Implications of the referees’ strike in Mexico may go beyond anything involving the referees.
Last night, a tsunami of epic proportions just swept up Jornada 10 of Liga MX. It was simply a referees’ strike after the Mexican Referees Association, (called the AMA here) was called Friday night, over the Liga MX’s ex post facto decision-making that did not take into account their advice over how a number of players and directors would be punished over questioning their decisions. And an obvious genesis of the controversy has been the feeling of referees’ inability to take control of games that has left Hirving Lozano, Renato Ibarra, and Isaac Brizuela with graphic injuries that would keep them out of action for most of the remainder of the Clausura.
Officially, Jornada 10 has been suspended, to be completed at a later date. There had been hope that some games on Saturday and Sunday would go on, but they are not. (Psst. I link to my story for Fut. Mex. Nation on this matter.) While the strike has so far claimed Jornada 10 at the senior, U-17, and U-20 levels, it could also force suspensions of games being played in Mexico’s lower four divisions.
So far, Ascenso MX has gotten through its first few games of Jornada 12 and the official account of La Tercera Division, which occupies the Division 5 level on the FMF pyramid, tweeted out that all games would proceed normally. And it remains to be seen whether the strike will claim further games in the round. (It will not affect the CONCACAF obligations Tigres UANL and Pachuca have, however.)
But ultimately, Atlas captain Rafael Marquez has to be salivating at what he could do with a unified and organized FMF players’ union and what we may have yet to learn about the inner workings of Mexican football.
The obvious target for any potential Rafael Marquez will be the “pacto de caballeros”, which not only restricts players’ movement within Mexico, but also does not allow players to get out under a bad situation and leave and allows transfer fees for players looking to leave for teams abroad to be high enough to deter many sides in Europe, South America, United States, Asia, and even Africa, from taking on Mexican players, especially when they believe they are out of a contract. It also limits’ players’ protections, and control as to where they may play.
Right now, all of this would be fine if the Chinese, Russian, and English teams that often habitually overpay market rates for players took a closer look at Mexican players. But ultimately, most of those prefer to buy Brazilian or Argentine, or from continental European clubs, as do clubs in Thailand, UAE, Qatar, Turkey, and elsewhere. If it isn’t a Brazilian who moves, it might also be a player who is based in Brazil or (Western) Europe. (MLS franchises also play a disruptive role in the transfer market, and one time Ekstralasa top-scorer Nemanja Nikolic was one of the players to move stateside. And Brazilian teams playing in Serie A also are relatively big spenders on the transfer market.)
At the youth levels, the players display the right blend of malice, technical and tactical nous, and cunning to help Mexico regularly compete for youth tournaments. And Baby Tri could, at the U-20 level, be real competitors for the U-20 World Cup once again. It’s a representative sample of what could be with Mexican players (although nowhere near a complete look). But right now, not enough teams are willing to meet what Liga MX teams are currently asking for players, even lower division sides.
This may mean some queasiness from fans of teams in Liga MX as they pursue glory, knowing that they may have to replace most of the star core of their team within the two years of the team “getting good” and winning their titles. But in the long run, it means Mexican clubs up and down the ladder (there are probably about 190 somewhat independent teams in the myramid now, and 270 teams in the pyramid in total, if you include every team from Liga MX down to La Tercera) will be able to generate more revenue from player development. These sources of revenue include transfer fees, and additional training compensation or secondary compensation on players each time a particular player moves. These development-based source of revenue are typically the second largest revenue source teams can generate, and the one they can use to generate money quickly, assuming the money actually gets paid of course.
It would also mean that there would be many more Chivas-like teams. And unlike Chivas, who only became Mexican-only as a marketing campaign at/around the start of the “professional era,” the identities of new teams would be authentically local (forgetting Mexican). There would also be the kind of competition for places for El Tri among players based anywhere and everywhere that could potentially keep the national team lethal, and set the stage for Mexico producing generation after generation of footballers and football that would be memorable at the biggest world stage possible without any need to “blame the referees”. It would also mean that without any sort of artificial limitation on foreign players, more Mexican players may not only get first-team minutes before the age of 20, but they also may be in the end mentally, and psychologically more resolute in how they approach the game even when the initial tactical plan goes askew.
But it also may mean something else that may even be more fundamentally threatening to the pacto de caballeros — lower division team bosses revolting against Liga MX owners who have enjoyed a controlling stake in FMF proceedings since 1970. This could mean teams could demand almost anything and everything, from a fairer promotion/relegation system in which more teams move up and down the pyramid and do so in a manner closer to what’s seen in Brazil or Spain to amateur teams not even affiliated with FMF coming out of the woods demanding solidarity and training compensation payments, to the independent teams not in Liga MX taking dramatic action to cut Liga MX teams’ vote weight from 50% down to 30%, a number that would force FMF to consider their needs to build a consensus on any decision, including a reorganization of the Mexican football pyramid.
We might mourn the loss of Liga MX on our TVs this weekend, and the strike may kill off further Jornadas of futbol (or it may not). And some may argue that this walkout is bad for the global image of Mexican football. (It is if you consider the status quo to be ‘the right approach’.)
But we are seeing history happen. And we may be talking about this weekend, and the events to follow for years to come regardless of how they may unfold. And it’s history to make an institution genuinely work for Mexican communities, and to transform futbol mexicano into a genuinely democratic institution. That’s called “Making Futbol Great!”
DISCLAIMER: A lot of this depends on how long the referees’ strike lasts, and if the referees’ strike turns into something else. Liga MX owners completed a meeting on Sunday where there was some discussion of negotiation with the referees, but the owners did not leave on any consensus strategy. Televisa and Azteca (and Grupo Salinas) left with one idea while everyone else left w/ a completely different strategy — these “pro-negotiation” include Grupo Pachuca (Pachuca, Leon), Grupo Caliente (Xolos), and most of the recent ownership arrivals.
Because the strike so far has not generalized to lower divisions, Jornada 10 could still be played with referees normally working the lower division games. And there’s a front that is looking to bring in that big pool of replacement referees to sink the position of the protesting referees and the AMA.
But what may also play into it is that the tremendous sense in Mexico, still if not more than in the United States, that civil institutions are broken and in a severe state of disrepair. Right now, the fact that these owners are able to put better investments, and better use of their investments, into their academies, etc., than the government(s) has(have) been able to has given them a high level of cultural capital to be able to keep things, like the pacto de caballeros going, even though such things might be against the intent of FIFA’s directives or other international directives. If nothing else, their ability to get players not only going to play futbol but also get others who might not be as good an education (or for players of that sort to be able to afford an education), gives them a significant amount of capital. (That is also a significant promise in the Canadian Hockey League, the umbrella junior hockey organization in Canada that governs the three major junior (U-20) hockey leagues in the country.)