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Tom Marshall: A 2013 Liga MX wishlist

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Tom Marshall: Acid test for Club Tijuana against Corinthians
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Tom Marshall: Acid test for Club Tijuana against Corinthians

Congratulations must be extended to Decio de Maria and Co. for the creation of the Liga MX in 2012. It has been a positive rebranding of Mexico’s first division that has given a platform for change and future improvements.

What follows are eight such changes that could help the Liga MX kick on from its current status to become one of the best leagues in the world.

1) Relegation/Promotion – Mexico is not the United States. It has a deep-rooted soccer culture that stretches from Tuxtla Gutierrez to Tijuana, from Cancun to Acapulco. The country can sustain two top leagues with a proper system of relegation and promotion. Why not allow three teams to go up and three to go down every season? The benefit would be a better spectacle, more interest for more teams come the end of the season and increased investment in the second division from prospective owners wanting to reach the big time.

The current system of one team going down based on average number of points over the last three years is complicated for the casual fan. It also puts would-be fans off the Ascenso MX.

2) Multi ownership – Pachuca, Leon and now Estudiantes Tecos are all owned by Grupo Pachuca; America and Necaxa belong to Emilio Azcarraga’s Grupo Televisa and Grupo Salinas owns Morelia, Jaguares and Neza. Then there is the bizarre situation of Jesus Lopez Chargoy controlling Puebla, while his brother, Carlos Lopez Chargoy, is in charge at San Luis.

Statute 18 of the FIFA guidelines is quite clear on the issue: “The Member shall ensure that neither a natural nor a legal person (including holding companies and subsidiaries) exercises control over more than one club whenever the integrity of any match or competition could be jeopardized.”

I have no evidence of corruption or fixed games, but multi ownership of clubs in the same division simply doesn’t look good and can lead to all kinds of conspiracy theories that damage the reputation of the game.

3) Pacto de Caballeros – A strike in 1979 by players in Spain started the ball rolling for their version of Mexico’s “Gentlemen’s Agreement” to be brought to an end in 1984. In Mexico, voices against the secretive pact between club owners are starting to gain momentum and rightly so. The pact is another aspect of the Mexican game that contradicts FIFA mandates.

In essence, the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” between club owners means players whose contracts expire can’t walk away from the club freely. A club wanting to sign the player will have to negotiate a deal with his former employer. If a player leaves the Liga MX, on his return the Mexican club that originally sold him would normally be in line to receive money from his new team, according to the unwritten pact. For example, if Chicharito returns one day to Mexico and wants to join Atlas, the Rojinegros would have to negotiate with city rival Chivas, which could, in theory, block the transfer.

4) Security in stadiums – The atmosphere inside a rocking stadium in Mexico is a sight to behold. The mixing of rival fans, children and families is very positive and something that certainly couldn’t happen in certain other places.

However, the need for tightened security has been evident over the last 12 months, with fighting between rival barras increasingly common and largely unreported. The problem here is that the barras provide a lot of the atmosphere in the stadium, so getting a balance is vital.

What is required is not a gentrification of the Mexican game (Chivas’ Estadio Omnilife is evidence that it is difficult to make work) but minimum safety and policing standards that should be strictly adhered to.

5) Later kick off times – If you want better quality in the Mexican league, playing the most amount of games possible in cooler, nighttime climates would be a good place to start.

Pumas’ Estadio Universitario at 1:30 p.m. in the summer months, with the heat and the altitude, may be good for TV audiences, but it is not conducive to quick, flowing, end-to-end football.

6) International dates – Morelia’s Colombian playmaker Aldo Leao had been the heartbeat of his team all season, but was away on international duty for the first leg of last season’s quarterfinal against America. Morelia lost 2-0, pretty much ending its season. Whether Leao would’ve made a difference will never be known, but playing vital league games on FIFA dates is not something that should be happening in the Liga MX.

7) Games in the United States – The Premier League’s infamous “Game 39” idea didn’t go down well, but with a ready market north of the border for the Liga MX, there is surely an argument for each of the 18 teams playing one of its home games every season in the United States.

8) Increased openness – Mexico continues to suffer from corruption in many areas of its society. Soccer should take the lead in helping to combat it and a good start would be for clubs to start publishing annual agents’ fees every year, as the Premier League has since 2009.


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