One week until the Apertura 2022 kicks off at Necaxa’s Estadio Victoria and most Liga MX teams are still tweaking their rosters. However, while one renowned club has not recruited a single player, a rival group is on the verge of acquiring a La Liga franchise.
While Toluca, UNAM, Necaxa and the Chivas have been busy, the mighty Tigres have been notably quiet. Plenty of whispers and chatter, but no action to speak of.
A month ago, a popular rumor featured the improbable transfer of Olympique Marseille veteran Dmitri Payet to join forces with countrymen André-Pierre Gignac and Florian Thauvin, both of whom played for Marseille.
This week, we’re hearing about América’s stalwart defender Bruno Valdez pleading with his former coach, Miguel Herrera, to bring him into Tigres camp (so he can turn down the offer from lowly FC Juárez). We do know “los felinos” are looking to improve their back line (22-year-old El Tri newbie Israel Reyes is their preferred target) and they have money to burn, so a Valdez deal would not be a shocker.
Liga MX group expanding into Spain
So while the Tigres have made only modest changes to their roster – defender Eduardo Tercero back after loan to Tijuana expired, back-up defenders Aldo Cruz (loan deal from Tijuana expired) and Juan José Purata (loaned to Atlanta United) are out the door – northern rivals Santos Laguna and Atlas have been broadening their vision.
Of course I’m referring to Grupo Orlegi – the conglomerate that owns Santos Laguna and defending Liga MX champs Atlas – and its bid to acquire Sporting Gijón, a second-division club in Spain.
Orlegi president Alejandro Irarragorri (say that five times real fast) met with Gijón Mayor Ana González this week and toured Sporting’s facilities as negotiations were winding down. One report claims Orlegi will hand over 35-40 million euros to acquire 72% of ownership, but club debt and rents could push the amount up considerably. And the transaction does not include ownership of the stadium, the Estadio El Molinón.
This new enterprise reflects Irarragorri’s confidence in the Orlegi brand and its business plan. The conglomerate only joined Liga MX in 2014, gaining control of Santos Laguna and all club facilities. A year later, the Guerreros won the franchise’s fifth Liga MX title before claiming its sixth in 2018. Orlegi established a solid foundation, investing in its academy and developing youngsters to feed the senior team, one of whom transferred to the English Premier League as a teenager (Santi Muñoz joined Newcastle United days after turning 19).
In 2016, the group purchased the Tampico Madero franchise, but re-sold the second-division team in 2022. In 2019, Orlegi bought the Atlas Fútbol Club from TV Azteca, determined to turn one of the oldest Liga MX franchises into a winner.
Less than three years later, the Zorros won their first Liga MX championship in 70 years, then successfully defended their title last season.
Flush with this success, Orlegi and Irarragorri are confident they can export their system, hoping to re-establish Sporting Gijón in LaLiga for the first time since 2017.