Focus is on Liguilla, but Liga MX front offices busy too

TORREON, MEXICO - JANUARY 11: Detail of the shoes of a player during a match between Santos and Chivas as part of the Clausura Tournament 2013 Liga MX at Estadio TSM Corona on January 11, 2013 in Torreon, Mexico. (Photo by Anonymous/LatinContent/Getty Images)
TORREON, MEXICO - JANUARY 11: Detail of the shoes of a player during a match between Santos and Chivas as part of the Clausura Tournament 2013 Liga MX at Estadio TSM Corona on January 11, 2013 in Torreon, Mexico. (Photo by Anonymous/LatinContent/Getty Images) /

Most attention has been on the playoffs, but the Liga MX has been making news off the field too.

For 10 Liga MX franchises the Clausura 2019 season ended three weeks ago. But those club owners and management teams have not just been sitting around watching the Liguilla.

Although the summer silly season is not yet upon us, the transfer rumors are circulating freely. Still, real action has been taken by the Mexican Soccer Federation (FMF) and some organizations have made big changes: the FMF announced that the league will feature 19 teams next season; another coach was fired; and two teams joined front-office forces.

So while we wait for the ball to start rolling in the Grand Final on Sunday night, let’s take a quick look at what’s been going on these past three weeks.

Ownership pow-wow

The FMF club owners held their annual Spring meeting and announced that the Liga MX would play with 19 teams beginning with the Apertura 2019 season, pending the resolution of Veracruz’s problems.

Atlético San Luis was added after winning the Ascenso MX title and Veracruz paid a 120-million-dollar buy-in fee to remain in Liga MX after suffering relegation. This means that every week one team will have a bye. Owners also decided that the Apertura 2019 season will begin on the weekend of July 19-21 and end by Dec. 15.

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The FMF also cut back the Copa MX schedule. Instead of holding the Cup each season, it will only be held once a year – the group stage will take place from July to December and the knockout stage will be scheduled from January to April. Also, the knockout stage will feature home-and-home series instead of a single elimination game.

Sharks still in treacherous waters

The Tiburones of Veracruz set a new standard for futility last season, finishing the Clausura 2019 with 0 points. That earned the Sharks relegation and forced owner Fidel Kuri to cough up 120 million dollars to remain in the top division.

But that might not be enough to save the Sharks. Two years ago, Kuri and the Tiburones reneged on a debt to Uruguayan club Montevideo Wanderers and now FIFA is involved. The world soccer organization has ordered Veracruz to pay “training and development fees” to the Wanderers or be demoted to Ascenso MX.

In 2017, the Tiburones acquired Matías Santos from the Wanderers but refused to pay the required training fees. Since then, the Wanderers have tried every method possible to recover their deserved payment (244,500 dollars) but Kuri has ignored them. So the Uruguayan club went to FIFA and now Veracruz has been told they must pay this week or be forcibly demoted. Just another Kuri-induced headache for the FMF.

Pumas shuffle the deck

After finishing in 15th place just one season after ending in 3rd place, UNAM decided changes had to be made in the front office. On May 6 (one day after the Clausura ended), Jesús Ramírez was named president of sporting operations for the Pumas.

“Chucho” led Mexico’s U-17 team to a World Cup crown in 2005, but has not enjoyed coaching success at the senior level. He even failed as academy coach at América (2009-2010) though he had a modicum of success with Mérida in the Ascenso MX (2015-2016).

Critics point out that Ramírez’s duties are limited. He will not be allowed to “meddle” in the club’s academy and he has limited power with regard to personnel decisions. The power behind the throne will continue to be the controversial Rodrigo Ares de Parga, who has become adept at deflecting blame and throwing underlings under the bus.

Ramírez did, however, take the lead in the team’s coaching search. Bruno Marioni was sacked on May 15 and former Real Madrid star Miguel González “Michel” was brought aboard. Michel knows Mexico; he finished his career here with Atlético Celaya alongside Emilio Butragueño. The Spaniard has coached at Rayo Vallecano, Castilla, Getafe, Sevilla and Málaga in Spain, led Greece’s Olympiakos to a couple titles (2013-2015) and also coach at Marseille.

Atlas and Santos combine forces

The FMF approved the sale of Guadalajara-based Atlas to Grupo Orlegi, a business group headed by Alejandro Irragori who was the president of Santos Laguna. Irragori resigned his post with Santos to facilitate the approval and avoid personal conflicts of interest.

The two teams announced that Orlegi would run the sporting operations of both clubs while TV Azteca – the former owner of Atlas FC would manage the teams’ media and communications operations. Former Team Mexico and Barcelona star Rafa Márquez – who is a product of the Atlas soccer academy – stepped down as Atlas general manager so that Orlegi could begin putting together a new management team for the Zorros. Atlas coach Leonardo Cufre is said to be quite concerned about his job security too.

Although FIFA bylaws prohibit ownership of more than one team in the same division, the FMF has never submitted to the rule. This often leads to questions of bias and appearances of favoritism or collusion. Televisa once owned three teams (América, Atlante and Necaxa), while TV Azteca once owned two team (Morelia and Atlas) and Grupo Pachuca still owns Pachuca and León.