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Thomas Harrison has a look at Pachuca’s admirable focus on youth and how this approach has brought success to the Mexican club.
29th May 2016, the date of the Liga MX Clausura final. Favourites Monterrey had levelled up the two-legged tie in front of over 50,000 fans at their impressive new stadium, and appeared to be heading to victory when opponents Pachuca went down to ten men. But with the game heading for extra-time young substitute Víctor Guzmán got his head on the end of a cross from the left-hand side, and won the Liga MX title for Pachuca in the 93rd minute.
Their first league title for nine years, this was evidence that Pachuca’s methods are working. Unfortunately uncommon for Mexico, with many sides resembling the team depicted by Netflix in the parody series Clúb de Cuervos, Pachuca are a well-run club. Los Tuzos had never won a major trophy until taking the Liga MX crown in 1999. Today they have six Liga MX titles, four CONCACAF Champions League’s and a Copa Sudamericana, the only South American trophy won by a Mexican side.
Alongside the trophies, the most important aspect of Pachuca’s rise to prominence in Mexican fútbol has been their focus on youth development. According to sporting director Marco Garces, the youth emphasis was simply Pachuca’s way of competing with the Mexican elite. Los Tuzos couldn’t compete for the best senior players in Mexico, nor the best 18-year-olds or even 16-year-olds, so they began by competing for 10 and 12-year-olds. Pachuca then attempt to give these young players all they need to develop and succeed at senior level; “they have education, schooling, residence, accommodation, food, nutrition” explained Garces.
Three players have become the embodiment of Pachuca youth policy; Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Erick Gutiérrez and Rodolfo Pizarro. Since the trio emerged into the first-team between 2012 and 2014, they’ve racked up 314 league appearances between them. All three played key roles in Pachuca’s Liga MX title last season. Lozano and Pizarro have also begun to cement places in the Mexico national team squad, although Pizarro has been out injured for the whole of this season so far. Meanwhile, Gutiérrez is likely to make his debut during the upcoming international friendlies against New Zealand and Panama.
The most famous of the three has be “Chucky” Lozano. Lozano was heavily linked to Manchester United this summer, but the move failed to materialise, and the 21-year-old is instead proving once again that he’s one of the best players in Liga MX. With six league goals this season he’s currently the top Mexican scorer in the league, despite missing part of the season whilst he was at the Olympics.
An inverted winger who loves to cut in from the left and shoot with his powerful right-foot, Lozano is quick, has excellent dribbling abilities and is able to get in-behind defences with his intelligent movement off the ball. Vision and awareness on the ball needs work, as does the defensive side of his game, but a move to Europe can’t be far off.
Erick Gutiérrez is a left-footed creative midfield player who has become most comfortable in a deep-lying role, but can also adequately support attacks with driving runs from deep and accurate long-shots. “Guti” has consistently featured near the top of the pass completion percentage charts in recent seasons, and has grown into a leader at Pachuca, currently captaining the side. His lack of Mexico caps is surprising.
The third member of the trio, Rodolfo Pizarro, has unfortunately featured just twice this season after picking up an injury at the Olympics. Originally a right-sided player who featured at both right-back and right-midfield, Pizarro has been converted into a central attacking midfielder by Pachuca boss Diego Alonso. At first, Pizarro looked rather uncomfortable in this role, and seemed to lack the dribbling ability and goal threat to be an attacking midfielder. However, he grew into the position extremely well, and his constant movement and clever link-up play is crucial to connecting Pachuca’s intricate passing moves. He’s been greatly missed this season.
With Pachuca now one of the best clubs in Mexico, and aided financially by the former richest man in the world Carlos Slim, who owns a 30% stake, they’ve been able to bring in top talent in Mexico at older age groups. This was illuminated during the last summer transfer window, as Pachuca made some eye-catching moves. Los Tuzos brought in two of the best Mexico U-20 internationals in José David “Avion” Ramírez and Erick Aguirre, a member of Mexico’s Olympic squad in Raúl López and exciting 22-year-old Brazilian Mateus Goncalves.
At 19 years of age, Erick Aguirre is probably the second best teenage Mexican around, after Monterrey defender César Montes. Aguirre emerged at Monarcas Morelia, and managed 37 appearances there, but struggled to nail down a consistent first-team spot. A versatile player, Aguirre can play at right-back or in any central-midfield role.
The 19-year-old was partially attracted to Pachuca due to their track record of developing youth. “This is a club that’s well known for giving opportunities to their academy players and to young Mexican prospects” said Aguirre. League starts have been limited to just two so far, but Aguirre’s also made six sub appearances, and has started twice in the CONCACAF Champions League.
A raw talent, “Avion” Ramírez always impressed and entertained me with his pace and close control whilst at Chivas. However, manager Matías Almeyda wasn’t much of a fan, and didn’t give him a single start in last season’s Clausura. Since his summer move, “Avion” has struggled for game time at Pachuca as well, but he seems to obvious long-term replacement for “Chucky” Lozano if Lozano moves to Europe. For the time being, Ramírez could learn plenty from watching and training alongside Lozano.
Another player to join from Chivas this summer after falling out of manager Matías Almeyda’s favour is Raúl “Dedos” López. An attacking right-back who can also play right-wing, 23-year-old López has one Mexico cap to his name. Defensively López can be rather suspect, hence why Colombian Stefan Medina is currently starting at right-back for Pachuca, but he can be a danger when putting in crosses from the right-hand side. Standing 6’1” tall, “Dedos” is also a physical and aerial presence.
Brazilian winger/attacking midfielder Mateus Goncalves came from almost nowhere to become, in my opinion, the most exciting player in Liga MX. After spells with Sao Paulo, Palmeiras and Vitória de Guimaraes as a youth player, Mateus had an outstanding year with Coras de Tepic in Mexico’s second tier, scoring 10 goals in 28 games. He joined Pachuca this summer but manager Diego Alonso hasn’t given him much time outside of CONCACAF Champions League games, perhaps not wanting to take a risk on Mateus’ extremely raw talents. Not playing the Brazilian is frustrating for me though, from what I’ve seen Mateus is the fastest player in Mexico with the ball at his feet, and is capable of producing outrageous pieces of skill. Again, we may have to wait until Lozano leaves for Europe until Mateus gets a run in the team.
Their currently isn’t too much evidence that Pachuca will see another generation of similar quality to Lozano, Gutiérrez and Pizarro coming through soon. However, there are a few exciting emerging talents.
The most obvious name is Juan José Calero. Son of former Colombia international and Pachuca goalkeeper for eleven years, Miguel Calero, Juan José is a 17-year-old striker. After impressing in the youth ranks, Calero has been given chances in the Pachuca first-team, during league, cup and continental games. Calero showed he has a good eye for goal when scoring twice off the bench against Pumas earlier this season, and he could have a big future ahead of him.
A couple of young players that have so far failed to nail down first-team spots in Liga MX have been sent out on loan to Chilean side Everton, whom Pachuca’s owners Grupo Pachuca acquired an 80% stake in. Iván Ochoa is a versatile, creative midfielder who possesses good ball control and vision. Meanwhile, Steven Almeida is another quick, tricky winger, who is currently behind likes of Lozano, “Avion” Ramírez, Mateus and Uruguayan Jonathan Urretaviscaya in the pecking order.
Other players that have been sent out on loan after making a few first-team appearances include left-back Osvaldo Rodríguez and winger Héctor Mascorro. Like Ochoa and Almeida, both players are at Grupo Pachuca owned clubs; Club León and Mineros de Zacatecas respectively. Owning four clubs, and even expanding into Chile, gives an indication of Grupo Pachuca’s ambition.
I haven’t discussed any players that are yet to receive first-team appearances as I’m wary of judging players off performances at youth levels. However, Pachuca have plenty of Mexican internationals across various youth age groups, and are usually successful in the Liga MX youth leagues. Analysing the players Pachuca have developed so far, it seems likely that more technically gifted players that are comfortable on the ball and move well off it will come out of the Tuzos academy.
Pachuca have been ambitious in their attempts to combine youth development and long-term thinking, something which there isn’t much of in Mexico, with current success on the field paramount. So far, I believe they’ve done a very good job, and watching how the project at Los Tuzos pans out in the future should be fascinating. Don’t be surprised if in years to come Pachuca are mentioned as one of the world’s great football academies.