Erick Gutierrez's PSV move shows how Pachuca is a model of youth development
On one hand, the transfer of Gutierrez to Europe is vindication of a player development process that is proving to be the most successful in Mexico. On the other, the club hasn't reached the playoffs in Liga MX in the last three seasons and has just lost its captain and arguably its best player.
For the 23-year-old Mexico international known as "Guti," it was a no-brainer: moving to a league that has been kind to Mexicans should be a perfect launchpad from which to continue to develop, under the radar of bigger European clubs and alongside his long-time friend Hirving Lozano. Playing in the Champions League group stage against the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur propels him into the spotlight almost instantly.
But it was no guarantee that Gutierrez would be sold this summer and after PSV's first bid it looked very much like the left-footed player would be staying put.
"The initial formal offer was made like two months ago, but it was very low and it was a loan option, so we didn't want to take it, we didn't even consider it, we didn't even start negotiating. It was so far from what we were expecting that we didn't try to," recounted Pachuca sporting director Marco Garces in English in an interview with ESPN FC.
A loan option was never going to tempt Pachuca to relinquish a player who has been one of its model youth academy graduates.
But when PSV Eindhoven edged closer to the Champions League group stage, with all the income that that entails, a deal was thrashed out relatively quickly.
"Actually the time we closed it up was during the BATE Borisov [Champions League qualifying second leg] game," explained Garces. "They were in the stadium and they were negotiating and then when they scored the second it all went through. Much easier!"
It's the second major move in Gutierrez's fledgling career. The 2018 World Cup squad member arrived in Pachuca from the coastal state of Sinaloa at age 11, stayed in the club's youth academy, was starting in a Liga MX final before he'd turned 19 and was captaining Pachuca and Mexico's Under-23s at age 20.
"He was the captain not because we appointed him, but because all the youngsters around him really respected him and wanted to be near him," said Garces.
Adapting to life in the Netherlands won't be easy for Gutierrez, who Garces describes as a "very much a Mexican boy, he loves his food, loves his music."
But even though Pachuca could've made more money selling to a Mexican club -- something that may surprise those outside of Mexico -- the Tuzos were never going to sell domestically, as the club has in recent years with top players like Jurgen Damm (to Tigres), Rodolfo Pizarro (to Chivas) and Jonathan Urretaviscaya (Monterrey).
"There were other clubs, European and Mexican, but we didn't want to sell to a Mexican [club] because we are sick of creating our own competition," Garces stated.
"Yes, we could've got more money, but it all depends because we kept a percentage, around 20 percent, and if he does well and then he is sold we could make the same money as here [in Mexico]."
Gutierrez's technical ability, clean passing and experience -- the midfielder played 144 times in Liga MX -- will be difficult to replace.
Garces suggests that youngsters Pablo Lopez -- who started and scored in Pachuca's 3-1 win over Chivas on Saturday -- and Jose Padilla could be in line for more minutes now Gutierrez has departed and that Ivan Ochoa -- currently in Chile with Everton (Pachuca's sister club) -- could well get his opportunity next season.
"But it's kind of unfair with the youngsters coming through to try to get them to do what Pizarro and Chucky [Lozano] and Guti did so now we have to be patient and we have to ask for patience from our supporters," stated Garces.
Getting that balance between producing homegrown talents and being competitive in Liga MX is an existential challenge for the club, admits Garces, who also points out that Pachuca did win the 2017 CONCACAF Champions League and represented the region at the Club World Cup last winter.
And when it comes to scouting and bringing in younger players, the examples of Hector Herrera, Lozano and now Gutierrez breaking through at Pachuca, establishing themselves and making the leap to Europe mean it is easier to attract top talent.
"It's become much easier [to recruit] and now it even happens that we get calls for players that we haven't scouted and if there is someone who plays well he wants to come to us," said Garces. "We've had the best player from the other team asking after the game if he can come with us. It's becoming really good."
Erick Aguirre, Victor Guzman, Tony Figueroa, Padilla and Roberto de la Rosa are potentials to be next in line to follow in Gutierrez's footsteps as the Pachuca production machine continues to churn out Mexican talent.