On October 1, Chivas Guadalajara lost 1-0 at home to Queretaro. Following that loss, los Gallos Blancos sit just one point behind the Goats, with a goal differential that is two goals better. A 1-0 loss to this team should not be embarrassing, but it was the straw that broke the camel's back for Chivas owner Jorge Vergara. Manager Jose Luis Real was sacked, replaced by Fernando Quirarte. He has not managed a top flight side since 2006. Real has been moved back into an administrative role and his yet to decide whether or not he will stay with the club.
With Real at the helm at the end of last season, Chivas qualified for the Liguilla and lost to eventual champions UNAM Pumas. This season, they didn't lose until their sixth game and still remain in a Liguilla place. Real is the seventh manager to lose his job after just 11 games in the 2011 Apertura, and he's now being seen as a symbol of what's wrong with Mexican football. Managers aren't given enough time to build a team and owners make snap judgments based on individual bad results, and Real has been painted as a victim of that systemic problem.
Without a doubt, there is a problem in Mexican football with owners not giving managers enough time. But, if there is going to be a symbol for this problem, it should not be Jose Luis Real.
Despite the fact that his team currently sits in sixth place, his sacking makes sense if it was carried out for the right reasons. The culture in Mexico is such that Vergara could just be a man in a rage who made a snap decision, but if he thinks through Real's decision making throughout the 2011 Apertura, he'll notice patterns of poor choices.
Over Chivas' run of five games without a loss to start the season, defensive midfielder Patricio Araujo was one of the best players in the league. With him marshaling the center of midfield in Chivas' attacking 4-2-3-1, he gave them balance and helped the team easily transition when they lost the ball or gained possession.
On September 17, Chivas hosted Puebla in a league match. While Puebla made some great offseason moves to turn a terrible team into a respectable one, they are still only a fringe Liguilla contender and a team that should not be able to get three points off of Chivas in Guadalajara. Puebla won 4-1, completely dominating the Goats in the second half. Lucas Silva, Luis Garcia and DaMarcus Beasley - players who are all more or less spare parts who have recently failed elsewhere - had fantastic games.
Araujo did not have a good game, and he was dropped. For the final two games of Real's reign, Patricio Araujo - his best player up until this point - started on the bench. He was replaced by Jorge Enriquez, who is a promising young player, but Enriquez did not perform well in either of the next two games. Chivas drew Cruz Azul the following week, then fell to Queretaro in Real's final game in charge.
What happened to Araujo? Sure, it was silly for Real to drop him for one bad performance, but the performance was still a stunning one. One of the best players in the Primera to that point and one of the most consistent players in the Chivas team through all of the instability of the last five years shouldn't be having games as poor as Araujo had against Puebla.
While it's over the top and often irresponsible to blame a player's performance on a formation, Araujo was played in a different role in this game than he did in the beginning of the season. To start the season, 'Cubo' Erick Torres was away on international duty with the Mexico U-20 squad, then was allowed some time off to recover from a slight nagging injury. When he returned, Real had to find a way to put both Torres and Omar Arellano in the same team. As they're both strikers, 4-4-2 was about the only practical solution.
Patricio Araujo is not a box to box midfielder, and Mexican football isn't exactly littered with teams that play a flat 4-4-2 that includes a player who just sits in front of the back four. Playing him out of that role doesn't make any since, nor does switching out of a formation and a system that produced fantastic results.
Torres made his first start on September 2, a 1-0 win over Tijuana. Though Chivas were able to get a goal and nick three points, they looked poor and the reasons were obvious. Torres did not play well, Araujo looked out of place in his new role, and worst of all, Marco Fabian was moved from his central attacking midfield role into a role back on the wing.
This formation and team selection continued into the 1-1 draw against Santos Laguna and the 1-4 loss to Puebla. Real dropped Torres for the Queretaro match, but he also failed to move Fabian back into his old role and re-instate Araujo into the team. His team played poorly in a loss, and just like that, Real was gone. Two months after topping the Mexican Primera and outplaying Barcelona in a friendly, Jose Luis Real was out of a job.
It seems ridiculous to fire someone who had his team in sixth place and who was coming off a playoff appearance, but Real dug his own grave. The rash way that he re-instated Cubo Torres, changed the system and dropped Araujo was irresponsible, and he got poor results as a result of these decisions. Chivas's slump was not simply a tough run of form or a rocky patch that needed to be fought through. It was caused by the manager's decisions.
This is not Santos Laguna, who sold their best player and gave Dario Cocca no money to build a team. This is not Estudiantes Tecos, who fired 'Chelis' Jose Luis Sanchez Sola in the beginning of August. This is not Tijuana, who fired a talented young manager who got them promoted in Joaquin de Olmo. Chivas fired a manager who caused a slump with his bad decisions. He has some of the most talented players in the league, easily the best youngsters in the league, and arguably the deepest team in the league. Completely changing a winning team for the sake of change was terrible decision making, and he has paid the price.
It's entirely possible that Vergara's ownership style and the culture of Mexican football pressured Real into making irresponsible decisions that he wouldn't have made otherwise. It's also possible that the word came down from on high that Torres, the so-called 'New Chicharito', was to play in the first XI whenever he was healthy, no matter what. If either of these things were the case, I personally feel bad for Real. It's quite possible that Vergara and the rest of the Chivas board made it impossible to do his job.
But, we don't know that, and we can only write about what we know. What we do know is that Chivas are in a bad run of form. That run of form was caused by bad team selections. There isn't a much better reason to fire a manager.
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