There’s been a lot of talk in the time that’s elapsed after Mexico’s U17s came up just short to Brazil in the U17 World Cup about why Mexico’s youth teams are able to get to the finals and win trophies while the first team dreams of a quinto partido, the mythical fifth game that has eluded El Tricolor since hosting the tournament in 1986. People are understandably eager to unlock the secret alchemy that will turn the lead balloons of the first team’s World Cup ventures over the past 30-plus years into the gold and silver trophies and medals their younger counterparts have captured in the years since.
In a press conference, Mexico boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino touched on what he thought Liga MX could do to help turn youth team successes on the world stage into first team successes. Martino believes that reducing the number of foreign players from the current nine would be the way to go, thus freeing up more professional minutes for Mexican youth players. The logic is simple, and with Liga MX being one of the best leagues in the world, it’s hard to argue that giving young players more minutes at that level would hurt El Tri’s chances in 2022 or beyond.
This solution would seem to solve a lot of the problem, but it’s not necessarily as cut and dried as Tata makes it out. Players are sentient beings, with wants and desires, fears and dreams. These can help motivate a player to make decisions, both good and bad.
Orlegi Sports President Alejandro Irarragorri released a statement Monday about off-the-field issues that can cause some of these issues in the first place. “They and their families are confused, corrupted, and poorly advised by groups of representatives and promoters who take advantage of the situation, their immediate economic need and / or the anxiety and greed that success generates,” part of it read.
Bad actors, grifters, and charlatans are nothing new in soccer or sports in general. Any time there’s money to be made by exploiting someone else’s labor there’ll be people there to do the exploiting. As Annie Lennox once eloquently put it, “some of them want to use you, some of them want to be used by you.”
Irarragorri puts his (and Orlegi Sports’) money where his mouth is. Loren Fuentes, Head of Integral Development at Club Santos Laguna, told SB Nation how the club, which is owned by Orlegi Sports, helps teach their young players some of the basics. Starting at the U17 level, all players earn a salary. “Everybody (on the U17s) earns the same amount of money. The only difference within the team are the ones that are on the national team.” She says those that are on the Mexico National Team will earn a little bit more than those who are not called up.
”Everybody on the U20s earns the same,” Fuentes continues. “The ones that are in the in the U20s national team (earn) a little bit more (than the U17s), and the ones that are in the U20s but training with the first team already earn a little bit more than the (ones only on the) national team. But everybody’s (paid) the same. It doesn’t matter if you have a manager or your parents come and pick a fight. No. Everybody earns the same.”
Paying the players isn’t the only obligation the club feels towards them. “You have to show them what to do with their money. Because some of them have parents that can go to them in that sense, but some of them don’t. So we teach right at the beginning how to save money, and then in the U20s how to invest it.”
The families are also warned about signing their children to agents. According to Fuentes, agents sometimes “come and they want (the families) to sign all these kind of deals and they tell them they’re going to take them to Europe.” Unfortunately the club can only do so much, but the families are warned. “Don’t sign your kid before he turns 18,” Fuentes says. “You don’t need that.”
Santos knows a bit about getting youth players into opportunities to succeed. Santos saw Gerardo Arteaga and Eduardo “Lalo” Aguirre with the U22s, Diego Medina with the U18s, and Santiago Muñoz with the U17 team that took Brazil the distance in the World Cup. With the first team, Uriel Antuna of the LA Galaxy came up through the system. Atlas’ Jesús Angulo is another Santos canterano that has been with the first team recently as well.
If the first team is to duplicate the success of its youth teams, all of the issues that cause promising young Mexican players to fall short of their potential will need to be addressed. While not all situations can be planned for and not all planning will be followed, the more the players are thought of as people and not products the better chances they’ll have for success both on and off of the pitch.