Javier Hernandez’s recent move to Manchester United for around £6 million is a perfect example of the strength of the Mexican League. More lucrative than Argentina and better structured than Brazil, it has become popular with Latin American players not quite ready for Europe but too good for their own domestic leagues. A third of the way through the 2010 Apertura (Mexico has two seasons in a calendar year Apertura and Clausura with a playoff at the end of each), we look at ten of the best players currently playing in Mexico. The caveat – they are yet to have made the big move to Europe. Football Manager fans, notepads at the ready!
10. Alberto Medina – Chivas Guadalajara/Mexico
At the age of 27, the diminutive attacking midfielder might not ever make it to Europe – not that El Venado (The Deer) will be too concerned. A serious knee injury in 2003 saw him out of football for 9 months and there were fears he wouldn’t play again. Since his return he has won the Mexican Apertura (2006) and a year later wrote himself into Tapatio folklore with this magnificent goal in the superclásico against América. He has over 50 caps for the national side playing a key role in the 2006 qualifying campaign and was called up to the 2010 World Cup Squad scoring 4 times in 5 warm up games but not appearing in the finals. Last season he was second top scorer behind a certain striker now at Manchester United; this season he has been slow to start like the rest of the team. Don’t be surprised if that changes…it normally does.
9. Guillermo Ochoa – América/Mexico
Undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers outside of Europe, it was criminal that he sat on the bench and watched a 37 year-old hobbit keep goal during the 2010 World Cup. Ochoa is only 25 which means there is still time for him to make his mark in Europe (he was looked at by Arsene Wenger who sure needs a new man between the posts). In Mexico he has picked up a league title, CONCACAF Champions Cup and InterLiga trophy with América. Last year for the national team he produced some outstanding performances to earn the CONCACAF Gold Cup Best Goalkeeper award as El Tri triumphed. This year club captain Ochoa has only been on the wrong side of a result once so far keeping 2 clean sheets in 5 games.
8. Daniel Ludueña – Cruz Azul/Argentina
The Argentinian playmaker left River Plate for Tecos in 2004 and, after having relatively little success he headed to Santos Laguna. His form picked up immediately, scoring 18 goals in 19 starts and making 11 assists in the 2007 Apertura. The next season he was less prolific individually but was part of the team that won the 2008 Clausura. Blessed with great skill and vision, Ludueña is probably doesn’t have the physical capabilities to make it in Europe but at the moment he is exactly what Santos Laguna need. This season he has started every game sitting just behind Christian Benitez and it is no surprise the Ecuadorian on loan from Birmingham tops the goalscoring charts while Santos share the top spot with Cruz Azul.
7. Nestor Calderón – Toluca/Mexico
Lighting quick left winger with dazzling dribbling skills, this kid is one for the future. He burst on the scene with Toluca in 2008 in their championship-winning season helping Héctor Mancilla (see below) earn the Golden Boot. He was named Rookie of the Year for good measure. Aged just 21 Calderón is on the fringes of the national set up, but with competition fierce (Premier League heads – think Vela, Dos Santos, Barrera) he has only earned one cap. He has been ever present so far this season on the left of a three-pronged attack and scored on the opening day of the season.
6. Darío Verón – UNAM Pumas/Paraguay
Paraguayan footballers have been making waves in Mexico since 1995 when José Cardozo starting scoring goals and smashing records. 31-year-old centre back Darío Verón is a mainstay at the back for UNAM Pumas and one of their most consistent performers. He is strong in the tackle and commanding in the air, a good combination at any level. He also likes to win – the 7 years since his arrival have been something of a renaissance for Pumas. In 2004 they were Campeón de Campeones (the winner of a playoff between the Apertura and Clausura winners) for only the 2nd time in their history. In 2005 Verón and his team were painfully close to securing the Copa Sudamericana, losing to a Boca Juniors team marshalled by Fernando Gago on penalties. More recently Verón tasted success again, picking up the 2009 Clausura title. This season he has been ever-present in a Pumas team unbeaten at home.
5. Javier Orozco – Cruz Azul/Mexico
Just 22 years old the La Chuletita has already made history, becoming the all-time leading goalscorer in the CONCACAF Champions League with an incredible 17 goals in 3 seasons (his nearest rival has 5 goals). Playing up front with former Derby County striker Emanuel Villa the two have struck up a lethal partnership. In Apertura 2009, Villa was top scorer with 13 goals. This season the tables have turned with Orozco netting 4 goals in 5 games backed up by Christian Giménez (see below).
4. Omar Arellano – Chivas Guadalajara/Mexico
Good on the ball, fast and a rasping shot Arellano already had the same first name as the man he is set to replace and now he is mimicking his talents. Like Omar Bravo, Arellano has earned the love of the fans for some of the games in which he has scored, his first ever Guadalajara goal was against local rivals Atlas. He scored two goals in the superclásico in the Estadio Azteca in 2008 and grabbed another one in the same fixture earlier this year. His form in 2010 has certainly caught the eye especially in the Copa Libertadores where he put in a virtuoso display against Velez Sarsfield and scored a vital equaliser in the semi-finals against Universidad de Chile. His sending off in the closing moments of the final is a sign of the 23 year old’s inexperience but it is unlikely to put off the raft of European clubs interested in his signature.
3. Héctor Mancilla – Toluca/Chile
The Chilean frontman has that knack that forwards need, he just knows where the goal is. This is evidenced in the description of Mancilla by his current employers; “a natural goalscorer…lethal in the area”. The 29-year old had a slow start at Veracruz and Coatzacoalcos but came into his own in 2008 with Toluca. He won back-to-back Golden Boots (13 and 14 goals respectively) and has won 2 titles in three seasons with the Diabolos Rojos. So far this season he has yet to chalk up a single goal – a welcome respite for the rest of the league, but it won’t last long.
2. Edgar Benítez -Pachuca/Paraguay
Another Paraguayan on the list, Pájaro Benítez has come into his own in 2010. After spending much of 2009 on the bench the left winger finally got a run in the team in the Bicentenario 2010 earlier this year. Two goals against Jaguares were a highlight and his performances made sure he was on the plane to South Africa with the national team. He featured twice in the World Cup playing on the left-side of a three-man attack, for Pachuca he is employed in a similar role. He already has 3 goals in 5 games and if his form continues the 22-year-old could be flying across the Atlantic Ocean in January.
1. Christian Giménez – Cruz Azul/Argentina
Extremely fast, extremely talented midfielder with a deadly freekick and wonderful to watch. Six years ago he left his native Argentina for Mexico. Playing alongside the legendary Cuauhtémoc Blanco at both Veracruz and América they topped the league at the end of the regular season but crashed out of the playoffs. It was at Pachuca where Giménez really became the player he is today, he won the Mexican League and continental trophies and his outstanding display in the 2009 Clausura (which saw Pachuca finish runners-up to PUMAS) earned him the MVP award. At Cruz Azul (who he joined earlier this year) he has been in scintillating form scoring all three goals in a 3-2 victory in their most recent game that puts Cruz Azul joint top and puts him top of my list.
This was one of the hardest lists I’ve come up with so far, I tried to get a mix of young talent, old heads, flashy players and sturdy rocks who always put in 100%. Still I feel there are another 10 who I want on this list, but instead I’ll just make a brief nod to two…
If he were five years younger: Oswaldo Sanchez – the Santos Laguna goalkeeper and captain is one of the longest-serving players in the league. He is on 99 caps for the national side.
One for the future: Martin Galván – the Cruz Azul man was the youngest ever player in the Mexican football when he made his debut aged 14 – now 17 he has 5 in 6 for the Mexican U-17s and has attracted interest from Barcelona and Arsenal.
Next Friday I continue the theme with the Top Ten Players in the Argentinean League but in light of yesterday’s Champions League draw, my next post (on Tuesday) will focus on the Top 10 Champions League matches of all time.