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At 20 years old, Diego Reyes has already felt Pan American, Toulon and Olympic gold hung around his neck, a weighty reminder that the Club América defender is a special part of Mexico's recent success at the international level.
Reyes is primed to become the latest in a growing list of fine defensive exports, joining the likes of Carlos Salcido, Rafael Márquez, Francisco Javier Rodríguez and Héctor Moreno that have given El Tri a near-exclusive European backline in the past decade.
With offers on the table from Spanish and Italian suitors, it is almost a certainty that one of the Liga MX's top clubs will lose one of the league's top talents. The growth in notoriety abroad has given Mexican football a double-edged sword. By allowing talents like Diego Reyes to leave for Europe, the domestic league is weakened, but the national team is almost certainly fortified.
It is not an isolated case, by any means.
Hiram Mier will most likely bid adieu to CONCACAF champ Monterrey after the Club World Cup, as the talented center back has already been approached by German and English clubs following the 2012 Summer Olympics, where he partnered up with Reyes to protect Mexico's back line en route to the oft-mentioned gold medal.
Cruz Azul winger Javier Aquino saw his first formal offer from a Serie A team following the Toulon Tournament. The same can be said about Guadalajara midfielder Jorge Enríquez, a long-time obsession in Italy following his strong showing in the 2011 U-20 World Cup. His teammate at Chivas, Marco Fabian, apparently provoked a big Bundesliga team to shove an eight-figure offer in the face of Jorge Vergara and Johan Cruyff this past August. They refused to let him go.
The swan song, however, is coming for these and more in the Liga MX. Despite Mexico's archaic handling of free agency (there is none), European teams have learned to work around the system and understand that if teams in Mexico are unwilling to sell them their top stars, they will eventually sign on a free transfer, the way Ajaccio goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa did in 2011, following his departure from Club América.
Despite the Liga MX's lofty goals it first announced earlier this year, top sponsorship money and sustained domestic interest might be diminished if a mass exodus ensues. TV rights could be in jeopardy. The league is currently playing on screens in four different countries, a record.
European eyes aren't exclusively on Mexican footballers, either. Ecuadorian striker Christian Benítez was locked in by América on a reported $10 million transfer last year, but not even that might be enough to shy clubs away from triggering his release clause.
So how will Mexican clubs avoid such a massive drain of talent in the coming months? The creation of a real players' union might force better wages or fairer contract negotiations in general, though that still seems far off. No, the more likely scenario is that we will see a few teams gladly take the incoming millions in exchange for their top players, while others will force the buyers' hands.
One particularly saucy case to look at is Chivas, where the aforementioned Johan Cruyff was brought in to set the club's fortunes back on track after the last 14 years have yielded exactly one title for the proud team.
In the past, Chivas has been somewhat glad to let players like Salcido, Maza, Ulises Davila, Carlos Vela and Javier Hernandez try their luck in Europe. Now, there might be added pressure on Chivas and Cruyff to keep stars like Fabian and Enriquez for a potential championship run before they're allowed to leave. As Chivas goes, the rest of the league might as well.
Even if Cruyff doesn't relent in the short term, and player exits throughout the Liga MX to Europe are stunted - one thing remains for sure. The exodus can be slowed down, but it won't be stopped completely.
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