A Friday night Mexican first division game between Club Deportivo Veracruz and Tigres UANL almost didn’t happen. Now, lovers of drama and civil disobedience are probably thanking the soccer gods that it did.
All this week, speculation on if the game would even take place was rampant due to the news that Veracruz players were not getting paid. The game ended up happening. Fans (the few that went) entered the stadium like normal, but when the whistle blew, that’s when things got weird.
The Veracruz players stood motionless for over three minutes with the bench cleared as the subs stood in solidarity on the sidelines. The Tigres players didn’t move at first either, but almost two minutes into the protest, Tigres started scoring. No effort was put forth from Veracruz players as two Tigres goals quickly found the back of the net.
Chilean international Eduardo Vargas lauched a curler from deep in the second minute and later French star Andre-Pierre Gignac scored one from deeper after Vargas brought the ball back instead of scoring himself (That was Gignac’s 100th league goal in Mexico as well. That.) After about five minutes, the Veracruz players started moving again but constantly fouling, barely attempting to play the ball. Vargas scored again in the eighth minute to make it 3-0 to Tigres, although it’s unclear whether Veracruz was actually playing yet.
After the third goal, however, the game went on like normal but with visibly more friction between the teams. Tigres’ Jesus Dueñas recieved a red card in the 26th minute after stepping on Daniel Villalva’s ankle.
In the end, Veracruz got a goal back from former Turkey international Colin Kazim-Richards in the 90th minute to end the match 3-1 in favor of Tigres.
Was this planned by both teams?
According to TV Azteca in Mexico, Veracruz player Angel Reyna told reporters that both teams had arranged for this protest to last three minutes at the start of the game and that Veracruz players were upset that Tigres started scoring. This had not been agreed upon earlier.
Later, TV Azteca reported that it was Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti who gave the order to begin scoring.
Reactions after the game:
Veracruz owner Fidel Kuri:
“I’m embarrassed for the fans. The players wanted to send a message that I didn’t agree with. We were the joke of the nation again. The ref should’ve stopped it when the players didn’t move. The players shouldn’t have done this. The opposition Tigres came to do their job and our players were in the wrong.”
Tigres captain Guido Pizarro:
“For them to make us responsible for a protest that they were making to there president I think is an error. We came, respected what they put in the group (about a 1-minute protest) and went through with it.”
Tigres captain Guido Pizarro said that a one-min protest was originally agreed and that Veracruz's captain asked for "5 or 3 mins" at the stadium, which Tigres' players didn't agree to. Said some of Veracruz's players only thought it was for 1 min. #ligamxeng— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) October 19, 2019
Veracruz captain Carlos Salcido:
“The Tigres players knew perfectly that we were going to protest for three minutes. It’s a shame. You all saw what happened.”
Statement from Veracruz's players being explained by Carlos Salcido:— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) October 19, 2019
- Some first team players owed 5-6 months.
- Youth teams without proper nutrition, hydration, traveling over 10 hours for games
- Women's team don't have private changing room, medical staff #ligamxeng
More from Salcido:
- Women’s team has two months worth of debts and lack water in dressing rooms for bathing as well as proper medical staff.
- “There are teammates who had to leave their homes due to lack of solvency.”
- “The team doesn’t even have medicines to treat injuries. Basic things like ice packs. Doctors and utility workers are also owed.”
Why would Tigres do that?
Bad blood does exist between both clubs. Back in 2017, supporter groups from both sides were involved in a brutal brawl (WARNING: graphic images) in the stands during a league match between the two teams.
Ferretti, Gignac and other players were visibly upset as Tigres fans were outnumbered in the altercation which led to many of them getting ganged up on by Veracruz supporters.
Dueñas had his arm cut by flying debris due to the fight.
The melee ended with no arrests due to there not being enough police force, but Veracruz was fined $38,000 USD and had its next home match behind closed doors.
What was the reason for the protest in the first place?
Veracruz players weren’t getting paid by ownership. Alvaro Ortiz, president of the Mexican soccer players’ association (AMFpro), told reporters earlier this week that several Veracruz players were owed up to six months in wages, that workers at the club were sleeping on mats in the stadium and that some of the players’ children had been kicked out of school due to lack of payments.
The majority of players also had verbal agreements with the team rather than actual contracts, Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla said in a press conference this week.
In cooperation with AMFpro, Veracruz players were set to boycott the game against Tigres due to the dispute.
It was even a possibility that all Liga MX games would be halted this weekend in solidarity with Veracruz’s players, but that didn’t end up materializing.
This issue is not exclusive to the men’s team either. Players from Veracruz’s professional women’s team have also not been paid, but are in worse shape because they can’t fall back as much on sponsorships for cash flow.
What is Veracruz ownership saying
As of now, owner Fidel Kuri has denied that any workers are “living” in the stadium and said that the debts owed to the players are only about two months worth of wages. Of course, the players and AMFpro deny this.
Kuri, a politician from Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is no stranger to infamy. He’s been involved in a number of scandals including:
- Being suspended from Liga MX activities and fined in 2016 for an altercation with then-head of referees Edgardo Codesal.
- Confronting a reporter while intoxicated during his suspension (leading to an extension of said suspension).
- Threatening to move the team to another city if his party did not win impending gubernatorial elections in 2016.
- Using the team as part of his political campaign when he ran for mayor of Veracruz in 2017.
- That’s not even all of them.
Kuri said that the team is not in a good state financially. It should be noted that the club:
- Paid over $6 million USD to the league to remain in the first division after being relegated last season.
- Had to cover debts of over $1 million USD in promised bonuses to players.
- Covered fee of over $37,000 USD to Uruguayan club Montevideo Wanderers for dispute over midfielder Matias Santos.
- Fined over $15,000 USD by FIFA due to the Santos dispute (also cost them six points in the table last season)
What was Liga MX and the FMF’s response?
Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla said that the situation with Veracruz took him by surprise and that the league did not interfere quicker into the matter of Veracruz players not being paid due of lack of documentation and official complaints from players. In response, Ortiz said that players wanted to deal with team owners directly rather than league officials.
“The situation has come about because [the players] have one contract [registered] with the federation and another with the [Veracruz] administration, that’s why our hands our tied in trying to help them,” Bonilla said.
Bonilla also responded with threats of automatic relegation if Veracruz players didn’t show up to face Tigres.
Later in a Friday press conference, Mexican football federation president Yon de Luisa said that he authorized a $1 million USD fund to help pay the players, which prompted Veracruz to show up and not completely boycott the game with Tigres. De Luisa said that the plan is for all of the players to be paid what they are owed by next Friday ahead of Week 15’s matches.
De Luisa also criticized AMFpro for promoting a strike among players rather than promoting Veracruz players file official complaints when news of this situation broke. Since then, however, de Luisa confirmed two players have come forward with complaints and hopes that more follow.
It can’t get worse right?
If you’re Veracruz, yes it can. Whether the club will still exist after this season or not is still up in the air thanks to this and counless other scandals both on and off the field.
The Tiburones Rojos haven’t won a game in 40 league matches, well over a calendar year, and are dead last in the Liga MX table with just four points in 13 matches.
You can follow Antonio on Twitter @antonio1998__