When Manchester United signed Javier Hernandez in early 2010, Europe seemed to rediscover the Mexican market as more than just a dumping ground for aging players still aching to make a buck. The gap between Monaco snapping Rafael Marquez up in 1999 and Hernandez going to England more than a decade later showed few signings with fewer success stories.
Revered names such as Francisco Palencia, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Jared Borgetti failed to make a lasting impact in European football, while Carlos Salcido, Maza Rodríguez and Hector Moreno clearly benefited later on from Marquez's success at Barcelona, establishing themselves as worthy performers in the Netherlands. Nery Castillo's career in Europe was nothing short of a roller coaster.
Mexico's 2005 U-17 World Cup win served as a reminder that Giovani dos Santos was already in Barcelona's youth ranks, while Carlos Vela reportedly spurned the Culés for a richer deal with Arsenal after El Tri's youth championship. Jorge Hernandez and Efrain Juarez were not as lucky after prolonged trials with the Blaugrana.
Juarez's return to Pumas was a blessing in disguise, or so the player said, after difficult living conditions and scarce playing time in the youth ranks pushed the midfielder back to Mexico. After formally debuting for Pumas in 2008, Juarez caught the eye of Javier Aguirre a year later, when the coach took him to the national team. In 2010, he was starting for Mexico at the World Cup.
With Chicharito fever in full swing, Celtic took a chance on Juarez and gave him his second stint in Europe. Then it was Zaragoza on a loan spell. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Upon signing for América this summer, Juárez and Pablo Barrera tapped into a niche market. Not good enough for Europe, but apparently too good for Mexico. It's funny that top clubs like América and Cruz Azul are willing to pay millions for players who have taken more than their share of criticism at the club and national team level.
Unceremoniously dropped by Chepo de la Torre from the national team, Juárez has yet to get a cap in 2012. Barrera might be close to losing his spot with El Tri after a series of disappointing performances in both friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. And yet, both will enter the Apertura 2012 as top earners who will get plenty of attention devoted to them by the media as the season goes on.
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The flops have not been lost on European scouts, who have been wary of parlaying a single solid tournament with a contract. It is far too early to pass judgment on Edson Rivera and Ulises Davila, snapped up by Braga and Chelsea, respectively after the U-20 World Cup, but teammate Taufic Guarch has officially stamped his return back to Mexico after one season with Espanyol B.
Now, even as Mexico's U-23 squad has gone on to destroy regional opposition in the CONCACAF pre-Olympic qualifiers as well as winning the prestigious Toulon Tournament later on, teams have cooled their jets in potential pursuits for stars such as Marco Fabian and Hector Herrera.
It may be a wise move, as teams try to weed out potential Barreras and Juarezes in their scouting mix. For instance, Alan Pulido, supposedly groomed for a Manchester United move in April, has now been left off the Olympic team for good. Ditto Erick Torres, who was being scouted by Tottenham since 2011 according to various reports.
As Mexico prepares for what may be unprecedented success in the Olympic tournament, surely a few players will emigrate for greener pastures as the 2012-13 season kicks off. As mentioned before, Marco Fabian and Hector Herrera have shown consistently to have true star pedigree. The same goes for Diego Reyes and Hiram Mier. Surely no one will be surprised if the cream of the crop is picked off for a few European clubs.
However, as Chicharito fever dwindles and European scouts gather a greater understanding of the Mexican market, at least one thing is for sure: Fringe stars who have flashes in the pan such as Juarez and Barrera are more than likely not to wear a European club's kit in the near future.
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