29 October ~ Mexican striker Javier Hernandez stole the Monday morning headlines following his match-winning brace for Manchester Utd against Stoke City but things aren’t so rosy back at his old club Guadalajara Chivas. Sunday’s “clasico of the clasicos” against bitter capital city rivals America ended 0-0, the second half of which was at times exasperating to watch. The clash pits the all-Mexican, provincial “people’s club” from second city Guadalajara against Mexico City’s America, whose name alone alludes to intentions of grandeur.
America spend big on players, flaunt their wealth and their fans are proud of it. Chivas, thanks to an era of domination called the Campeonisimo in the late 1950s and 60s, lead America 11 to ten in the overall title count but both clubs currently find themselves in a slump.
After 90 minutes, boos rang out with he game only serving to highlight the clubs' distance from Mexico’s new elite: Monterrey, Cruz Azul, Toluca and Santos Laguna. Of the two giants, it’s Chivas who are very much in flux. Fans are almost unanimously against club owner Jorge Vergara, who bought the club in 2002 and said he would make it into one of the biggest in the world. “On paper the project is fine but in practice it’s not that easy,” says Chivas fan Luis from Mexico City before Sunday’s game. “Where’s the money going to come from?”
Chivas fans dancing, singing and drinking in a Mexico City park befaore making their way to the Azteca hid what is a real concern for the future of the club among them. “I’ll tell you, none of us likes Vergara,” says Carlos of Guadalajara’s Legion 1908 fan group. “You go round the park and ask people what they think of him.”
A major problem for Chivas fans in Guadalajara this year has been the new Omnilife tadium. “It’s an amazing stadium, incredible, but the prices are too high and we can’t get there easily,” says Jorge, who was one of those to make the trip from Guadalajara to Mexico City on Sunday. The Estadio Omnilife is like a modern European stadium; set on the edge of the city, it's genuinely impressive. The problem is that Mexicans can’t pay the ticket prices plus transport to the stadium and food and drink inside. In comparison to the vast majority of Mexican grounds, there are no independent vendors outside, meaning Vergara has a monopoly on food, booze and merchandise.
Vergara insists the stadium has been a success and blames the media for causing the disconten, but he would be better looking at the stark facts. There were swathes of empty seats around the ground when Chivas took on local rivals Atlas a couple of weeks ago and when Pumas from Mexico City came to town it was the same. At the old Estadio Jalisco it was rare if one of the above games didn’t sell out, regardless of the circumstances of the team.
The stadium isn’t the only sign of unrest within Chivas, however. “This year I only brought one bus to the clasico,” says Luis Felipe Martinez, organiser of the Legion 1908 in Guadalajara. “I usually bring three.” Outside the Azteca on Sunday another supporters’ club was protesting a potential change to the club badge. As in all sports, a successful team brings fans around and while Chivas are performing like they did on Sunday, protest is bound is reign.
Perhaps what is required in the long term is that the club relax their rules on not allowing foreign players. Chivas have struggled in recent years and now rely almost exclusively on talent coming up through the youth team. The “sacred herd” has won just three titles since the Campeonisimo era ended in the 1960s. Toluca, on the other hand, have won seven titles since 1997.
The template for success in the Mexican league is to have a base of seven or eight locals complemented with a few foreigners. An additional problem for Chivas’s “Mexicans only” stance is that it is combined with a policy of selling players that are successful. “Chicharito” Hernandez played exceptionally well for only one year with Chivas before being whisked off, while 19-year-old midfield starlet Jorge Enriquez is being tipped to move in the same direction in the near future.
If Chivas’s best players are sold on, the team naturally loses quality and it becomes difficult to win trophies, the most surefire way of getting supporters back into the stadium. Most worryingly of all, Chivas fans are already fantasising about the potential end-of-career return of the already mythical Chicharito. With his goals last Sunday, the wait could seem like an eternity. Tom Marshall mexicofooty.blogspot.com