Liga MX: Chivas fans could be in for a long, long year


Since winning the Clausura 2017 title, the Chivas have failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of the past three seasons.

Mexico’s beloved Guadalajara soccer team is in a slump and its fans are not happy. The Chivas are supposed to be a Liga MX protagonist, but not for howling examples of mismanagement.

The Chivas have not made the playoffs in three seasons and their performance in the Club World Cup was abysmal, losing both games to finish in 6th place.

Headlines this month blared out news of Chivas failures such as “Closing out 2018 dishonorably.” El Universal Deportes columnist Gerardo Velázquez de León called this “the worst year in the history of Guadalajara” citing the team’s 8-11-15 record.

Atop a Enrique Beas column were the words “Chivas is a national embarrassment.” And now soccer scribes are writing speculative articles about the chances of Guadalajara facing relegation heading into the 2019-2020 calendar.

A sad chronology

On May 28, 2017, Chivas captain Carlos Salcido hoisted the Clausura 2017 trophy in front of the home fans after the “Rebaño Sagrado” had defeated the Tigres to earn their record-tying 12th league championship.

A month earlier, Guadalajara had claimed the Copa MX title, a rare double in Liga MX.

Coach Matías Almeyda was idolized and there were whispers that he should be considered to take the reins of El Tri. Almeyda had his young team playing an exciting, attacking style. But in the front office, all was not well.

Some players later complained that promised bonuses were not paid out and reports of bickering between the front office and players and coaches leaked out.

In December 2017 after the Chivas finished 13th and missed out on the playoffs, the strange saga of Oswaldo Alanis unfolded. The central defender was a key member of the Chivas, their designated spot-kicker and a regular call-up with El Tri. But the Chivas had just relegated him to second team training, apparently trying to force him out. Coach Almeyda was told he could not use Alanis in the Apertura 2018 season but the front office eventually backed down. In May, the defender was abruptly sold to Spanish club Getafe.

Some reports suggested Alanis was being punished by management for speaking up about the unpaid bonuses. After Alanis was sold, Chivas owner Jorge Vergara admitted the situation was handled poorly from within and pundits blamed general director José Luis Higuera.

By the end of the Clausura 2018 (in which the Chivas sank to 17th), coach Almeyda had seen enough. Despite the poor league results, the Argentine manager led the Chivas to the Concacaf Champions League title, their first ever ConcaChampions trophy.

But over the summer, Almeyda walked away from the club after a contentious meeting with Higuera, new general manager Francisco Gabriel de Anda and the owner’s son, Amaury Vergara. Management told him there was no money to invest in Almeyda’s wish list of new players and the club would have to sell goalie Rodolfo Cota and star midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro.

But observers thought there was something a bit more nefarious. The players being sent out were the same voices who publicly complained about the team’s failure to pay promised bonuses, this time for winning the ConcaChampions.

A few days later, Gabriel de Anda had resigned and scribes speculated that Higuera had used him as the fall guy, allowing him to take the heat for the dismantling of the Chivas. The embattled Higuera – who enjoys mocking and insulting critics on Twitter, while defending the controversial front-office decisions – denied the accusations. Some commentators speculated owner Jorge Vergara was grooming his son to take over for Higuera, but that did not occur.

The makeover continues

Pepe Cardozo was brought in to coach the young Guadalajara squad, but was unable to get the Chivas back in the playoffs. Some of the youngsters failed to live up to their hype, star midfielders Orbelin Pineda and Michael Pérez suffered injuries and a contract dispute with captain Jair Perreira simmered in the background (Perreira wanted a raise and management was reluctant to accede to his wishes, though he did sign an extension in November).

Guadalajara then went to Abu Dhabi in mid-December to compete in the Club World Cup where it lost both games, the worst-ever performance of a Mexican team in the Club World Cup.

To make matters worse, as soon as the game against Espérance de Tunis was over, management announced it had sold star midfielder Pineda to Cruz Azul and sent promising 19-year-old striker José Juan Macías to León. In addition, leading scorer Ángel Saldívar was loaned to Monterrey, veteran fullback Edwin Hernández was let go and captain Salcido announced he was leaving the club.

On a side note, the Chivas revealed their games would be broadcast on TV Azteca beginning with the Clausura 2019 season, yet another suggestion that their much-ballyhooed Chivas TV live-streaming enterprise (another Higuera pet project) was still not up to snuff after three years.

Just this week, Higuera denied rumors that he would be resigning and insisted he would accept no blame for the upheaval at Chivas. He said “I was not brought on board to win championships; I was hired to take care of other sectors of the organization” without clarifying what those responsibilities might be.

In the meantime, Chivas fans face an uncertain 2019 while at the same time having to wrestle with the knowledge that their bitter rivals – América – just claimed their record 13th league title.