While stuck in Mexico City traffic yesterday, and by this I mean something akin to Dante's seventh circle, I started some idol conversation with the taxi driver. Due to a limited Spanish vocabulary, I stuck to what I knew and asked him about this soccer preferences. Turns out he was a Chivas fan. I assumed he was originally from Guadalajara, but it turns out he was born and raised here in Mexico City. He explained that he was a fan of Chivas because they were a "real" Mexican club. In essence, all of the Chivas players were Mexican.
So, I did a little research. Here are the Primera Division squads and their percentage of foreign-born players.
My taxi driver was pretty accurate. The one foreign-born player on Chivas is Miguel Ponce, and although he was born in California, his parents are Mexican. I can understand the sentiment of the driver, as I'm sure many Brits can. What I am wondering is whether Chivas and Pumas have so few foreign players on their squads because they have a pipeline to young Mexican talent, or because they, like my taxi driver, place a high value on having a truly Mexican lineup. I would assume the former. Winning generally brings more fans than roster choices.
It is also understandable why Club America has a wealth of foreign talent. They simply have the money to spend, and the best way to use those resources is to load up on overpriced gambles from abroad. However, it is a little surprising to see teams with a lower budget such as Estudiantes, Pachuca, and the newly ascendant Tijuana so high on this list. Couldn't they save a few pesos by finding local players?
I wondered something similar this past Saturday while attending Cruz Azul v Atlante. Some of Cruz Azul's foreign talent, namely Emanuel Villa, seem to be finding their peak. Villa's found the back of the net in both home games thus far and assisted in another. However, I am unable to say the same thing about all of Cruz Azul's non-Mexican players.
Waldo Ponce is, for me, a much-maligned Chilean defender for Cruz Azul. He seems to be the guy who makes you wonder if he is the coach's son. No offense to the guy (actually, offending him at this point is probably unavoidable), but he has little to no discernable skills. I can't say I know every defender on the Cruz Azul bench, but I can safely assume that one of them can better mark a man than Waldo Ponce.
I recently read about a phenomenon called malinchismo. Malinchismo is defined as a preponderance for favoritism of outsiders and other's cultures of one's own. The term comes from Malinche, the slave who became Cortes's translator with benefits. I'm not sure how prevalent this really is, but it is a term unique to Mexico. And charged as it may be, it had to be created for some reason.
Can malinchismo be the reason for such a prevalence of foreign players in a country with such a high soccer playing population? Are managers going after foreign players on the belief that they are superior because they aren't from Mexico? It's possible, but unlikely to be the sole impetus. Mexico's Primera Division pays more than any other league in the Americas. They will draw the talent from South America that couldn't quite make it in Europe or weren't ready for that level of play. And with twenty three percent of the players being born outside of Mexico, the Primera Division ranks lower than England, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France, and Italy for percentage of foreign footballers.
Ponce's presence is still not explained.
Waldo is a representative for his Chilean national side. He featured in this latest World Cup in South Africa that would eventually be knocked out by juggernaut, Brazil. In Soccernomics, authors Kuper and Syzmanski illustrate how so many clubs often overrate the performances of players in major tournaments such as the World Cup. A small game sample often leads managers to unload huge unwarranted contracts to players who had a good game. Could Waldo's appearance on the international stage (and what I would assume would be a fairly low asking price) be the reason for his wearing the Cruz Azul jersey?
Or maybe I am asking the wrong questions altogether. Could the men in charge at Cruz Azul just be suckers for shaggy haired defenders? (It wouldn't be the first time that a footballer made career advancements on hair alone.)