Now that France have lifted their second World Cup, it will be nearly a month before the major European leagues begin their 2018/19 season. During that time, many people will turn to rumors and signings of the European summer transfer window to satiate their soccer fix. However, there is a league that begins a mere five days after the World Cup final that deserves attention: the Mexican Liga MX.
1) Liga MX: Premier League of the CONCACAF
As a result of large-scale TV rights deals, English Premier League clubs have exhibited superior spending power compared to their continental counterparts in recent years. During the 2017 summer transfer window, Premier League clubs spent $1.85 billion on players, breaking the league’s summer spending record for a sixth consecutive year. In the same summer, Serie A clubs spent $1.36 billion on players, French Ligue 1 clubs spent $1.23 billion, German Bundesliga sides spent $952.7 million, and La Liga outfits dished out a healthy $651.6 million.
Despite Liga MX clubs not having such open cheque books, they invest considerably more than other leagues in North and South America. During the last five seasons, Mexican clubs have shelled out USD$593.3 million on players, making them the highest-spending league in the Americas. Furthermore, during that time, 13 of the 18 Liga MX teams spent more on players than they recouped from player sales.
This ambition has allowed Mexican sides to target talent outside of the economic reach of leagues like the Brazilian Série A and the Argentinean Superliga. For example, Tigres signed former Marseille star and French international Andre-Pierre Gignac in June of 2015, whose pay was reported at $4.7 million per year. Moreover, the considerable funds available to Liga MX clubs have enabled them to keep top-class home-grown talent in Mexico – a struggle for several competitive nations. For example, last month, Monterrey confirmed the signing of attacking midfielder and Mexican international Rodolfo Pizarro from Chivas. Rayados paid $17 million for him, a league-wide record. All things being equal, more spending by Liga MX clubs means a better output across the division.
2) Parity between Clubs
Unlike the major European leagues, the Liga MX plays two short tournaments a season, crowning a different champion at the end of each round. There are playoffs, known as the Liguilla, at the end of each campaign which sees eight of the league’s 18 teams qualify for the Liguilla. As a result, there are more opportunities for clubs that are not among the biggest in the country to contest for the league; this is something that happens far less often in a European league, with 30+ games played before a champion is crowned.
This system has ensured incredible competitive parity between clubs. In the last 20 short tournaments, 10 different teams have won at least one title. In contrast, the Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A have each experienced only five different champions within the last 20 seasons. The short tournament system results in fewer meaningless games, as almost half the league has a realistic shot at glory.
3) Popularity and Foundations for Growth
While Liga MX is relatively unknown to international audiences, it has already achieved a domestic level of popularity that looks to have all but ensured future growth. Their average attendance of 24,352 fans per game in 2017-18 makes it the fifth best-attended league worldwide behind the Bundesliga, Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. Furthermore, some clubs charge as little as $2.65 for a ticket (!!), rendering the league one of the world’s most affordable.
As the attendance figures would suggest, Mexico is a fiercely passionate soccer country. While fan culture in Liga MX is indeed intense, it often does not descend into the criminality seen in some South American leagues, particularly the Argentinean Superliga. As a result, matches are a spectacle both on and off the pitch, fostering a truly family-friendly atmosphere.
4) What to Look Out For: How Will Chivas Perform?
As the only club in Mexico’s top-flight with a policy of fielding only Mexican players, Chivas have squad-building challenges that do not affect other Liga MX teams. Often, the Goats have to pay exorbitant prices for players, which means that solid investment in the transfer market is important to satisfying their on-field ambitions. However, the club’s spending power has been significantly reduced by the financial problems besetting their owner, Jorge Vergara. Vergara owes Mexican tax authorities a reported $42.4 million, and must pay a reported $31.8 million to regain control of his company, OmniLife.
After finishing a disappointing 17th in the Clausura 2018, significant investment was needed for Chivas to challenge for the Apertura 2018 title. However, Chivas have been weakened instead of strengthened this offseason. Head coach Matías Almeyda and star attacking midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro have both left, in addition to defensive stalwart Oswaldo Alanís and starting goalkeeper Rodolfo Cota. Due to Vergara’s financial problems, these key pieces have not been adequately replaced.
Nevertheless, new coach Jose Saturnino Cardozo has said that “it would be irresponsible” to not view Chivas as title contenders for the Apertura 2018. However, it would be a surprise if Chivas managed to qualify for this season’s Liguilla, much less win the league title. With the club’s victory in the 2018 CONCACAF Champions league ensuring their spot in the FIFA Club World Cup this December, a solid league performance in this Apertura is important to boost confidence ahead of their trip to the United Arab Emirates.