Mexico’s two most popular teams took advantage of the FIFA international window to bring the historic exhibition to loyal followers in the United States; one that would turn into the continuation of what seems to be a never-ending nightmare for Guadalajara, and a sweet dream for las ‘Águilas’.
Federico Viñas stunned Chivas before a single full minute of game time had been played with a strike that went between alternate starting goalkeeper Raul Gudiño’s legs, and after a fruitless 90 minutes, Emilio Lara put the final nail in the ‘Rojiblanco’ coffin via a stoppage time left-footed shot. The final 2-0 result favoring the ‘Azulcremas’ is a mirror of both teams’ Liga MX performances: América is unbeaten and in first place, while its bitter rival sits eleventh with only two wins in seven matches.
The disappointing performance from a tame Guadalajara side, albeit in a friendly, echoes louder after manager Víctor Manuel Vucetich voiced distress last week for having to use only Mexican players on his team, as tradition has always dictated in one of Mexico’s winningest clubs.
“It has been a disadvantage (playing with only Mexicans) because it is evident that you can’t use the players you would want. That’s on one side, on the other, teams don’t sell the players you do want. That’s another problem. Another topic is the level Chivas requires; very high. And there are only four or five players that could fit into Chivas”, Vucetich told TUDN last Wednesday. The statements made by the former Monterrey manager were understandably not received with open arms by Chivas’ high management, according to El Universal.
The words used by one of Liga MX’s most successful coaches ever, with a whopping five national championships and three Concacaf titles to his name, immediately drew parallels to those of former manager Matías Almeyda, who in the past has continuously expressed his belief and support for players born in Mexico.“I am a foreigner and believe in Mexicans more than many Mexicans do”, ‘El Pelado’ triumphantly told national press after pummeling América 3-0 in the Estadio Azteca in the Apertura 2016.
“I believe in Mexicans, never mind that I’m obligated to use Mexican players. I truly believe in all of you and the day you believe in yourselves, you will overcome the world. You will overcome anyone”, Almeyda also expressed to his squad before the Clausura 2017 final against Tigres, one that Chivas would win to secure its 12th-ever league title.
The days of celebrating at the ‘Minerva’ roundabout in Jalisco’s capital, what seemed to be a regular custom under Almeyda, seem far away for Guadalajara followers, but Vucetich refuses to paint a bleak picture of his club’s present and future. Before the América friendly in Dallas, ‘Rey Midas’ defended his side’s performances in Liga MX, in spite of only winning against 10th-placed Necaxa and 14th-placed Puebla. “The team plays pretty well, we have played well and are being criticized. For example, the best team (in Mexico) right now is America and they are also criticized”, Vucetich explained last week.
Mention the current manager’s name to any Chivas fan and you probably won’t be greeted with a smile. Mention ‘El Pelado’ and the reception will probably be the exact opposite. Nostalgia aside, and with ‘Vuce’’s recent statements in mind, is there really that much of a difference between both managers’ tenures? Is outrage caused by the poor ‘Rojiblanco’ form too much or is it justified?
Almeyda arrived at Chivas in September 2015, controversially landing in Guadalajara’s airport while José Manuel de la Torre was still officially the team’s head coach. In spite of ‘Chepo’s long-standing credit with the ‘Rebaño’ faithful, stemming from the Apertura 2006 title against Toluca, the rocky start of two wins and five losses in the first eight league games of the Apertura 2015- with relegation also looming closely- signalled the end of De la Torre’s second time in charge.
Even though Chivas players reportedly urged late owner Jorge Vergara for ‘Chepo’s stay of execution, and with Almeyda staying in a hotel in the city while the drama ensued, the Argentine’s appointment took place in a grand ceremony on the Estadio Akron pitch in mid-September. Almeyda was straight forward and urged fans to get behind the team: “We are going to need the people’s support so the giant that is Chivas can return. I am not here to save you from relegation. I am here to wake the giant”.
And that is exactly what he did. ‘El Pelado’’s reign lasted a little under three years; from September of 2015 to June of 2018. The team’s first title took less than two months to arrive: the Copa MX Apertura 2015, won with an Oswaldo Alanís goal in Leon’s Nou Camp stadium. Then came the Supercopa MX obtention in 2016, another Copa MX win in 2017, closely followed by the Clausura 2017 league title against Tigres, and a Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League (SCCL) triumph by defeating Toronto FC in the decisive match. Almeyda was no longer in charge for the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup.
Almeyda took charge of 147 games for ‘El Rebaño’, winning 64, drawing 40 and losing 43 in the process. The team scored 203 goals, conceded 174 (+29 difference), and accumulated 232 points in total (average of 1.58 per match). The former River Plate manager took over from De la Torre to finish the Apertura 2015 outside of playoff spots, and managed an additional five league tournaments, with mixed results.
- Clausura 2016: 5th place (28 points in 17 games). Lost the Liguilla playoff quarterfinals against Club América with a 2-1 aggregate score. Carlos Peña missed a crucial penalty in the away leg at the Estadio Azteca. Won the Supercopa MX.
- Apertura 2016: 4th place (28 points in 17 games). Lost the Liguilla playoff quarterfinals - again - against Club América with a 2-1 aggregate score.
- Clausura 2017: 3rd place (27 points in 17 games). Won the title after eliminating Atlas, Toluca and Tigres in the Liguilla playoffs. Won the Copa MX.
- Apertura 2017: 13th place (18 points in 17 games). Didn’t make the Liguilla playoffs.
- Clausura 2018: 17th place (15 points in 17 games). Didn’t make the Liguilla playoffs. Won the SCCL, earning Chivas a spot at the 2018 Club World Cup.
Almeyda left Chivas in June of 2018 amidst a string of bad results and controversy with then-Omnilife Chivas CEO José Luis Higuera, in versions that include a public back and forth between both parties, with the Argentine quoting “dignity” and a “lack of union” as the main reasons for his departure. The Azul native stated he hopes to return to ‘El Redil’ in the future.
The Vucetich era
A long-time target for Guadalajara, ‘Rey Midas’ took over from Luis Fernando Tena for the Guard1anes 2020 tournament, after ‘El Flaco’ managed just a mere point from the first three league games. Vucetich’s first match in charge was the 2-1 win over Atlético de San Luis. Fun fact: Almeyda’s first game in charge was also a 2-1 win, but over Vucetich’s Querétaro side.
With relegation no longer a threat due to the Mexican Football Federation “suspending” it until 2025, the multiple league winner stated in his presentation in August of 2020 that managing Chivas is a tough mountain to climb. “Without a doubt the most important challenge (of my career) because of the amount of fans, what the team means to Mexicans… We are committed to give our maximum effort… we will aspire to reach the top, which is the title”, Vucetich mentioned.
Chivas’ run in the Guard1anes 2020 started out with uncertainty under Tena, but finished hopefully under their new manager, reaching the semifinals after leaving Necaxa behind in the ‘Repechaje’ and América in the quarterfinals, with three world class goals by Cristian ‘Chicote’ Calderón. This is how the rest of ‘Vuce’’s time in charge has gone.
- Guard1anes 2020: 7th place (26 points in 17 games). Crashed out of the tournament in the semifinals of the Liguilla playoffs against Club León, losing 2-1 in aggregate.
- Guard1anes Clausura 2021: 9th place (23 points in 17 games). Lost to Pachuca 4-2 in the single-leg ‘Repechaje’, didn’t make the Liguilla playoffs.
- Grita México A21 (currently underway): 11th place (9 points in 7 games).
Vucetich’s first tournament could be seen as a success, the second one a resounding failure, and the third one has had a rocky start. ‘Rey Midas’’ numbers as ‘Rebaño’ manager stand as follows: 43 matches, with 16 wins, 16 draws and 11 losses. The team has scored 53 goals and conceded 50 (+3 difference), amassing 64 points in the process (1.49 per game). As a reminder, Almeyda managed 147 times and won 64 games, drew 40, and lost 43. The team scored 203 times, conceded on 174 occasions(+29 difference), and accumulated 232 points in total (average of 1.58 per match).
Granted, both managers have very different squads and have played against different rivals. One has been in charge for barely a year when the other had almost three to work with. But, numbers don’t lie. Vucetich’s side has a lower win percentage (.37, compared to Almeyda’s .43), a lower goal difference (+3 compared to +29), less goals scored per game (1.23 compared to 1.38), and only holds a slightly improved defensive record (1.16 compared to 1.18). Statistically, Almeyda won a trophy every 29 matches. Vucetich has none, with the disclaimer that Copa MX is no longer played.
Our friends at Rebaño Pasión took a look at Chivas’ last five managers and compared their records, in case you want to check that out as well.
Changing a manager mid-season is never a team’s first choice, and Chivas’ next few league games will be crucial to decide Vucetich’s future. The next three matchups for the ‘Rojiblancos’ are away at Pumas, at home against Pachuca and away at América. In case the at-times volatile high management in Guadalajara decides to move on, replacements mentioned in the Mexican press include Jaime Lozano, Antonio Mohamed and Marcelo Michel Leaño, Youth Football Director already at the club.
An eventual Almeyda return seems impossible at the moment, since the Argentine is under contract at the San José Earthquakes until December of 2022, but the Liga MX is nothing short of a jack-in-the-box of endless surprises, so never say never.