Higuera’s time with Chivas comes to an abrupt end

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Jose Luis Higuera of CD Guadalajara during the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 Official Draw at the Home of FIFA on September 4, 2018 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Kurt Schorrer- FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Jose Luis Higuera of CD Guadalajara during the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 Official Draw at the Home of FIFA on September 4, 2018 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Kurt Schorrer- FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images) /

After four years as general manager of Club Deportivo Guadalajara, Jose Luis Higuera was shown the door.

On Monday, troubled Guadalajara Chivas owner Jorge Vergara announced that he was stepping aside as team president and turning over control of the club to his son. One of the first steps his son, Amaury Vergara, took was to dismiss controversial general manager Jose Luis Higuera.

No doubt, many Chivas fans – who had become tired of Higuera’s antics – celebrated the decision. In fact, plans were quickly made to celebrate the sacking of Higuera at the Minerva statue in downtown Guadalajara, the site where Chivas fans celebrate championships.

Higuera was brought on board four years ago and initially enjoyed considerable success. At the time, the Chivas found themselves in the relegation zone and were struggling to play quality soccer. Within a few seasons, the Chivas were winning titles again, claiming the Apertura 2015 Copa MX, the 2015-2016 SuperCopa MX, the Clausura 2017 Copa MX and the Clausura 2017 Liga MX title and finally the 2018 Concacaf Champions Cup.

Much of that success can be attributed to the decision to hire Matías Almeyda, an Argentine who found success at home first at River Plate and then at Banfield. Almeyda came to Guadalajara in 2015, the first major coup for Higuera and the Chivas.

It was all a fairy tale story for the Chivas until Higuera began meddling too much in personnel decisions, particularly moves that went against Almeyda’s wishes. Rumores circulated that Jorge Vergara’s other businesses – in particular Omnilife – were experiencing financial problems and Higuera was also a CEO with Omnilife. As the Chivas began selling off elite players like Jose Juan “Gallito” Vazquez, Rodolfo Pizarro and Orbelin Pineda, this explanation gained some traction.

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Many of these stars were also team leaders who went public with complaints that management was not honoring commitments it had made to reward players with bonuses for winning titles. Another star, Oswaldo Alanis was reportedly punished for not accepting a pay cut, then was banished to the B team and then was eventually sold off.

Almeyda became more and more frustrated with the roster reductions and he let it be known that he was unlikely to continue as coach unless his opinions were taken into consideration. It was a power struggle he was not going to win, especially as Jorge Vergara began to play a less-prominent role in the day-to-day operations.

In addition to his hard line approach as a general manager, Higuera earned a reputation as a prickly personality in the media and on social media. He was especially churlish when the public criticized the ineffective launch of Chivas TV, a live-streaming platform that was launched in 2016 but suffered innumerable glitches in its early days.

Almeyda was finally sent packing in Spring 2018 just as the Chivas’ latest troubles began to spin out of control. The last two years have been difficult for Chivas fans as the club has gone four consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs. This past December, a dispirited Chivas team offered an embarrassing performance at the 2018 Club World Cup, losing a penalty shootout with Esperance of Tunisia to finish in fifth.

Worst of all, the extended run of poor play has Guadalajara back in the relegation zone, just where they were when Higuera took over in 2015. The Chivas fired coach Jose Cardozo on March 31 and, in a big surprise, hired 67-year-old Tomas Boy despite public announcements that Higuera was leading a search to bring in a highly regarded coach (from Europe, it was whispered).

When Boy later signed a 3-year deal to continue as coach, many were caught off-guard, including Higuera himself who had declared that Boy was not the long-term answer for Guadalajara. Last week, Higuera was reminded of those comments by ESPN’s David Faitelson, but denied saying any such thing. Faitelson then played the video of the interview in which Higuera made the statement.

And then there was the Oribe Peralta snafu. Earlier this month, Higuera tweeted that Guadalajara would never acquire a player from bitter rivals America. Shortly thereafter, the Chivas brought in Peralta, a talisman for the Aguilas, a veteran striker who helped America win two league titles during his five years with the Mexico City club.

In addition, the irascible Higuera was placed under the microscope during an interview with ESPN’s Futbol Picante program, during which he was asked if he was the reason the Chivas had fallen on hard times. Higuera accepted some blame but kept insisted that “the Chivas organization is just entertainment, a circus designed to entertain the public.” His use of the term “circus” was the last straw for Chivas fans.

The Apertura 2018 and the Clausura 2019 seasons were painful for many Chivas fans who watched their team make a lot of seismic moves that only dug them into a deeper hole. The team appears lost and doesn’t have an identity that fans expect of their beloved Chivas.

The Guadalajara faithful nervously anticipate a tense year ahead. The club is already on its third coach – Cardozo, interim coach Alberto Coyote, and Boy – and will have to be in “must-win mode” right from the get-got in July.

The unpopular Higuera may be gone, but Chivas fans wonder if coach Boy – who has never won a title during his 30-year-coaching career – is the answer to Guadalajara’s prayers.