It seems ages ago that Chivas was one of Liga MX’s most feared teams. The times of Adolfo Bautista, Ramón Morales and Alberto Medina, of Rodolfo Pizarro, Alan Pulido and Oswaldo Alanís, all seem as distant as ever. Now, Club Deportivo Guadalajara is a rare fixture in the Mexican Playoffs (Liguilla) and is no longer challenging for titles.
The last marquee signing for the team, Alexis Vega, arrived at the club in December of 2018, and although his recent performances for Los Rojiblancos have been stellar, he has also been largely inconsistent in the past. Since Vega’s signing, Verde Valle hasn’t seen an important transfer come in, and the drought without one is about to extend into four years.
The managerial merry-go-round that started when Matías Almeyda left the club in 2018 has not helped in the least, with subpar managers like José Cardozo, Luis Fernando Tena and Marcelo Michel Leaño holding and underperforming at one of the most wanted jobs in Liga MX. The inconsistency that should’ve stopped with the arrival of sporting director Ricardo Peláez in 2019 has only gotten worse, and El Rebaño has taken a deep plunge into mediocrity.
The most recent elimination at the hands of Atlas in the quarterfinals of the Grita México Clausura 2022 further highlighted the crisis at Chivas, with the team never being in control of the game and barely managing to put their eternal rivals in danger of losing. Even though interim manager Ricardo Cadena managed five straight wins to close the tournament, there are talks of an imminent replacement. So, what’s next for Chivas?
The day is August 13, 2020. Luis Fernando Tena has just been relieved of his duties as Chivas manager, and Víctor Manuel Vucetich announced as his replacement. A long-time objective of the Chivas board, the nicknamed King Midas arrived at the club with an impressive list of accolades. With 15 titles to his name, Vucetich was widely seen in the Mexican press as a more than reasonable appointment.
A little over a year later, the current Monterrey manager was fired in spite of winning a tight home game against Pachuca in the Torneo Grita México Apertura 2021. Vucetich managed 45 games, winning 17, tying 17, and losing 11 times. He took the team to the Guard1anes 2020 Liguilla semifinals by beating Club América in the previous round, but failed to qualify in the Clausura 2021.
Enter Marcelo Michel Leaño. A figure with little experience in Mexican soccer at only 35 years of age, Leaño had already been the Chivas interim manager between Tena and Vucetich’s terms in 2020. The Guadalajara born manager left his post as Director of Youth Football to finish the tournament, leading El Rebaño to the Clausura 2021 Liguilla play-in round, losing to Puebla via penalty kicks.
Despite Leaño having little experience managing a “big team”, since he had only taken charge over clubs like Venados de Mérida and Coras Tepic, he was confirmed as manager by Peláez, in a move that was sanctioned by close friend and club president Amaury Vergara, according to veteran journalist David Medrano.
In December 2021, this is what Peláez had to say regarding the confirmation: “I am betting in favor of a head coach that knows how to manage players. Another sporting reason, I see a team that is more compact; we defend better. We were one of the best defenses, we attack as a group, and we exert high pressure”.
Peláez publicly confirmed Leaño to finish the Clausura 2022 as Chivas manager back in March, a move that is usually seen in the soccer world as a precursor to end a manager’s tenure. Two weeks later, Leaño was out and Cadena was in. In spite of having little-to-none first team experience, the current Guadalajara manager amassed five straight wins and put the Rojiblancos into the playoffs, where they recently lost against Atlas 3-2.
The managerial future at Chivas, in spite of a near-perfect close to the Liga MX, is anything but certain. Reports in the Mexican press indicate that Peláez met with as many as five head coaches before the tournament even ended, with Diego Aguirre leading the list of names as the preferred candidate to replace Cadena. Regardless of what happens up top, many changes will be needed on the field to return Guadalajara to greatness.
Raúl Gudiño: Born Apr 22, 1996 (26) - OUT. After spending approximately 12 years at the club during two different stages, the former Porto goalkeeper has already said a tearful goodbye to the Rojiblanco faithful after the Atlas Liguilla game. An inconsistent player, Gudiño never managed to keep hold of the starting spot for long.
Miguel Jiménez: Born Mar 14, 1990 (32) - STAY. El Wacho had to wait a long time to formally be considered as Chivas’ number one keeper, but the wait has been worth his while. Jiménez closed the tournament being a solid option in goal, and will probably be here next year.
José Rangel: Born Feb 25, 2000 (22) - STAY. Rangel plays consistently for CD Tapatío, and with Jiménez being already 32 years old, he will likely stay on looking to make his Liga MX debut and prove a solid backup if Jiménez’s injury problems continue.
Wish list: With reports of Alfredo Talavera heading to FC Juárez after leaving Toluca, a homecoming for the Mexican National Team goalkeeper seems unlikely. Instead, Guadalajara could look to significantly strengthen their guardian in goal by securing the signing of one of the best Mexican goalkeepers in the league: Carlos Acevedo. Currently plying his trade as Santos Laguna captain, Acevedo is 26 years old and spending heftily to hire him would be a smart investment for the Tapatíos.
Antonio Briseño, Centre-Back: Born Feb 5, 1994 (28) - STAY. Briseño has spent a little less than three years at Chivas and has gone in and out of the starting eleven. Whether Cadena stays or leaves could be key to Briseño’s future, since the current manager prefers a three center-back system. El Pollo’s passion is never in doubt, and is always welcome in any locker room.
Jesús Orozco, Centre-Back: Born Feb 19, 2002 (20) - STAY. Jesús Orozco Chiquete started this semester’s tournament starring for CD Tapatío in the second division but finished it as a key part of the Chivas defense, playing all 90 minutes of their last seven games. Orozco displayed versatility and coolness well past his age, and should definitely remain in the team.
Luis Olivas, Centre-Back: Born Feb 10, 2000 (22) - STAY. Olivas slowly faded out of the team’s starting eleven but has recently been called up to the Mexican National Team. With few options in the middle of defense, Olivas is yet to prove a definite liability and a return to stardom is not entirely unthinkable.
Gilberto Sepúlveda, Centre-Back: Born Feb 4, 1999 (23) - STAY. Sepúlveda has been a mainstay in the Guadalajara first team for a few years now, with inconsistency being his middle name throughout said stint. El Tiba has also been called up to the Mexican National team, and could improve significantly if the right manager comes along, because we have all seen what he is capable of.
Hiram Mier, Centre-Back: Born Aug 25, 1989 (32) - OUT. A couple of years ago, an injury-free Mier was usually called up to El Tri and could easily double as a right-back. Unfortunately for him, recent injuries and his recent form have turned the former Monterrey player into a liability for Chivas. The team could still make back some of their investment by selling him to an MLS side or a wealthy Liga MX outfit.
Cristian Calderón, Left-Back: Born May 24, 1997 (24) - STAY. El Chicote is a cult hero at Chivas, mainly because of his three goals against Club America in the Liguilla playoffs a while back, and has proven several times what kind of a clutch player he could be. Even though Calderón can and should work on his defensive aspect, he is a versatile player that can easily dominate more than one position up top.
Miguel Ponce, Left-Back: Born Apr 12, 1989 (33) - OUT. Ponce has spent most of his career at Chivas, with brief spells at Necaxa and Toluca, being a key part of the Matías Almeyda team that won everything possible back in 2017 and 2018. However, time has passed and has only served to show the Rojiblancos how risky it is to trust Ponce out back, with several red cards and constant lagoons in defense present when he plays. At 33, it’s time for the Sacramento native to try other teams.
Jesús Sánchez, Right-Back: Born Aug 31, 1989 (32) - OUT. Another long-time servant of the red and white jersey, Sánchez’s contract is running out shortly and the club will not renew his contract, according to anonymous columnist Sancadilla.
Carlos Cisneros, Right-Back: Born Aug 30, 1993 (28) - OUT. Originally a right or left winger, Cisneros managed to fight his way back from what was thought to be a career-ending injury and onto the starting eleven. Unfortunately for him, he has also proven to be a defensive liability and doesn’t provide enough offensively to justify his permanence in one of Mexico’s greatest teams.
Wish list: Without a doubt, the most vulnerable position on defense is right-back. There are two players that could fit perfectly into this Chivas side: Alan Mozo (25 years old) and Julián Araujo (20 years old). The case for Mozo: is a great offensive threat, is lightning quick, and has stood out in what was an otherwise inconsistent Pumas defense until recently. The case for Araujo: he’s young, already a Mexican National Team player, and can only improve.
As for center backs, the main option for Chivas should be Arturo Ortíz, the 29-year old Pumas defender. Recently called up by Gerardo Martino, El Palermo only recently made himself a first team mainstay but has shown in that short while tremendous poise and great potential to improve.
Sergio Flores, Defensive Midfield: Born Feb 12, 1995 (27) - STAY. Despite being 27 years old, Checo Flores has only recently started to play more consistently for Guadalajara. With an aging Jesús Molina in decline and with fairly solid recent performances, Flores is still a valuable asset for the Rojiblancos.
Alan Torres, Defensive Midfield: Born Feb 19, 2000 (22) - STAY. The name of Alan Eduardo Torres is fondly remembered by Chivas fans for slotting directly into the starting lineup of the Vucetich side that eliminated Club America in the Liguilla playoffs in 2020. At 22 years old, Torres is a good option to back up Flores or other center midfielders in the side.
Jesús Molina, Defensive Midfield: Born Mar 29, 1988 (34) - OUT. It seems a bit cruel to let Molina go after spending most of the tournament out injured, but whether the former Tigres and Monterrey man can go back to his top shape is a total enigma. Molina has suffered injury problems in the past, and at 34 years old, will likely take more time than ever to fully recover.
Fernando Beltrán, Central Midfield: Born May 8, 1998 (24) - STAY. When Vucetich left the club, many Chivas loyal followers breathed a sigh of relief since it meant that Fernando Beltrán wouldn’t do so. Since then, El Nene has put in outstanding performance after outstanding performance for the team he has said he loves. At only 24, Beltrán should be a key part for Chivas for years to come.
Jesús Angulo, Attacking Midfield: Born Feb 20, 1997 (25) - STAY. El Canelo Angulo unfortunately missed the final part of the Clausura through injury, but proved a key player during the previous 5 games Cadena won in a row. A versatile resource, Angulo can play in at least four positions on offense, and should be one of the building blocks going forward.
Pável Pérez, Midfielder: Born Jun 26, 1998 (23) - STAY. Pérez, similarly to Orozco, started the semester playing for CD Tapatío but finished it with the first team. The 23-year-old showed the ability to play in several spots in midfield, and showed maturity on the ball that you expect from more experienced players.
Wish list: Luis Chávez, one of Pachuca’s best players in midfield this Clausura, would be a helpful addition to the Rojiblanco midfield. Chávez can play as a defensive midfielder alongside Flores or further up in case Cadena or whatever manager wishes to switch to a middle three. The other important signings could be either Arturo González or Rodolfo Pizarro, both Monterrey players. González has a past as an Atlas player, but has proven to dominate several positions in midfield and up top. Pizarro just resigned for Rayados, which could prove a significant obstacle for his return to Verde Valle, but fans still consider him a legend.
Sebastián Pérez Bouquet, Attacking Midfield: Born Jun 22, 2003 (18) - STAY. One of Guadalajara’s most prized possessions, Pérez Bouquet made his first team debut in January under Leaño’s tutelage. The gifted youngster started a couple of games and showed his tremendous potential; one for the future.
Alexis Vega, Left Winger: Born Nov 25, 1997 (24) - STAY. One of Liga MX’s top talents, Vega was Chivas’ top goalscorer this season and has been their most important player for years now. Fortunately for the Rojiblanco faithful, the former Toluca man recently signed a contract extension until 2024, so he will probably remain a Chivas man for a while longer, unless a juicy offer from Europe comes in.
Roberto Alvarado, Right Winger: Born Sep 7, 1998 (23) - STAY. Alvarado’s journey with the Chivas jersey is just getting started, and it’s one that got started with the right foot. El Piojo usually started for Guadalajara, proving an important threat throughout different positions in attack. Alvarado usually shows tremendous sacrifice on defense, and should be given more time to solidify himself as an important man for Chivas.
Isaac Brizuela, Right Winger: Born Aug 28, 1990 (31) - STAY. Brizuela unfortunately suffered an important injury towards the end of the Clausura 2022, but managed to play a few minutes in the semifinal second leg against Atlas. El Conejito has proven to be an important asset for Guadalajara since his arrival in 2015, being able to play in several positions in defense, midfield and attack. At only 31, Brizuela should remain an important part of this Chivas side, barring injuries.
José Juan Macías, Centre-Forward: Born Sep 22, 1999 (22) - STAY. Macías rejoined Chivas in the middle of the Clausura after an unsuccessful stint in Getafe, and couldn’t start games for the majority of the tournament due to injury. Despite that, the team displays an important threat level on attack whenever Macías is on the pitch. The former León striker has shown throughout his career he can be a game-changing attacker, and it seems his love for the club and time will be enough for everyone to see the same old Macías again.
Ángel Zaldívar, Centre-Forward: Born Feb 8, 1994 (28) - STAY. Zaldívar is no longer Guadalajara’s main man in attack, but can provide an important alternative when needed. His strong penalty kick taking ability is also a big asset for the Rojiblancos.
César Huerta, Centre-Forward: Born Dec 3, 2000 (21) - OUT. Huerta had a brilliant six months at Mazatlán before rejoining Chivas at the end of 2020, with the only reason for the Cañoneros not to buy him being the elevated release clause of a rumored 10+ million dollars. All of 2021 and the first half of 2022 has shown that Huerta does not have enough talent to break into the Chivas first team, making plenty of mistakes on offense whenever he does get the chance to play and being largely inconsequential on the pitch.
Wish list: The most obvious name that Chivas would love to see back at the club is Javier Hernández. Chicharito has significantly improved his production at LA Galaxy and looks in the best physical shape of his career. A dream return to his boyhood team would mean a significant morale boost for fans and for the club itself. The other name that could prove important for Chivas in attack would be Alan Pulido. Out through all of 2022 with an injury, Puligol has never gotten off the ground at Sporting Kansas City, and at only 31 years of age, still has plenty of good footballing years left.
On top of all the possible player arrivals or departures, serious questions need to be asked regarding Ricardo Peláez's tenure as sporting director. Nearly three years into his reign, the former player has burned through Luis Fernando Tena, Víctor Manuel Vucetich, Marcelo Michel Leaño and now possibly Ricardo Cadena. How much longer will Amaury Vergara tolerate failure after failure? Only time will tell.