Naturalization Issue Exposes Hypocrisy

The Mexican Primera is a thriving League. The level of competition is good, there are a lot of good players, and there is a lot of money. A lot of money. So much money that Mexico routinely attracts some of the top South American talent, who see the league as a proving ground before a possible trip to Europe.

We have talked about this before, but its not just the Paraguayan player who has found a pot of gold in Mexico. National team players from Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Argentina, and even Italy (yes, Italy -- Believe it or not Mauro Camoranesi played for Cruz Azul) have suited up for a Mexican team. They usually get paid more than the locals, and teams are allowed to have 5 foreigners not just on the squad, but on the field at the same time. Foreigners have it good in Mexico. Is it any real surprise then that some of the foreigners would then end up on Mexico's National Team once they have become Mexican Citizens?

Using naturalized players is nothing new to Mexico, much less international footie. Mexico has been calling up naturalized players since the 30s. In the last world cup, more than a dozen teams had naturalized players on their squad. So why do the Mexican media, the Mexican fans and even some Mexican players get their chones in a tangle when naturalized players are called up to the team? SGE recently called 4 for a minicamp and friendly with Sweden. Mathias Vuoso, Sinha, Leandro Augusto, and Lucas Ayala. Ericksson pays no mind to the issue. He sees players who are eligible and calls them up.

The common theme in the offending argument is that Mexican nationals should be given the first look. "We need to give Mexican players the opportunity" is what Memo Ochoa said this week; a sentiment that has been echoed repeatedly by other players. Some team executives have even gone as far as to propose a cap to the FMF.

The opposition rebuts with the fact that they are Mexican, they have the same rights as every other Mexican player, and if they are eligible to play with the national team, then why not. Cuauhtémoc Blanco rebuts "if a naturalized player is better than a national, then come on down." I couldn't have said it better myself.

But the issue is more than just expressing some form of nationalistic faux outrage. It airs out Mexico's dirty laundry in full view. Naturalized players are a more viable option because the Mexican player is not being developed as much as it should. Mexico's season consists of two short tournaments, and the pressure to win is very palpable. If a team loses 2-3 times in a row, then the noose around the coach's neck tightens up. One more loss, and it's adios. So the coaches would much rather rely on proven talent, more often then not, proven foreign talent than taking a chance on a green youngster. In most cases, those foreigners line up in key positions. Moreover, Mexico's youth movement is not a league wide effort at all. Most teams youth systems are on life support, and the income generated by the league hardly ever is invested in the future. But it is used to by the next big foreign contract, or just kept for profit.

Pavel Pardo, who recently returned from a successful stint at Stuttgart to finish his career with America, had this to say about the issue "It's time to open our eyes and see the bigger picture. We need to work more to improve our youth systems. Other national teams have improved because they have implemented a long-term project. That is what Mexico has to do. It is an issue that we have to handle intelligently."

That is not to say, however, that Mexico's youth movement is moribund. They did win the U17 world cup in very convincing fashion. Most of the stars of that squad are playing professionally, and a few have made it over to Europe. The FMF responded to the success with little more than lip service: their famous 20/11 rule mandating a minimum number of minutes played by under 21 players per team. It doesn’t even force teams to play one kid the whole season. Martin del Palacio recently wrote about 10 kids to watch. What I found a little alarming about this article is the fact that none of the players he listed are Pumas, which has historically been the youth system that has produced Mexico's best players.

Mexican teams have relied on foreigners for years. Meanwhile, the Mexican player has been overlooked, justly or unjustly, for some spots on the national team. But I do find it interesting that the same people who would gladly sign a 2nd division South American instead of playing a young local, the teams whose youth systems are a joke, the suits who would rather make a big money signing to market their team instead of investing in the future are usually the ones who are the most critical of using naturalized players. If it were up to me, I could limit the amount of foreigners, but I do think a better solution would be to field an under 21 for every foreigner. So your team can have its 5 foreigners on the field. You just have to play 5 youngsters with them.