the Liga MX and why Raul Jimenez, Carlos Pena, Oribe Peralta and Isaac Brizuela are still there.
And we see the advantage the Liga MX has in building solid squads - not just a few stars names - in the CONCACAF Champions League and in the general standard of play between the two leagues, even if MLS has come on leaps and bounds.
Landon Donovan admitted as much when he attributed Club Tijuana’s victory over LA Galaxy in last season’s CCL to those very differences in wages.
But the current gap shouldn’t cover up the fact that underneath the surface of the Liga MX, players aren’t happy with the practices, although it is unlikely that the owners making decisions at the league level would voluntarily relinquish power to players.
Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Rafa Marquez have both come out in the past 18 months and called for a strong, independent players’ union to fight the practices in the Mexican game and defend players’ rights. Owners could argue that they are the ones investing large sums in the game and the gentlemen’s agreement protects them from, say, another club coming in and stealing a young player they have produced without them receiving anything, but it doesn’t wash simply because leagues without the “gentlemen’s agreement” also find the drive to invest in youth.
Such issues may not seem pressing now as the Liga MX dominates the CONCACAF region’s club tournament, but if Mexico’s first division does legitimately want to establish itself as the best in the Americas and challenge European leagues for quality, those kinds of outdated practices have to be banished.
Otherwise, the shoddy treatment of the league’s biggest asset (the quality of players) could one day combine with MLS improving that middle to upper bracket of wages. And if that does happen, there would be a steady stream of top players of all nationalities heading north from the Liga MX.