🇲🇽 Why young journalists are giving fans in Mexico more stats & tactics, less shouting & drama
Plus: Thoughts on the draw for the 2022 Concacaf Champions League
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The legendary Portugal manager Cândido de Oliveira always thought his job went far beyond coaching only the players on the field.
Using a tactical system to get victories was important, de Oliveira believed, but so too was educating fans about what was happening, how the game worked and showing a casual observer what they otherwise might have missed. To that end, in 1945, he founded A Bola, the Portuguese sports newspaper. It’s still going strong today and, while it has evolved with the modern era, is still largely abiding by those principles.
Mexico never had a Cândido de Oliveira.
There are fine sports newspapers in the soccer-obsessed country, but what dominates are the late-night television programs. Those shows are moved forward by debate, hot takes and controversy.
But that’s beginning to change, with a group of young reporters leading the charge to give fans in Mexico more tactical analysis and utilize analytics rather than settle for a post-match analysis about, well, ‘huevos’.
“I think there should be a bit more specialized press, understanding that ultimately the clicks and the ratings are what drives things,” TUDN analyst Marc Crosas, a former Barcelona youth player at La Masia who finished his career in Mexico and has made North America his home. “We also have to understand that maybe it’s about what people are asking for, not as much tactical chat or understanding the sport but more drama, more controversy. I think there should be an equilibrium.”
Crosas has helped find that balance with his ‘Pizarra de Marc” segments on TUDN, meeting with Liga MX managers in front of the whiteboard and running through their tactics or a preferred lineup.
The idea came about during the Euros, when Crosas analyzed tactical matchups on his own as content for Univision’s free streaming app PrendeTV. When former teammates, other ex-players and others in Mexican soccer reached out to share how much they enjoyed it, Crosas and producers rebooted the idea ahead of the Liguilla.
Now, he says, it will be a regular segment for the upcoming Clausura. Just because a manager has already appeared doesn’t mean they won’t be welcomed back. Atlas’ Diego Cocca explained his transition from a back four to a three-center-back system prior to Los Rojinegros historic run to the title, but Crosas won’t try to get Cocca on again to discuss new additions or tactical tweaks from the last month or so.
The 33-year-old former midfielder is quick to point out he’s not the only TUDN analyst digging into the tactical side of the game. Former Puebla assistant Ruso Zamogilny and Diego Balado also discuss those themes, and Crosas praised veteran commentator Paco Villa for being open to new ideas as well.
Even so, this media revolution trends young.
“I really like this transformation we’re seeing, but also when there is something different … a lot of the press who has been here a long time or maybe that doesn’t know another way, what do they say, or what’s the response? ‘They’re vendiendo humo.’” Crosas said of press branding mostly foreign managers as smoke salesmen. “You hear it a lot. ‘Se vende humo.’
“No, no, look … like players and managers who get better or train better every tournament, the press also has to be more prepared. I think there’s a group of young journalists coming into journalism in Mexico who are very, very qualified.”
One of those journalists is Pepe del Bosque, who works as an analyst for TNT Sports on UEFA Champions League matches and also founded the analytics-friendly Editorial Puskas.
He said it’s understandable if some people get home tired after a long day and want to be distracted by simple debates about which team played harder or wanted it more. Yet, he believes that’s selling viewers short.
“A lot of people don’t want to think about it intellectually, but I think the game is enjoyed more when you explain why things are happening,” Del Bosque said this week.
“As members of the press, we have to be this bridge with the fans to try and explain and interpret those things” a manager does in a match which may escape attention.
Being a Spanish-speaking country, soccer fans in Mexico are used to consuming the content produced in places like Spain or Argentina, where advanced metrics are seen more often than in Mexico and may wonder why they can’t find the same information about the local league.
“The Mexican fan is very ‘futbolero’ but very little ‘futbolizado,’” Del Bosque said. “What do I mean? I mean the fan often is very passionate but not very reflective.
“I think the change is happening because new generations want more analysis and want to understand the game better and also are better connected with international soccer. Today, you can turn on the TV or use the internet to see (any international league). When you have more contact with this football, the discourse the Mexican fan can take on is going to include more of this analytic portion.”
Alan Sañudo, a soccer-obsessed engineer with training in mathematics and statistics, saw that gap in information and started Statiskicks three years ago. The social media accounts explore advanced metrics for teams in Liga MX and abroad. The reception wasn’t warm at first but now it’s a resources used by broadcasters like Crosas and plenty of others in Mexico and abroad.
“Teams like Chivas or América have this influence where even though it’s objective and a stat, fans would say, ‘Oh, you root for Chivas or for América,’ But little by little we earned this credibility where people realized we didn’t favor a player or a team because at the end of the day we don’t work for anybody,” Sañudo said. “We have the social media to put out what deserves to be out there and highlighted."
It’s not quite right now to say Statiskicks isn’t working with anyone. Sañudo now has a small team and is launching a platform called Statiskicks Pro for teams and media outlets and also works with clubs in Mexico to provide analytics.
Sañudo said he would put Liga MX teams’ general interest in advanced metrics well behind most clubs in Europe and MLS but level with large South American leagues like those in Brazil and Argentina.
“What I’m sure of is that in Mexico the interest is growing,” he said. “Clubs are seeking us out and I know they’re talking to our competitors too. Everyone has their niche, every business has their pros and cons, but I can assure you people are looking closely at the numbers and clubs are looking for people that can help them get to the next level.”
All of it adds up into a sports media ecosystem that may hew more closely to what we see in countries where scandal takes a backseat to soccer and fans are looking more into why a team won or lost on the field rather than chalking it up to effort or the position at which a player lined up.
The debate shows aren’t going away any time soon, and that’s OK. But perhaps there’s more and more space for deeper thought.
“When there’s a Chivas-América, there will be controversy,” Crosas said. “When Chivas puts out a tweet saying Atlas has two titles compared to their 12, there’s controversy. It always has been there, and it always will be there.
“We all like it, but you can’t forget that soccer is a sport you can analyze! I love analyzing it, and I think we’re on a good path.”
CCL draw provides a path for an MLS team…at least to final
It’s never a great idea to make definitive statements about a tournament that gets as weird as the Concacaf Champions League. That’s especially true when we still don’t know exactly what those teams will look like in terms of roster, though, critically it seems none of the MLS teams involved will be changing managers.
What we can be sure about, however, is that there is a path for MLS on that left side of the bracket. If MLS squads can get past the Central American opposition (certainly not a lock), they would have three teams in the quarterfinals and at least one guaranteed semifinalist. León is a strong team, though one getting older, but has its historic struggles in CCL play, so a spot in the finals isn’t out of the question.
Liga MX essentially has the same setup on the other side of the bracket, with its weakest teams, a depleted (though plucky) Pumas and a Santos Laguna squad changing managers, drawing difficult first-round games but still favored in those ties.
One thing that is for sure for the MLS teams this time around: There are no excuses.
The MLS season starts earlier this year, nosed forward by the November-December FIFA World Cup. That means players should be in preseason in January and well on the way to full fitness and understanding the manager’s tactics by the opening games on Feb. 15-17. Liga MX clubs will have a bit of a head start (some are in preseason right now ahead of the Clausura kickoff the first weekend of January), but this is as close to a level playing field we’re going to get in terms of season start, getting in rhythm, etc., at least until the new format goes into place.