Mismanagement has Chivas facing relegation anxiety

ZAPOPAN, MEXICO - MARCH 16: Isaac Brizuela of Chivas gestures during the 1th round match between Chivas and America as part of the Torneo Clausura 2019 Liga MX at Akron Stadium on March 16, 2019 in Zapopan, Mexico. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images)
ZAPOPAN, MEXICO - MARCH 16: Isaac Brizuela of Chivas gestures during the 1th round match between Chivas and America as part of the Torneo Clausura 2019 Liga MX at Akron Stadium on March 16, 2019 in Zapopan, Mexico. (Photo by Alfredo Moya/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Are José Cardozo’s days numbered in Guadalajara? Chivas reportedly looking for his successor.

The Chivas are tumbling into oblivion as the Clausura 2019 approaches the home stretch and head coach José Cardozo appears to be on the way out.

Universal Deportes reported on March 22 that management was actively searching for his replacement, suggesting that Cardozo would be ousted when this season ends (or replaced with an interim coach). More ominous, perhaps, the unsigned report asserts that ownership is looking for an “inexpensive, submissive” manager.

Meanwhile, in public, Chivas CEO José Luis Higuera has told reporters that Cardozo’s job is safe, even though the club appears headed for a relegation battle next year. But the notion that the new manager must be weak-willed fits the profile favored by the meddlesome Higuera and the management team working for owner Jorge Vergara (including his son, Amaury, a vice president in the organization).

Last week, Higuera invited the local sports media to his home in hopes of convincing them to be more positive in their coverage of the Chivas. The dinner took place after the Chivas were eliminated by América in the Copa MX, but before the Aguilas dominated the Chivas in their Liga MX match last Saturday. Universal Deportes wrote that this was the third such “dinner” in the past three months, as Guadalajara sank further in the relegation standings.

From champs to chumps

Since winning the Clausura 2017 crown, the Chivas have gradually imploded. Even before that title run, Coach Matías Almeyda had voiced complaints that he was not involved in personnel decisions. His criticism of management increased, especially heading into the Clausura 2018 season after the Chivas had been unable to reach the playoffs (finishing 13th) the season after hoisting the trophy.

In response, Vergara hired Francisco Gabriel de Anda as general manager, insisting that he would work closely with Almeyda to strengthen the roster. However, Gabriel de Anda lasted less than three months on the job before submitting his resignation, leaving no doubt that his was a figurehead position and that Higuera and Vergara were still making the decisions. Vergara has not appeared in public since the presentation of Gabriel de Anda

Despite the turmoil, Almeyda led the Chivas to the Finals of the 2018 Concacaf Champions League, defeating Toronto FC in a penalty kick shootout. In the league, however, the team again missed the playoffs, finishing second from last.

Shortly thereafter, Jorge Vergara brought his son onto the management team as Almeyda complained bitterly to the media, finally announcing his departure from the club due to “disagreements with management.”

Facing demotion demons

For the second time in a decade, Guadalajara will be facing serious demotion problems next year. Relegation in Mexico is determined by winning percentage factored over three years. So, the seasons to be used for the 2020 relegation will be the Apertura 2017 (13th place), Clausura 2018 (17th), Apertura 2018 (11th), Clausura 2019 (currently in 11th) and the upcoming Apertura 2019 and Clausura 2020). Checking out the math, the Chivas could be third in line for demotion when the Apertura 2019 season begins.

Objective observers understand that Cardozo is not the real problem here. Management has been focused on Guadalajara’s bottom line, which in and of itself does not usually merit criticism. However, reports indicate the bottom line of the Chivas is also being hurt by the financial troubles in Vergara’s other business – Omnilife. In the summer of 2018, business magazine Expansión reported that Vergara and his business empire owed more than 1.9 billion pesos in back taxes. In addition, Amaury Vergara’s official title is general director of Omnilife-Chivas, suggesting Chivas is directly impacted by Omnilife’s fiscal difficulties.

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Management has also taken a vindictive line toward outspoken players. After the Chivas won the Clausura 2017 title, a few players publicly complained that ownership did not honor its promise to pay out bonuses if Guadalajara won the title. That summer, the Chivas sold off Rodolfo Pizarro and Néstor Calderón and before the year was out, José Juan Vázquez had been sent packing too.

The same thing happened after the Chivas won the CCL in April 2018. Management reneged on paying bonuses then sold off a few players who complained including goalie Rodolfo Cota. Oswaldo Alanís also suffered ill treatment at the hands of Higuera as the star defender was banished to the academy squad when he wouldn’t renew his contract at a reduced rate. The Chivas refused to allow him to sign elsewhere and management grudgingly only allowed him back on the team after repeated public floggings by the media.

Hoping for a late push

The Chivas desperately need to end their slump, but not so much in order to get back into the playoff hunt. Their top priority will be to pick up some points to improve their relegation percentage before this season ends.

The mood in the clubhouse is sour after losing twice to bitter rivals América in a four-day period. No doubt, Cardozo understood that his fate could be determined by the outcome of those two games.

When league play resumes, Guadalajara faces the Pumas who are also in dire straits, but they beat the Chivas in both the league and the Cup last season. And both of those games were in Guadalajara. The March 31 match will be at UNAM.

The next three games after the Pumas – Matchdays 13 through 15 – are against teams not currently in playoff position (vs. Lobos BUAP, at Morelia and vs. Puebla). That is where they must make their move.

Their final two games are against the two best teams in the league – at home against No. 1 León and then on the road at No. 2 Tigres.

By then, management might have already made a decision about the next coach.