Long time followers will remember that, not so long ago in the Mexican league, teams were split randomly into groups, there was no such thing as a short or long format, and clubs like Celaya and Necaxa were regular title contenders.
Those days are gone. Beginning Friday, the era of the Mexican Premier League - Liga MX for short - is here.
But what of this new league set to kick off this week? Is it so different from the previous version of the Mexican league?
On the surface level, despite the hype, it’s hard to argue that it is. The teams are the same, the rules haven’t changed much, and the commissioner is none other than the utterly familiar Decio de Maria. The most stirring change is perhaps a little-noticed move towards away goals for deciding playoff ties, and of course the addition of a Mexican Cup designed to shed much-needed attention of the Liga de Ascenso.
If there’s little notable difference between this season’s league and that of the Clausura 2012, though, the rebranding could still one day be seen as a watershed moment for Mexican club football.
This move is all about ambition. The desire to become world class has driven Mexico’s rapid ascent at the international level. Now, the clubs are getting into the act as well, stating the ambitious goal of becoming a top-five league worldwide within the decade.
It might sound grandiose. But given the plans for the league made public Monday and the action off the field this summer, top five status seems like a distinct possibility sooner rather than later.
For starters, an influx of quality talent is set to hit the league from Europe this fall, reversing the usual flow to the continent. Besides the repatriation of Mexican national teamers Pablo Barrera, Nery Castillo and Efrain Juarez, a number of talented players formerly based in Europe have joined the Liga MX for its debut tournament.
Luis Perea and Raul Tamudo join the growing list of players imported straight from Spain - considered by many the best football in the world. In his heyday with Espanyol just a few years back, Tamudo was considered Spanish national team material. Now he joins what’s becoming a flood of talented players taking their games from Europe to Mexico.
Of course the money has always been there, but several factors are joining forces to make this an ideal time to launch the new league. Economic turmoil effecting Europe and Spain in particular means the pay in Mexico has never been more attractive for top players abroad. Add that to the marketing aspirations of several Mexican teams in terms of expanding their international reach, and you have the formula for a highly competitive league.
Over the offseason, the likes of America, Cruz Azul and Pachuca have made serious financial commitments to upgrade their rosters to a level on par with some of the best in the Americas. Even Chivas, handcuffed by a dependence on Mexican players, brought in an international coach to tailor its brand a bit to the outside world.
All this is bigger than some might realize for Mexican football. If teams can stay the course for a few tournaments as chemistry develops, you might even expect Mexico’s best to not just continue their annual stroll through the CONCACAF Champions League, but perhaps win a Copa Libertadores and challenge more seriously for the Club World Cup in coming years.
If that happens, it will be the fruition of a long term effort. The youth development programs put in place years back will support high profile signings with quality Mexican talent. With a new influx of top-level veterans from abroad - not retreads from the Argentine and Brazilian leagues - Liga MX has the resources to become, indisputably, on par in quality with the best leagues in this hemisphere, and all but the very best in Europe.
It may be a coincidence in timing, but looking back five years from now, the 2012 rebranding of the Liga MX will coincide nicely with the moment in which Mexico finally laid claim to the title of best league in the Americas.
When that happens, the Liga MX name will indeed denote a difference in regional, and world, football.