OK, I know in my ‘return’ post I said I was going to leave old news alone. I’d promised I’d keep things fresh by looking at new, fast moving information, and shed my very own light on them. Well, I’m going to slightly break that in order to combine my view on the Mexican game and my beloved Celtic. You see, since I’ve been away the Hoops have announced a link to the Coahuila-based club, Santos Laguna.
As somebody who sees a great deal of Mexican football, I see this a really shrewd move by the board, and am delighted at the potential it offers the club. As we all know, Celtic’s traditional markets have been strangled by the vice-like grip the Premier League holds over the majority of Europe. Greatly inflated fees have quickly spread all across Europe, with even 17 year-old unproven kids being priced at £20m. (Yes, anybody who has seen him can appreciate that Romelu Lukaku of Anderlecht is a wonderful talent, but £20m? I think not!)
This has forced the club to widen the net, and look to markets that would normally be both out of sight and out of mind. So far, Lennon has done reasonably well in the transfer market from very different areas of the world, with the Israeli Beram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre from Honduras being particularly impressive. And this is the right type of market for Celtic to exploit, finding players who are relatively young (Kayal is just 22, and Izaguirre is 24) to bring to Europe, nurture, and sell on for a profit. Indeed, there is already reported interest in Izaguirre from Manchester United, with a rumoured £10m figure for him.
Of course, it is disappointing to think that a club of Celtic’s size will have to become a ‘selling club’, but we have to be realistic. There is no money at all in Scotland, which means the game and the clubs will have to adapt to survive. This means a combination of signing youngsters at a really early age (the Ajax system) and then buying players from leagues with even less finance than our own, and selling them at a huge profit (the ethos of PSV). And of course, if Manchester United will sell Cristiano Ronaldo, ANYBODY is for sale.
What better way then to look to exploit these kind of markets than by taking on a feeder side? A club right towards the top of the Mexican game (they finished runners-up in this year’s Apertura championship, progressed through to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter finals, and won the Clasura in 2008) makes them an attractive proposition for the better players in South and Central America, which ultimately benefits us, too. After all, the better they do, the better the calibre of players available to us through the partnership.
Now as the Mexican Primera is not exactly a regular on European television, many Celtic fans may well be wondering just how fruitful the partnership will be. Are there any players worth signing? Is the Mexican league actually any good, or is this nothing but a publicity stunt? Well, I’ve decided to do my very own little scouting trip to hopefully provide you all with a little more info, and whether in my opinion they’d offer anything extra at Celtic Park.
Oswaldo Sanchez: 37 year old Mexican international goalkeeper. Sanchez has won 98 caps for his country, and played at Santos for four and a half seasons. A decent shot-stopper, but prone to the odd error, especially with crosses. Too old to be a realistic signing for Celtic, with no re-sale value. Worth signing? No.
Jose Antonio Olvera: 24 year old Mexican international central defender. Olvera has won 3 caps Mexico, is good on the ball which also allows him to play in midfield. He’s calm while under pressure , but he’s greatly let down by his lack of size. At only 5 foot 8, he would struggle at the back in the aggressive nature of Scottish football. Worth signing? No.
Uriel Alvarez Rivera: 20 year old Mexican defender. Rivera has yet to win a cap for his national side, but he certainly shows promise. He is strong in the tackle and good on the ball, although he does suffer a little with inconsistency. Perhaps one for the future. Worth signing? Maybe in a few years.
Jonathan Lacerda: 23 year-old Uruguayan defender. At 6 foot 2, Lacerda is certainly built like a defender. Decent in the air, and with an ability to win some vital challenges, Lacerda could be ideal at Parkhead. At 23 he is a great age to sign, but he is currently fourth choice central defender defender for Santos. He’ll need to break his way into the side for a sustained period before he’s even considered. Worth signing? Yes, but not just yet.
Felipe Baloy: 29 year-old captain of Panama, central defender and club captain. 6 foot 2, and a colossus at the back, Baloy is right out of the Bobo Balde mould. Very mobile, with a desire to get forward, Baloy would become a cult hero at Celtic Park. Only negative is that he is a month away from his 30th birthday, and as such he would have little or no resale value, but this is countered by his qualities on the pitch. Worth signing? Yes, immediately.
Jorge Estrada Manjarrez: 27 year old Mexican international wing-back/ full back. Santos Laguna regularly play with three central defenders, and so I’ve normally seen Manjarrez play as a wing back, but what impresses me most is his mobility. He’s constantly joining attacks, has a lot of ability when it comes to crossing and he even pops up with the odd goal. Only made his Mexico debut in 2010 and suffered an injury, or I suspect he’d have a few more than just one cap. However, once again I think his size would be an issue as he is only 5 foot 6. In addition, he’d struggle to dislodge Cha, Hinkel or even Wilson out of the side. Worth signing? No.
Carlos Morales: 31 year old Mexican international left wing-back/ left midfielder. Morales has won 8 caps for his country, the last one coming in 2005. Another decent player going forward, offers plenty of width and a decent cross into the box, but he struggles defensively. His age works against him, and he’s not a patch on Izaguirre. Worth signing? No.
Jose Cardenes: 25 year old left full back/ wing back/ left midfielder. Cardenes has won two caps for Mexico, and scored on his debut. Cardenes is a real creative force for his side when he plays further forward. Skillfull, quick and with a peach of a left foot, Cardenes is at his best when operating further forward. Great from a dead-ball, his corners are a particularly useful weapon for Santos. At 25 years old, he’s still young enough to be a worthwhile signing. Worth signing? Yes.
Fernando Arce: 30 year old defensive midfielder, has won more than 40 caps for Mexico. Arce is one of the vital tools in this Santos Laguna side, sitting in a holding role alongside Juan Rodriguez. Always available for a simple pass, with the ability to get forward and put the ball in the net. Another small player in stature, but without him, Santos are not the same team. However, Celtic are at their strongest in the middle of the park, so despite his talents, I don’t see him as a real option. Worth signing? No.
Juan Rodriguez: 31 year old central midfielder, has also won in excess of 40 caps for Mexico. Originally broke into the national side on the back of his goal scoring exploits at Club Atlas, where he scored more than 50 goals in 6 years from midfield. He became renown for his set pieces, although he has now become more of a ‘simple stuff’ type player, much like Lennon himself was. Lacks a cutting edge in the tackle, and would probably be another to struggle in the aggressive Scottish game. Worth signing? No
Daniel Ludena: 28 year old Argentine attacking midfielder, who began his career at River Plate. In my opinion, Ludena is the best player at Santos Laguna, and he has been reportedly interesting several clubs in Spain. Ludena is exceptional from dead-balls, very much in the Nakamura mould, and averages a goal every three games from midfield. He has great vision, and regularly unlocks defences with a wonderful through ball. Although not the quickest, he’d slot straight into the Celtic side and stay there. Worth signing? Immediately.
Carlos Darwin Quintero: 23 year old Columbian international striker, wide midfielder. Well, what can I say about Quintero? Easily the most frustrating player in Mexico, Quintero certainly has the ability to be dynamite. He has blistering pace and great skill, and at 23 he has definite potential. However, his finishing is highly erratic, and he frequently picks the wrong option. Think Samaras but about twice as quick and half as tall! Should score far more goals from the positions he finds himself in. Worth signing? Dubious.
Christian Benitez: 24 year old Ecuadorian international striker. Of course, the second the partnership was announced Celtic were linked to the ex Birmingham striker, and for good reason. Benitez was the top scorer in the Apertura on his return to Santos, scoring 16 goals in 22 games, and he also averages a goal every other game for Ecuador. It never quite worked out for Benitez in England, but he is a predator in front of goal and has blistering pace. At just 24, another spell in Europe is certainly not beyond him, and I’d undoubtedly back him to be a success. Would certainly offer another option up front, even if only used as an impact player. Worth signing? Yes.
Are you a fan of Mexican football? I’d love your feedback either here or follow me on Twitter.
January 25, 2011
To many, the display of the Mexican national side was a real surprise in the last World Cup. They were grouped with the host nation South Africa, the finalists of the previous tournament France, and Uruguay, a side containing two of the most lethal front men in European football. Let’s be honest, we didn’t expect much. Indeed, I naively expected the French to just turn up and beat them as any side containing the likes of Ribery, Govou, Anelka et al should be good enough to beat almost anybody, shouldn’t they?
How pleased I was then when Domenech’s dour, boring side was put to the sword by a display of wide open attacking football, led from the front by the Manchester United-bound ‘Chicarto’ Javier Hernandez. As somebody who now watches a LOT of Mexican football, I’m delighted to say the domestic league is full of players with bags of natural ability, and the attacking flair the national side displayed so well that night in Polokwane resonates throughout.
For those who don’t know, South and Central American leagues run rather differently to those in Europe. There are two championships consisting of one game against each side contested every year, the ‘Apertura’ (roughly translated as ‘opening’) championship in the first half of the season, and the ‘Clasura’ (closing) in the second. This is an idea that has many flaws (can you imagine having two champions a year in England or Scotland? Nor me) but it is done for the purposes of continental football. Mexico enters club sides into the CONCACAF Champions League from one championship, and the much more prestigious Copa Libertadores in the other, and because of this, the two championships per year system works really well. However, it also includes a play off system to decide the league champions- something which fans of Cruz Azul would berate bitterly.
Over the course of the season, ‘Los Cementeros’ were far and away the best side in the country. In 17 games they lost just twice, once to bitter city rivals Club Universidad Nacional (otherwise known as the Pumas) and surprisingly against strugglers Necaxa. However, they put closest challengers Monterrey to the sword away from home, as well as securing a comprehensive victory over Santos Laguna, the side who would ultimately finish third in the league. At the same time they progressed through the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League with consummate ease, even having the comfort of fielding reserve sides along the way.
The next line may not help my argument with the more cynical amongst you, but I was greatly impressed with the front line, largely led by former Derby County flop Emmanuel Villa. (Yes, I know, bring on the abuse. It can easily be countered with two words: Diego Forlan. He didn’t really enjoy his time in England either, but he’s now one of the most respected strikers in the game. But I digress…)
While the Argentine was not prolific (seven goals in 22 appearances) he was very much the focal point of their attack, bringing the likes of winger Christian Gimenez, and fellow forward Javier Orcozo into the game. Gimenez in particular was very impressive, the former Boca Juniors man scored 10 goals and made countless others, but the battling qualities of Villa were there for all to see. They were also solid at the back, conceding just 13 goals in the 17 games, and with former Sevilla and Racing Santander midfielder Gerardo Torrardo sitting in the midfield, they looked every inch like champions.
However, if there’s one thing that this Cruz Azul team struggle with it is definitely knock out football. This is the side who has lost both of the last two CONCACAF Champions League finals, the last one to a goal three minutes into injury time against fellow Mexican side Pachuca. It was perhaps inevitable then that they would fail when the play offs came about, but defeat to their city rivals must really have stung. Pumas finished 7 places and 14 points adrift of ‘El Azul‘, and despite securing a 2-1 win away from home, they were beaten 2-0 on their own patch, making the league form ultimately for nought.
Second placed Monterrey would eventually benefit in the play off final, inspired by reported Manchester United and Liverpool target Humberto Suazo to a 5-3 aggregate victory over third placed Santos Laguna. In my opinion, Chilean striker Suazo would be an inspirational signing for a top European side, and the amount of times I witnessed him turn games on their head with a piece of brilliance was truly incredible. The 29 year old would finish the campaign with 15 goals, one behind former Birmingham striker Christian Benitez, who scored 16 for Laguna.
It was a thoroughly entertaining campaign, with football played at a sky-high tempo and thunderous challenges in pretty much every game I saw. The Clasura is now underway, and it seems that Cruz Azul are still struggling to deal with the Apertura disappointment. Although they were to begin the new season with a comprehensive 4-1 victory, they were thrashed 3-0 by Atlante in their second match. (And trust me, NOBODY should lose by three goals against Atlante!)
This past weekend was my first opportunity to see Cruz Azul since they lost to Pumas, and it was perhaps inevitable they would face their city rivals again. Once again, Villa was instrumental up front, grabbing the opening goal and giving the Pumas backline a problem all evening long. Cruising 2-0 up at half time, it seemed that the ghost had been put to rest, normal service resumed. Indeed, 30-odd thousand ‘El Azul’ supporters certainly seemed to think so as they taunted their rivals.
However, 20 crazy second half minutes saw the game turned on it’s head, with a brace from Juan Carlos Cacho on his return to his old club, and a header from captain Dario Veron. Azul showed great character to equalise with less than ten minutes to go, but they will no doubt be left feeling frustrated by their inability to avenge their defeat.
I’m intrigued to see if they can pick themselves up, or whether they will endure a disappointing Clasura, but I’d suggest their priority may well switch from the league to the Champions League. They face fellow Mexican side Santos Laguna in the quarter finals next month, and the prospect of a semi final against Monterrey afterwards, so a record sixth Champions League trophy is well within their grasp. If I was a betting man though, I’d suggest more disappointment beckons for Enrique Meza’s men in both fields.