Chivas' new signings not 'Super' but will return dignity to legendary Guadalajara club

It’s been like a not-so secret parade in the last several weeks in Guadalajara. Players arrive and are spotted at the airport. Then they get followed by members of the press as they enter facilities for their medicals. Finally, days later, they’re officially announced as new Chivas players.

The leader of the parade is new sporting director Ricardo Pelaez, an experienced executive whose resume includes stops at Club America and Cruz Azul after his playing career came to an end. The challenge of revamping Chivas is perhaps the biggest yet for Pelaez (depending on how you view Cruz Azul) and one he has eagerly attacked.

Chivas signs only Mexican players, limiting their potential player pool in a way few other clubs do. While Mexico is a country that produces plenty of capable players, it’s still a serious limitation against rivals who are able to bring in a splashy Frenchman or the best of the Argentine league. That amplifies mistakes made by directors, with a bad signing much more difficult to paper over with another addition.

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Rising star forward Jose Juan Macias, coveted by European teams and already getting caps with the Mexico senior team, is back after time on loan with Leon. Victor Guzman, the versatile midfielder who has starred for Pachuca in recent seasons, also returns to the club where he spent his youth career. Uriel Antuna arrives on loan from City Football Group after a Cinderella season with El Tri and a good campaign working with the LA Galaxy.

In the midfield, Jose Juan “Gallito” Vazquez gives manager Luis Fernando Tena another option in the middle. And fullbacks Cristian Calderon and Jose Maduena plus Calderon’s former Necaxa teammate Alexis Pena will give an entirely new look to the club’s back line.

It’s a stark contrast from the summer, when the biggest move was bringing in a 35-year-old forward in Oribe Peralta who scored no goals in Liga MX play, and center backs Antonio Briseno and Oswaldo Alanis, who disappointed. Not only does it look like Chivas will try to make a push for the upcoming Clausura, but the team is setting itself up for success beyond the next six months. Macias is 20, Calderon and Antuna are 22. While Macias likely is set for a sale to Europe in 2020 and Antuna may not be a long-term solution either, the club is showing more forward-thinking than it has in some time.

“It’s an historic investment. Never has something been done like what we’re doing right now,” club president Amaury Vergara said this week, also making headlines by saying that even if rival Club America wins a Mexican record 14th title this summer, Chivas will quickly catch up with it.

The youth movement brings to mind one of the first ‘Super Chivas’ teams, when in the mid 90s a mix of signings like Alberto Coyote and Ramon Ramirez and Chivas academy products like Paulo Cesar Chavez earned plenty of attention for returning the club to prominence after a long title drought.  

It’s worth remembering, however, that those first Super Chivas teams struggled to actually get over the hump and lift the trophy. While Chivas is making a fantastic first step in renovating its squad with players who have proven they can succeed in Liga MX, catching up with America in terms of titles is hardly guaranteed.

There is the sense that Vergara wants to honor the memory of his father Jorge, who purchased the team in 2002 and died earlier this year at the age of 64. The elder Vergara was an inventive marketer who helped reinforce the club’s status as the most popular in Mexico.

For Chivas to become known more for their achievements on the field than their name, however, there will have to be more than one transfer window of investment. The academy, so critical for a team that relies on homegrown players, will need to come into focus, the team’s defense will need to improve and ultimately Chivas’ directors will need to have more patience with Pelaez than his previous employers did.

There is once again a buzz around the club, however, as it hits the refresh button and looks to once again become relevant in the league – fighting for titles instead of against relegation as it has in the last few years.

The Super Chivas aren’t back, but the building blocks now are there to give the millions of fans around the world a club they can once again be proud to cheer for.

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