The last major football competition postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic returns on September 15. The Copa Libertadores will resume in the middle of its group stage, with all of South America’s historic clubs vying for the continent’s biggest title on the cup’s 60th anniversary. start.
Of course, this will be the fourth year in a row that no Mexican club has taken part in the tournament, which has caused unrest among a large majority of Liga MX fans.
But today, let’s not focus on what is not with us, but on what once was. Because that “what” was one of the most unique concepts in modern gaming.
The photos you see in the thumbnail of this article are not retouched. Well I mean they have to do the graph, but the images themselves are not edited. The late ’90s and early’ 00s of the Copa Libertadores had Liga MX clubs in the foreground, and as most of the competition took place in the summer, during the Liga MX offseason, some interesting transfers would take place.
Liga MX clubs participating in the Copa, whether due to national team calls or simply general squad building, would loan star players from other Liga MX clubs just for the summer, usually 45 days or less, to play for them in the Libertadores.
To compete with Riquelme and Boca de Palermo, Crespo and Sorin’s River Plate, Robinho’s Santos and Luiz Felipe Scolari‘s Palmeiras, the Mexican teams had to get creative, and they did.
The first top player to make that kind of move was current Monterrey manager Antonio Mohamed. Turco had just finished his tenure with Toros Neza in 1998 – he left as the club’s second-all-time top scorer – and joined Carlos Reinoso’s Club America side for just two games in the Libertadores. Mohamed would later sign for Monterrey as a player, more than 20 years before leading them as a coach to a league title Las Aguilas (another club that he succeeded in a title) in 2019.
Cruz Azul’s loan to Toluca legend Jose Saturnino Cardozo in 2001 is perhaps the most successful loan of the Libertadores era, in terms of distance traveled by the buying team in the tournament.
Cardozo is a Diablo through and through, so at first you’d be shocked to see him don Cruz Azul’s sky blue kit rather than the iconic scarlet red from the early 2000s Toluca. Cardozo had just scored 24 goals in 40 games the previous year for Toluca and was the most prominent striker in Mexico after having already helped Los Diablos Rojos to three Liga MX titles.
Cardozo has joined La Maquina in the round of 16 and scored four goals en route to the final, where they would lose to Boca Juniors on penalties. Cruz Azul was only a few years away from his title drought in 2001, and you must be wondering how being the first – and since the only – Mexican club to win the Libertadores would have impacted their national reputation.
The year we saw the most short-term loan movements was 2005. That year, Chivas acquired Jose de Jesus Corona from rivals Tecos UAG as well as Oribe Peralta de Monterrey, more than a decade before he permanently joined the club for free.
Corona came to Chivas as a necessity for their now infamous home and away games against Boca Juniors as Oswaldo Sanchez was on international duty and Alfredo talavera had come out with injury.
Elsewhere, Pachuca are said to strengthen their ranks with three La Liga MX stars: Jose Cardozo de Toluca, Rodrigo Pony Ruiz de Santos Laguna and Dario Veron de Pumas UNAM.
Cardozo surpassed his best here, but it was only two years ago that he recorded the most spectacular individual season Mexico has ever seen, scoring 59 goals in 45 games for Toluca. Ruiz was a certified midfielder maestro for Santos with over a century of assists and over 300 club appearances, while Veron only had a few seasons in a historic tenure with Pumas at center-back and would record more than 400 club appearances and four league titles in Mexico City.
This would not be enough to retain Chivas, because Guadalajara got rid of Los Tuzos in the round of 16 before being themselves eliminated by Atletico Paranaense in the semi-finals.
Tigers would also sign a star striker for a few weeks; Salvador Cabañas on loan from Chiapas. Unfortunately, the Paraguayan sensation did not score a goal for the Feline in four games as they met their demise in the quarterfinals against future champions Sao Paulo.
The last time Mexican clubs would make any of these weird loans would be in 2007. Club America signed Felipe Baloy and Luis Ernesto Perez from Monterrey as Las Aguilas, on the back of a now superstar Cabañas, would qualify for the quarter-finals.
After that the practice kind of stopped, but it remains one of the most unique things in the sport that has come out of Mexico. Imagine if Champions League clubs could recruit star players on loan from the rest of the European elite. Imagine if Tom brady and James lebron could put their well-researched recruiting skills to good use before their respective playoffs go down each year.
The fact that other clubs in La Liga MX have accepted such short-term loans, with the threat of injury and the parent club losing important training days for their star players, shows how united La Liga MX was. in their efforts in South America.
They respected the cup, they knew how big it was and treated it as such. The league – or the country – has come together to get its name up there in the tradition of the Copa Libertadores. Mexican clubs loved being the underdogs, the ones to disrupt the party, they relished it, and the league as a whole was determined to show its strength to CONMEBOL.
They have come together three times – Cruz Azul in 2001, Chivas in 2010 and Tigres in 2015 – but no Mexican club has ever been able to achieve what, in football terms, is a more difficult competition to win than La Liga MX. or the Concacaf Champions League.
The return of Mexico to the Libertadores is not excluded. According to Football Total, the Liga MX as well as the MLS clubs have asked Concacaf president Victor Montagliani to study the possibility of joining the Libertadores in 2021. Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez has retained “open door” for the return of the Liga MX teams, but nothing is final. Either way, we will probably never see this practice again in world football.
It’s hard to see a league coming together to help their national teams in an international club competition. Money, logistics, team responsibilities, and marketing just wouldn’t make this work today, but at least we can look back.
You can follow Antonio on Twitter @ antonio1998__