27 February, 2008

Are You Mexican or Mexican’t?

A question that perhaps we’ve all considered at some stage in our lives, but for young striker Jesus Padilla, it’s all proved a bit too much for him. You see, Jesus is a rising star at Mexico’s prominent Chivas club, based in Guadalajara, and they have a strict tradition of only fielding Mexican players. It’s a policy that has it’s advocates and also its critics, for obvious reasons, but the fans there love that no foreigners will ever play for their proud old club.

Padilla has thusfar appeared mainly just for Chivas’ second division feeder club Tapatio, but he already has been given the nickname of “El Gringo” just because he spent a couple of years living in California. Sports Illustrated however have decided that it’s their duty to ruin the poor kid’s career, and just recently dug up evidence that he was in fact born in the US, and not as his Chivas papers say, in the Mexican state of Jalisco. It’s hard to conceive, but to all intents and purposes Padilla is finished at Chivas because of this technicality, and is likely to have to return to the States to have any further chance of raising his footballing stock.

To all of you thinking that this is probably all just posturing, Chivas really are serious, as demonstrated by the case of Gerado Mascareno about a decade ago now. He had enjoyed a decent career around the Mexican league before in 1998 earning a dream move to Chivas. It then came out that Mascareno was actually born in Maryland, USA, and almost instantly he was shown the backdoor at the Guadalajara club. Former Chivas player, and current Chivas USA captain, Claudio Suarez said that put simply, the fans would never accept anyone not 100% Mexican: “In Guadalajara, there is a great passion for the club and some bring up ‘because they only play with Mexican players.’ So there was the conflict with the fans who did not want him (Mascareno) to play there anymore.”

Thankfully for Mascareno he had many previous years experience under his belt, so was able to prolong his career for several more seasons. For Padilla however, things are less certain. Recent official word from Chivas is that they will consider the player “Mexican enough for us” (Spanish speakers amongst you check here for the full statement) and continue playing him, despite their previous history, but whether Padilla will ever have the fans full support is yet to be seen.

Another high profile example of this that many people aren’t aware of is Athletic Bilbao in La Liga. They are famous in Spain for a strict youth team policy of only bringing young players into their set-up who are from the Basque region in the country. Additionally, Bilbao will also only sign professional players native to one of the seven Basque provinces: Biscay, Guipúzcoa, Álava and Navarre in Spain, and Labourd, Soule and Lower Navarre in France. As with Chivas, this has gained the club a fair amount of controversy, and accusations of racism, but again fans point to the incredible passion within the team, and the promotion of club loyalty in the region.

So given the somewhat cosmopolitan nature of the English Premier League at the moment, is a policy like this ever likely to be considered over here by anyone? Unlikely because of the racist implications, and opposition to EU ‘freedom of work’ laws, but part of me can’t help but feel that it’s admirable for a club to take a stand to encourage homegrown talent and local pride.