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 By Tom Marshall

Portugal not proving a springboard to Europe's elite clubs for Mexico stars

Sebi Salazar joins the guys to talk Rafa Marquez and the lack of Mexican stars in MLS. Bradley Wright-Phillips calls in to discuss his big season, Kaka's red card and more.

A team made up of players picked up and sold on for profit by Portuguese giant Porto in recent years would take some beating. The lineup would include the likes of Pepe, Nicolas Otamendi, Danilo, Alex Sandro, James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Eliaquim Mangala, Jackson Martinez and, if you go back a few years, Deco.

All were born outside of Portugal, bought by Porto, given a window to shine and moved on to bigger clubs, including Real Madrid, Manchester City, Juventus and Atletico Madrid.

So when Mexico international and Olympic gold-medal winner Hector Herrera first joined the Portuguese club in the summer of 2013, it was widely considered an ideal place to develop in Europe and hopefully to use as a springboard to one of the continent's elite teams.

Herrera seemed to settle well in Portugal and, by 2014, was a regular starter, going on to impress at the World Cup for Mexico and then netting nine goals in 27 starts in the 2015-16 season for Porto. Rumors of interest from clubs like Liverpool and Napoli followed and it appeared Herrera's name was set to be added to the illustrious list of Porto exports.

But the now 27-year-old stayed and, since then, things have not gone to plan. Herrera is struggling to get into coach Sergio Conceicao's team early in the new season, having also found it increasingly difficult under former manager Nuno Espirito Santo.

Including only Portuguese first-division games and European competition in 2017, Herrera has managed only 825 minutes of play, or 40 percent of Porto's total over the two highest-priority tournaments.

There was an injury that kept him out for a couple of weeks in late February and early March, but those are hardly numbers to propel a player to bigger and better things in his club career, even if the former Pachuca player impressed in the Confederations Cup.

Conceicao simply seems to prefer the partnership of Oliver Torres and Danilo Pereira in midfield, with Herrera losing out now that Porto plays with two and not three central midfielders.

Herrera could move on. It isn't like the Baja California native isn't talented, and there have been reports that Porto would accept a €20 million offer for him in what remains of the transfer window. But it wouldn't be a transfer propelled by the Mexican international outgrowing the league, especially when Herrera isn't a regular starter.

Hector Herrera has found minutes harder and harder to come by in Porto's midfield.

Worryingly for Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, Herrera isn't the only El Tri player who hasn't taken Portugal by storm.

Jesus "Tecatito" Corona moved from Twente to Porto in August 2015. While the winger is younger than Herrera at 24, he's coming up to his second anniversary at the club and will be looking for a breakout season.

So far this calendar year, Corona has played only 41 percent (858 minutes) of the total minutes in Porto's Liga NOS and Champions League games, netting only two goals. And Corona only completed one full match in that time. It should be pointed out, however, that he did miss four games through injury.

He hasn't done badly at Porto by any means, but for a player considered one of Mexico's top talents under the age of 25 and whose presence at the Confederations Cup in Russia was missed, the goal-to-minutes-played ratio will likely have to improve if Corona is to push for a move to a top club in one of Europe's elite leagues.

On the positive side for Corona, at least Conceicao has started him in the first two games of this fledgling season.

Then there is the case of Miguel Layun. A stalwart of Mexico since the 2014 World Cup, he has featured in just 22 percent of Porto games in the same top-level competitions in 2017. The defender was exceptional in 2015-16, but now seems to be behind Ricardo Pereira and Alex Telles in the full-back positions. The Veracruz native has started only three league games this year.

Layun needs a late move this transfer window just so he can get some football ahead of Russia 2018, which is a situation club and country teammate Diego Reyes knows all too well. The center-back had a good campaign on loan from Porto at Espanyol last season, but is unlikely to get minutes under Conceicao and has said he wants to return to La Liga, although the price appears to be the sticking point.

Over at rival Benfica, Reyes' friend Raul Jimenez has played only 17 percent of the total minutes the side has played in league and European competition this year. Seven goals in those 353 minutes (one around every 50 minutes) raises the question of why the 26-year-old doesn't start more, but coach Rui Vitoria seems intent on giving the partnership of Haris Seferovic and Jonas time to gel.

Naturally, the lack of playing time for Mexico's Portuguese legion raises questions.

Is the amount of international football that the Mexico national team plays a factor in hindering players' development? Is it that Mexican players are still not as equipped to succeed in Europe as those from other Latin American countries?

Have Herrera, Layun, Corona, Reyes and Jimenez simply been unlucky with coaches? Or does the fact any one of them could return to Liga MX (or perhaps even MLS) and make very good money mean they aren't quite as hungry to succeed?

The answer is likely multi-layered, but the plight of the Mexicans currently in Portugal doesn't provide a good advert for European clubs thinking about dipping into the Mexican market.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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