Liga MX Hot Stove League: Is ‘La Fiera’ reloading?

León reached its third Liga MX Final in the past five full seasons, but that doesn't mean there won't be changes. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images)
León reached its third Liga MX Final in the past five full seasons, but that doesn't mean there won't be changes. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Leon transfer plans
There are whispers that long-time León captain and three-time Liga MX champ Luis Montes could be on the move this winter with UNAM a possible destination. (Photo by Leopoldo Smith/Getty Images) /

León entered the winter transfer window coming off a loss in the Liga MX finals, its third finals appearance in the past five complete seasons. In those five seasons, the Esmeraldas entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed twice (winning the Guardianes 2020 title as the top seed), once as the No. 2 seed and this past season “La Fiera” was the No. 3 seed.

With that resume, one might think the club would not be very active during the short winter break. That might not be the case, however.

So far, the only confirmed departures are those of two back-ups – striker Emmanuel Gigliotti and defender Ramiro González – while coming on board is Uruguayan scorer Federico Martínez (9 goals in 14 games with Uruguay’s Liverpool).

Returning is burly forward Leo Ramos who is back in the fold after his loan deal with Bolívar ended.

Liga MX rumor mill doesn’t spare León

With coach Ariel Holan preparing for his second season in charge, it should be no surprise that he might want to renovate the aging roster that enjoyed so much success under Ignacio Ambriz (September 2018-June 2021).

But the fact that long-time captain Luis Montes is included in Hot Stove League whispering campaigns is a bit of surprise. Yes, “El Chapo” is long in the tooth (35 years old), but he has been the heart-and-soul of “La Fiera” since joining the team in 2011 when it was buried in second division. He is one of the two remaining links to the recent glory years – back-to-back Liga MX championships in 2013-2014.

Unfortunately, Montes had an injury-riddled Apertura 2021, appearing in only six games, and his contract expires in June. That combination of facts could induce the front office to move the legendary captain while the club can get something in return.

This week, stories emerged that the Pumas were interested in acquiring Montes, a move that would allow him to be a mentor to the promising young midfielders in UNAM’s locker room. But “El Chapo” could decline the trade deal and decide to finish out his contract and retire wearing León’s colors.

Another key cog in León’s rise to prominence is Fernando Navarro, the other link to the Esmeraldas’ recent glory years (we mustn’t overlook the fact that “La Fiera” won four Liga MX titles between 1948 and 1956).

Navarro thrived under Ambriz as a hybrid attacking fullback, an amorphous position that often saw the energetic defender move forward into a “False 9” role when León moved forward.

The diminutive 32-year-old has also dealt with injuries, missing 11 games in the Guardianes 202 season and 14 games this past season. And this week, Navarro told team officials he would like to move to another team.

This, naturally, prompted stories that Navarro would be reunited with Nacho Ambriz who just took the Toluca job. Though there is undeniable interest among the “Choriceros” brass, nothing has been confirmed.

Another player linked to the Diablos Rojos and a reunion with Ambriz is peripatetic winger Jean Meneses. The Chile international is in demand with offers coming in from Spain (Getafe is most often mentioned) and the 28-year-old appears willing to test the waters, either in La Liga or with Toluca. His contract expires in December 2023, so León can afford to be patient and wait for an irresistible proposal.

Welcome to Liga MX, Fede!

Although the return of Leo Ramos has not garnered much attention, the Esmeraldas earned plaudits for the way they announced the acquisition of Fede Martínez.  (Their Christmas message also garnered considerable praise.)

Martínez could be destined to slot into the center forward position, although he has spent much of his career on the wing. If the club moves on from Meneses, it’s possible that the 25-year-old from Montevideo is installed as a winger.

As such, it remains to be seen what Holan and the front office will do to address the center forward position that was problematic this past season.

Gigliotti, 34, is on the back side of his career while first-year Esmeralda Santi Ormeño was unable to win the starting striker spot until the final few games. As such, Holan most often opted to start Víctor Dávila up front though the Chilean is more effective on the wing or playing behind a center forward.

So Martínez might be given the chance to play striker or Holan could work with Ormeño who proved so effective in the point man role with Puebla.

Cash-strapped Chivas contemplate moves. dark. Next

There are still more than five weeks remaining in the transfer window (although the Liga MX season kicks off on Jan. 7), so León has plenty of time to finalize its roster.