Club America's focused transfer policy has led to trophies
Club America is not only Mexico's most successful side, but it is now the undisputed king of CONCACAF, after lifting the CONCACAF Champions League trophy on Wednesday for the seventh time, one more than Cruz Azul.
The institution's hash-tag "100 years of greatness" in celebration of its centennial appears to be increasingly apt. America may be Mexico's most despised team -- according to the yearly polls -- but the giant from Mexico City wins titles like none other in this part of the world and the club will again represent CONCACAF at the Club World Cup in Japan in December.
Domestically, America has just reached a record nine consecutive Liga MX Liguillas. It has also featured in three of the league's last six finals. Considering Mexico's first division has two seasons per calendar year with a playoff in each, making nine straight playoffs shows remarkable consistency.
The person overseeing America's current mini-golden period, which is approaching the success of the club's most famous glory years of the 1980's, is sporting president and former player Ricardo Pelaez. His impact has been significant. Whereas Club America historically built its reputation on big name and flashy signings from abroad to install the image of an all-powerful and mighty club, this current period has been distinct.
Pelaez has followed a policy that shares some similarities with Bayern Munich in that Las Aguilas have simply sat back, watched other Liga MX teams and picked off their best players.
All three goal-scorers in the 4-1 aggregate victory over Tigres in the CCL final followed the same path from a smaller Liga MX team to Las Aguilas: Dario Benedetto moved from Club Tijuana to America, Osvaldo Martinez (who scored twice) from Atlante and Michael Arroyo also from Atlante. Of the others that featured in the final: Pablo Aguilar (signed from Tijuana), Jose Guerrero (Atlante), Darwin Quintero (Santos) and Oribe Peralta (Santos).
Rubens Sambueza, who is a fan favorite and surely now falls into the category of "icon," is the most prominent example. He signed for America from the now defunct Estudiantes Tecos in the summer of 2012 and has become the figurehead of the team's recent success.
America's signings are hardly a coincidence, but instead represent a clear strategy. It's not a cheap way of going about things, but in the case of foreign players, signing players from your own league does reduce the risks of bringing in imports from abroad that may or may not adapt to the Mexican game and life in the North American country.
The coaching role at America has seen little such consistency, however. The defense-minded Antonio Mohamed followed Miguel Herrera in December 2013; then ultra-attacking Gustavo Matosas came in one year later before making way for Ignacio Ambriz in May 2015. But all four lifted at least one trophy.
Current coach Ambriz is a studious former Mexico international who has never really achieved anything of note on his own -- although he was Javier Aguirre's assistant at Atletico Madrid -- and his appointment was met with skepticism by America fans. His style is more about graft and organization than flair, but Ambriz overcame a very good Tigres side and experienced coach Ricardo Ferretti comfortably in the CCL final and now leads his confident team into the Liga MX Liguilla fearing no one.
It would be no surprise if Club America won the 2016 Clausura, although the likes of Monterrey, a resurgent Chivas (if they make the playoffs) and Pachuca will all fancy their chances.
What comes after for America will be fascinating and a test of Pelaez and the club's transfer policy.
In the club's centennial year, all the rumors suggest a big name will be signed. The most outlandish reports have linked Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Radamel Falcao and Fernando Torres with Las Aguilas. Doing so would seem to go against what Pelaez has gradually built up since joining the club in November 2011.
For example, Pelaez thanked everyone from the players' families to the cooks and gardeners at the club's training complex in TV interviews after the CCL final. It highlighted how one of the keys for success of late at the club has been the work ethic and a down-to-earth humility not always in line with the club's history. A genuine global star and ego to match may not work right now for America, especially if they have no history of playing in Mexico.
But that will be something for Pelaez to mull over as he polishes the latest bit of silverware in Club America's expanding trophy cabinet.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.