Clasico Regio rivals Tigres and Monterrey can stay on top in Liga MX
MONTERREY, Mexico -- Tigres lifted their sixth Liga MX title on Sunday after a compelling series against local rivalry Monterrey, which marked the first Clasico Regio final and, in the aftermath, post-game coverage centered on whether the champion is on the path to being one of Mexico's grandes.
The four other sides in that group -- Club America, Chivas, Cruz Azul and Pumas -- occupy a central part of the Liga MX story. All have national fanbases and have enjoyed periods of domination, winning 39 league titles between them; America is level with Chivas on 12, while Cruz Azul has eight and Pumas seven.
In the Monterrey metropolitan area -- Tigres fans stress their team is from the municipality of San Nicolas de los Garza, not Monterrey -- there is almost a disdain for the very concept of the big four and being a grande but the Apertura winner, which was fired by an attack of Andre-Pierre Gignac, Enner Valencia and Eduardo Vargas, doesn't seem to be overly concerned.
"People can say want they want, but in the last seven years, we've been the best in Mexico," said Gignac.
Since Brazilian coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti took over in 2010, Tigres has won four titles and reached six Liga MX finals. The club has also lost the Copa Libertadores final to River Plate in 2015, as well as two CONCACAF Champions League finals. And there are no signs that the golden period will end anytime soon, given that Ferretti is set to stay until at least 2020 and the club seems committed to continued investment in the squad.
"For us it is one more cup," said Tigres president Alejandro Rodriguez less than an hour after Sunday's game. "This is the sixth and we're going for the seventh. Times and stories change and right now we aren't allowed to do anything but to be fighting for the championship. Anything less than that isn't acceptable for the media and the Tigres fans. So we have a responsibility, which keeps growing, but we accept it gratefully because to work for these fans and this group of players is worth it."
Tigres fans celebrated wildly; the victory over their great rival was historic and won't be forgotten quickly. But mixed with the joy on one side and despair on the other, there was a sense of pride that these teams had put on a memorable final, in a way that made the rest of Mexican soccer sit up and take notice. There was no violence on or off the pitch and a touching moment after the final whistle saw Tigres' players clap fans, to which Monterrey supporters gently applauded back.
"I want to tell all Monterrey that we have two great football teams," said Gignac. "All Monterrey has won; not just Tigres, as well as the two fanbases, which are crazy."
The squads of Tigres and Monterrey are the most expensive in the league and are not only the best in terms of quality, but also average attendance. Playing in a stadium that stadium that would not be out of place in the UEFA Champions League, Monterrey's 48,000 in the regular season was double that of Mexico City club Cruz Azul; Tigres' 41,313 was two times as much as Pumas, also from the nation's capital.
The connection between these two fanbases and the clubs is also different, as was shown when 36,000 Tigres fans showed up to open training a day ahead of the second leg. The rivalry has to have been an important driving factor, but the clubs' marketing has also clicked and football has garnered an importance in the daily life of Regios that it simply doesn't have in other Mexican cities.
"The passion for football here is incredible," said Gignac. "I don't think there are a lot of cities that live football like this."
The rest of Mexican football, especially the grandes, might well feel slightly uneasy about what is going on in Monterrey. However, instead of casting jealous glances north and demeaning a Clasico Regio rivalry that has grown into Mexico's best, they should study how Tigres and Monterrey got to this position.
Tigres won't be easy to topple and it surely won't be long before the Apertura champion surpasses Cruz Azul and Pumas for titles won. Grande or not, Tigres will be the team to beat in 2018, with Monterrey not at all far behind.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.