The story behind Pachuca's meteoric rise in youth production
GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Whenever a Mexico national team list comes out these days, you can bet that there will be at least a few players from Pachuca.
From Erick Gutierrez and Hirving Lozano playing a key role at the under-20 and now the under-23 level, Hector Herrera in the full national team and Pablo Lopez starring at the Under-17 World Cup, Los Tuzos are well represented. And that is no coincidence. While Atlas, Chivas and Pumas are traditionally the Mexican clubs most associated with youth production, Pachuca make a good case to currently being top of the pile.
To find out what has gone on at Pachuca and just how the club works, ESPNFC sat down with sporting director Marco Garces this weekend in Guadalajara to discuss at length the club's secrets and set-up.
Tom Marshall: Where did this emphasis on youth production come from?
Marco Garces: I think that because in our beginnings we weren't a wealthy club -- of course, everything has changed since (Carlos) Slim bought 30 percent of the club -- we couldn't compete for players at the top, so we went further back. We said, "Can we compete for the best 18-year-olds in Mexico? No, not really. Can we compete for the best 16 year olds? Not really."
So we started bringing them in really, really young. We started competing for the best players in Mexico at 10 and 12 years old. Our fuerzas basicas (youth teams) start at 2006, which is 10 or nine years old. Then we get the best players in Mexico, or we believe we get the best players in Mexico, and we give them everything they need. They have education, schooling, residence, accommodation, food, nutrition.
TM: When did it all begin?
MG: 1996 was the first generation, the first cohort that started from age 10, so about 10 years (ago). You're watching them now. The players that are breaking now into first division - "Chucky" (Lozano), "Guti" (Gutierrez), Osvi (Rodriguez), (Rodolfo) Pizarro, well Pizarro was a slightly different story -- those were the first generation that came when they were 10.
TM: What was the role of Dutchman Hans Westerhof, who enjoyed a long and successful coaching career in Mexico at both Chivas and Pachuca, in aiding the development when he came to the club in 2011?
MG: His role was very important because we were very good at scouting, very aggressive at scouting and very good at recruiting because we had a package that was interesting enough. But Hans came and really helped the development part of the players. Now we got the best players, how are we going to develop them? And he was key in that moment in developing a style of play and in introducing everything about fitness, game recovery, performance analysis.
TM: How many players do you have at the club at present?
MG: 250 all the way from the 2006 to the first division.
TM: Many of Pachuca's younger players don't seem to be from the state of Hidalgo. Gutierrez is from Sinaloa, Pizarro is from Tamaulipas and Lopez is from Queretaro. How do you go about scouting? How many scouts do you have?
MG: We have 16 scouts and they are locally based. We divide the whole country into different zones. There are zones that are double-A, as we call them, because they are very important for us and we grab a lot of players from those zones. There are zones that aren't heavily scouted. For example, Jalisco is very important but it is heavily scouted. You have Atlas in here, Chivas in here. So we scout Jalisco, but most of our players come from Culiacan (Sinaloa), we're bringing a lot of players from Cancun, from Queretaro, so we have locally-based scouts and then we have a package to bring them here.
TM: What about the U.S.? Is that a double-A scouting zone?
MG: (laughs) The States has become a very, very interesting place. We have at least 30 million Mexicans living there with a different kind of nutrition, a different kind of education. They are very strong, they are very well-educated. For me, the big problem in bringing in Americans is that they are very, very used to the American way of life. They want the mall, they want the ocean, they want all that and we don't have ocean in Pachuca, we don't have big malls... Southern California is the most interesting part, as well as Texas, Arizona.
TM: Is it fair to say that Porto's Hector Herrera is the shining example for Pachuca's youth players, with the way he came from Baja California and worked his way up to become a full international and a Champions League regular?
MG: Yes. Although many of the players you can see have grabbed "Guti" as an example. He became a professional when he was 18. Herrera was a bit different because he went out to our second division (side) Tampico and then came back. He was a late developer, you could say, while Guti is an early developer.
TM: The likes of Gutierrez, Lozano and Pizarro are clearly standing out at club level and in Mexico's national teams. It seems obvious that European clubs will be tracking them, but how likely is a move for any of them in the near future?
MG: They've garnered a lot of attention. European clubs are talking about them. We haven't received formal offers, but they are talking around the subject all the time. You know how it is and how it works. We hope we can keep them for longer because our situation in the first team is that we are struggling for results. This could be due to in the last three years we've sold our best player every year. It's hard, if you can't keep your best players you're going to struggle in the first division.
TM: Is there an ideal age for these players to move on to Europe?
MG: It doesn't depend on age, it depends on skill. Hans used to say that the challenge must fit the skill. If he is under-challenged then he won't develop, if he is over-challenged, then there'll be stress on him and won't develop. It's an art to try and fit the challenge to the skill.
TM: Have you seen an increase in foreign scouts at youth games?
MG: I think Mexico is becoming an interesting place to scout because the players aren't so expensive. If you think, the '88s were Under-17s World Champions in Peru, the '90s Olympic champions in London, '92s third-place in Colombia in the Under-20, '94s (U-17) World Champions, '96 (U-17s) runners-up in UAE and now you have the '98s playing in Chile at a good level. So you have 10 years and 100 or 120 players that have won on the international stage. I'm not saying there are 100 or 120 players that are interesting enough for Europe, but you probably have four or five.
TM: Has the form of Pablo Lopez at the current Under-17 World Cup surprised you at all?
MG: We knew he was that good. He's a very well-educated boy who is clear in his objectives, he fights for it and you've seen him. He's energetic, dynamic, he's a box-to-box midfielder, he tries, he can play as a No. 6, 8 or 11, he can play in different positions, he never complains. Everything for him is wonderful.
TM: So if a decent offer came in from Europe for Lopez right now, you wouldn't accept?
MG: Hans has a lot of experience in that and he gives the example of Ruud van Nistelrooy, who did very well in Holland (with PSV) and was then sold to Manchester United and he did well in England, while others players were maybe better but went out from Ajax very young having made their debut in their own league and they struggled to find a place.
TM: There seems to be few Liga MX clubs that are giving regular minutes to younger players at present. Pachuca is obviously one of them. Is that part of the club's policy?
MG: We don't do it as a policy, like they have to play. We believe in the standards set in a certain place and we have to develop players up to that standard. We will not play players only for a policy. They have to reach certain standards.
TM: Sometimes it feels Mexican football operates in a kind of bubble. It is difficult to get into and work in as an outsider and relatively few break out. For you personally, how did going to Liverpool to study a degree in Football and Science at John Moores University help in terms of expanding the way you looked at the game?
MG: It helps a lot. I played professional football for 12 years and I used to read a lot during that time. When I read the book "Science and Soccer" by Tom Reilly, I knew that was it, I just knew it. I agreed completely with everything he was trying to do: a structured practice, a structured way of analyzing and looking at football. While here in Mexico it was like the knowledge of enlightened people that you can't really access, like "that scout has the eye." I didn't really understand, "How do you get the eye?" I've been watching football my whole life and I can't get the eye. So when I went there, it really changed my perspective on many, many things, on the way to work, on the way to analyze ... (Mexico national team coach) Juan Carlos Osorio did the same (course).
TM: If you could change one thing in the Mexican game, what would it be?
MG: I think we have to grow a lot in the expectations of players. We need to become a lot more professional. There are a lot of things that are still accepted that shouldn't be accepted. The way we eat, nutrition is a big, big question mark for us. The social behavior. We are living in a broken society; you see all the crime and all that. And sometimes it hard to make the players see that it's not alright to drink, it's not alright to eat that, you need to become professional in everything you do. When you go to Norway or Spain, other countries have that. We still don't have that performance atmosphere, they aren't crazy to become better and we need that.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.