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Pitch perfect - an interview with the Facility and Turf Manager at Estadio Chivas

We talked to the man who sets the stage for the Liga MX Final between Chivas and Tigres.

Chivas

“There are three things you need for soccer. A field, a ball, and the players. If one of those is out of balance, it will create a problem.”

Jose Maria Aldrete Gonzalez is perhaps the most important man in Sunday’s Liga MX Final between Chivas de Guadalajara and UANL Tigres that you’ve never heard of. Aldrete is the Facility and Turf Manager at Estadio Chivas, and it’s his job to make sure the pitch is in perfect condition.

Aldrete is “I love soccer too. Chivas has always been my team, and there’s three things that I really love in one side - soccer, architecture, and Chivas, so it was the perfect job for me.”

Aldrete started out as an architect working on the construction of the stadium. When the building project completed, the position of Maintenance and Facilities Manager opened, which “it requires (you) to take care of everything that makes (the game day) operation of the building possible. From the center of the field to the streets.” At that time Estadio Chivas had artificial turf, but it was switched out in 2012 at the request of then Sporting Director Johan Cruyff. “At that time I didn’t know exactly what it meant to take care of a professional field” Aldrete says.

UEFA Champions League Trophy Tour 2012 - Guadalajara
The old artificial turf at Estadio Chivas.
Photo by Pedro Franco/Getty Images

“When we had the artificial turf, I once thought that the biggest challenge would be to switch from artificial to natural turf because I had no idea what it was like to take care of a natural turf field.” Aldrete credits the Sports Turf Managers Association for helping him along the way. Aldrete attended a conference in Daytona Beach, Florida in 2013 that helped him put together a network of people who he can call on for advice.

Taking care of the pitch in Guadalajara is a challenge. Guadalajara has warm, dry winters and hot, wet summers so the grass must be able to deal with these conditions - as well as the fact that it only gets half of a day’s worth of sunlight due to the earthen sides of the stadium, the overhang that covers the seats, and the ring of lights and speakers suspended over the pitch. In order to work with that, the grass used is a mixture of tall fescue and rye grass.

“The typical grass you would use (in this region of Mexico) for this would be quiquollo, which is a warm-season grass that grows pretty well in Mexico. But due to the conditions and the shade in the stadium we had to decide to use a tall fescue, which is a grass that tolerates the shade and can still grow. The tall fescue is the main grass that we have, and we combine it with rye grass in the winter season because it it covers a lot and gives it a great texture.”

“We’ve developed a good maintenance program that we execute every week. We do a lot of aerification of the field, because it’s important to keep the water going through the root zone and get some air in the root zone” said Aldrete. Every four to five days the field is fed nutrients, “because we understand the field is like a high-performance athlete. It needs to work hard to keep growing and be able to recover and be strong.”

The level of detail that Aldrete puts into the turf at Estadio Chivas is amazing. If Chivas hoists another title tonight, it will be in no small part to his work.