For the past 77 years it took two things to play football for Chivas of Guadalajara: an abundance of talent and a Mexican passport.
But with the country’s once homogeneous first division quickly becoming more diverse, Chivas’ Mexican player-only rule now hangs around the club’s neck like an anachronistic albatross. This season, more than a third of Liga MX players were born abroad, as were 10 of the top 12 goal scorers.
The appeal to Mexican nationalism by refusing to sign foreign players has made Chivas one of the most popular clubs in the country. But it’s also a big reason the team has only won two titles this century and only three since Mexico switched to the short-tournament format in 1996. However, Ricardo Peláez, the team’s director of football, said the club won’t change anytime soon, of course.
Chivas, 11th in the 18-team Apertura rating with five games to play, will be in Los Angeles on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. to play a friendly against CD FAS, El Salvador’s most successful team, at Banc of California Stadium. FAS, which leads the Salvadorean premier division halfway through its 22-game season, has a roster that includes Dustin Corea, a 29-year-old Los Angeles native who has played for eight clubs in six countries.
“It’s an honor to work with full-fledged Mexicans. There are things that shouldn’t change, ”Peláez said in Spanish of the club’s nationality regime. “Football as a sport is very important on a social level because it enables millions of people to feel identified with a team and thus to be part of a group. But the identification is not made by the colors or the coat of arms, but by the philosophy, the history that they represent.
“In the case of Chivas, she cannot do without it. Chivas stands for absolute trust in Mexicans. Chivas is nationalism. It is the being of the people and for the people. “
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Peláez used a multinational squad to lead Club América, Chivas’ mortal enemy, to three titles between 2011 and 2017 before moving to Guadalajara last year. It’s a bit like Brian Cashman leaving the New York Yankees to become general manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Peláez, who also played for both teams, didn’t find the move particularly strange.
“The fact that you identify with a shirt or some colors has nothing to do with whether you are doing your job good or bad,” he said. “Of course they are different. … Today I’m with Chivas, who is undoubtedly the most popular club in Mexican football. “
One reason for this is the pure Mexican rule, which really isn’t a rule.
Though Chivas was founded by Belgian and French students in Guadalajara in the early 20th century, the club quickly split into a faction led by Mexican workers inspired by the country’s revolution and insisting that the team only operate domestically born players pitched.
This suggestion has not always been followed. But in 1944, when the country’s first national professional league was founded, the club again vowed to use only Mexicans. This agreement between some of the directors of the club was never written down or voted on. In fact, it has sparked discussions for years. But it persisted, and when the team won seven league titles between 1957 and 1965, strict nationalism became the club’s tenet.
Since then, Mexican football has changed dramatically. Liga MX is now one of the richest leagues in the western hemisphere, making it a destination for top South American players. In fact, so many foreigners have flocked to Liga MX that the league imposed a limit of 10 non-native players per squad this season, with no more than eight dressing per game.
Chivas has cut himself off from these players – and is no longer providing the best Mexicans. Eleven years ago, Chivas sent five players to the World Cup with the national team, most of them from all Liga MX teams. There are only two players in the Mexican squad for World Cup qualifiers this month. Three league rivals send more.
“Chivas lives by rules of engagement that nobody lives by today,” said former US international Hérculez Gómez, who played for five teams in Mexico. “Chivas had fun when they only allowed four or five foreigners. It was easy for her. They had the best Mexican players. They competed.
“That is not the case today. [They’re] not on a level playing field. “
Chivas relaxed his rules under the ownership of Jorge Vergara and signed the Californians Jesús Padilla, Isaác Brizuela and Miguel Ángel Ponce, among others. These players were born to Mexican parents and qualified for citizenship.
Peláez said last spring that he would like to recruit more dual citizens. In the meantime, Chivas will rely on his development academy, which once produced Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Carlos Vela and Carlos Salcido. Wednesday’s friendly is an opportunity to audition some of the academy’s current prospects, while the game gives FAS an opportunity to interact with its fans in Southern California, home of the largest concentration of Salvadorans in the United States
There was hope – or fear, depending on your perspective – that Chivas could completely overturn all-Mexican rule when Amaury Vergara, a US-trained filmmaker, took ownership after his father’s death in 2019. But Vergara, 34, has stayed on track so far and with Liga MX suspended relegation, Gómez said there is no need to change policies that have harmed the team on the field but remain hugely popular with the fans.
Ricardo Peláez, head of the Chivas football department, watches a Liga MX game against Queretaro.
(Hector Vivas / Getty Images)
“Your fan base was happy because it’s a sense of pride,” said Gómez, ESPN football analyst. “But sooner rather than later you will see that things change.”
“When the dollars run out, when second-, third-, and fourth-generation Mexican Americans no longer have an appetite for them, that will change,” he added.
In addition to sticking to Chivas’ citizenship policy, the younger Vergara inherited his father’s impatience, sacking his third coach in two years last month. His father changed managers 26 times in 17 years.
“It’s not just a Chivas problem. It’s a Mexican issue – and the world in general, ”said Peláez. “Of course, if we don’t get results, we are all exposed to change. That is the most logical thing. “
But Peláez has one thing on his side: he was born in Mexico.