Liga MX: Why We Watch Football
With the latest international break coming to a close and the frenzy of the club season about to resume, we asked some of our writers to chronicle what they love, both past and present, about the leagues they follow. It's #WhyWeWatchFootball. Here's Tom Marshall on how he got into Liga MX.
It's a 24/7 telenovela
"Never a dull moment" is a cliche but it holds true to Liga MX. Some stories over recent weeks include Pachuca's vice-president Andres Fassi cornering a referee and shouting that he would "die" when he saw the replay of one ruled-out goal following a game against Santos Laguna; Atlas manager Tomas Boy striking a fan and telling the press he "deserved it" for insulting him; Puebla training in wolves' masks and the ongoing saga of whether Alan Pulido -- who went to the World Cup with Mexico -- actually has a contract or not with Tigres.
The Liga MX is loaded with such such characters and story lines. Take Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Foul-mouthed, overweight, almost 42 years old and likely the slowest player in the league (if not the continent), Blanco is still there, still producing the odd moment of genius for relegation-threatened Puebla and then celebrating it like a 19-year-old kid on his debut.
"Pele is king, Maradona a God, but Cuauhtemoc is the daddy of both of them," reads one such T-shirt you can find on sale outside the Estadio Azteca, proof of Blanco's popularity.
My favorite bizarre story came in May 2013 when the owner of recently-relegated Queretaro bought out another club to keep Los Gallos Blancos in the first division. Imagine that in the Premier League!
Continuing that theme, you'll have to bear in mind that in line with the league's surrealism as things don't always function how you might think they should:
- The Bosman ruling? Forget it. In Mexico, the "Pacto de Caballeros" ("Gentlemen's Pact") is the secret and unofficial law between the owners. The result is that players aren't free to move even when their contracts are at an end.
- The biannual draft. In reality, it isn't actually a draft. Owners of the 18 Liga MX clubs meet up in a plush Cancun hotel and thrash out deals. Often, the players don't know where they will be playing until the deal is made official.
- Beware the owners' meeting. Anything can happen. Teams get sold, rules change and the group of owners even hold sway on decisions involving Mexico's national team, as former El Tri coach Sven Goran Eriksson found out to his disgust.
- League structure. There are two championships each year -- the Apertura and the Clausura. Two champions are crowned after a playoff involving the top eight teams of each regular season.
Nice blend of foreign stars and young local talent
Liga MX clubs can afford wages that both keep many of the top domestic players at home and can attract foreign players of genuine quality. Often, South American and other foreign players can earn more playing in Mexico than in Europe.
Queretaro's Ronaldinho may be the biggest name -- but not the highest paid player in the Liga MX -- and there is little doubt that South Americans like Darwin Quintero, Nahuel Guzman, Dorlan Pabon, Camilo Sanvezzo and Pablo Velazquez could (and still may) play at a decent level in Europe.
A few may do well enough to follow in the footsteps of former Jaguares striker Jackson Martinez, Cruz Azul alum Mauro Camoranesi and, most recently, ex-Pachuca forward Enner Valencia in attracting big enough offers from Europe to make moves worthwhile for all parties.
Meshed in among the foreign talents are the results of some heavy club investment in their youth systems, especially since 2009. The fruits of that labor and the new mentality of Mexico's youngsters can be seen weekly in the Liga MX, where players are beginning to filter through.
At Pachuca alone, Jurgen Damm turned down an offer from Chelsea last summer, Hirving Lozano (below) is continuing to improve and Rodolfo Pizarro is already a national team player. Add to them Tijuana midfielder Javier Guemez, Chivas goalkeeper Antonio Rodriguez, Atlas' Arturo Gonzalez, Santos Laguna's Jose Abella and Morelia's Erick Aguirre and you get the sense something important is happening right now in the Liga MX.
Few leagues are as competitive, or rich
Only four teams have won the Premier League since 2000 and four have won La Liga in the same period. By comparison, 12 different sides -- in an 18-team league -- have won a title in Mexico over the last 14 years. This unpredictability gives fans a realistic shot at glory each season; there are regular upsets and it is rare a club dominates for a long period.
- Tyler: Explaining #WhyWeWatchFootball
- Vote: Which leagues do you watch?
- Miller: The joys of the Premier League
- Parker: What does it mean to love Major League Soccer?
- Macintosh: The fun and mayhem of the Bundesliga
- Horncastle: The class, style and promise of Serie A
- Marshall: Liga MX's 24-7 "telenovela"
- Nov. 21: Hunter on La Liga
- Nov. 21: Laurens on Ligue 1's charm
In terms of money, Sheikh Mansour and Roman Abramovich transformed the status quo in the Premier League, but neither is close to possessing the fortune of Carlos Slim, who has a stake in both Pachuca and Leon.
The business magnate is the richest person in the world but he isn't the only wealthy owner in Mexican football. America's owner Televisa, Atlas' TV Azteca, Tigres' CEMEX, Tijuana's Grupo Caliente, cement company Cruz Azul and Monterrey's FEMSA are major players and are able to pay the kinds of wages that keep standards in the league high.
The Liga MX also boasts the fifth highest average attendance of any league in the world, is by far the most watched league on television in the United States and most teams attempt to play a very watchable and possession-based, technical, attacking game.
The league made Miguel Herrera
All the colorful and emotional goodness of the Liga MX can be neatly packaged into the Clausura 2013 final second leg between Cruz Azul and Club America. It also happened to be the night current Mexico coach Miguel Herrera -- then America manager -- caught our attention.
In the 89th minute and with the rain lashing down, Cruz Azul just had to avoid conceding twice before the final whistle to lift its first league trophy since 1997. Aquivaldo Mosquera then headed America to within a goal of extra time to keep some hope alive. Then this happened:
Club Deportivo Guadalajara was the first team to grab my attention and not just because of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. Chivas play only with Mexican talent, forcing them to rely heavily on youth products and despite that insistence, they are level on 11 titles with bitter rival Club America as Mexico's most successful institution.
The club's nationalistic policy means it is very much swimming against the tide of the world game. Foreigners have swamped Mexico - some clubs field up to eight foreign-born players - and recent results suggest it has become increasingly difficult to maintain the policy and be successful: Chivas have won just three titles since 1970 and are currently involved in a battle against relegation.
Club owner Jorge Vergara has to take a share of the blame for the club's dire situation with his frequent chopping and changing of directors and management -- including firing Johan Cruyff -- as well as alienating the huge fan-base, but it is undeniable that the league wouldn't be the same without Chivas and the player policy is a source of ongoing pride for the club's fans.
Losing Chivas would also mean losing the Liga MX's biggest game. The clásico nacional pits America -- the rich, big-spending, flash Mexico City team owned by media giant Televisa -- against the provincial, Mexican-only Chivas, in a match that never fails to bring the country to a standstill.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.