If Cruz Azul is to claim its 10th Liga MX title this season, Raúl Gutiérrez and the players in the locker room will have to ignore the chaos in the front office and the media exposure it is getting.
Last month, the Cementeros brass made headlines by announcing the club was in pursuit of Uruguay’s Luis Suárez although nobody believed “La Máquina” had any chance of landing the 35-year-old striker who starred at Ajax, Liverpool and Barcelona. (“El Pistolero” eventually signed with Brazil’s Gremio last month.)
Coach Gutiérrez’s player requests were ignored by the Cruz Azul brass – “El Potro” asked for a new striker (Suárez was not on his list) as well as a left winger – but two middling Argentine forwards and two former Cementeros benchwarmers are the sum total of the front office’s production heading into the new Liga MX season.
As the Clausura 2023 gets under way, we’ll take a deep dive into the recent history of this proud Liga MX franchise and the front office turmoil that has spilled out of the sports pages and into the financial and political sections.
Establishing a winning foundation
Cruz Azul traces its First Division history back only 60 years, earning promotion ahead of the 1964-65 season. Five years later, the Cementeros hoisted their maiden Primera División trophy, easing past the second-place Super Chivas 44 points to 38 (back when wins were worth 2 points).
A dozen years later, Cruz Azul was the winningest franchise in Mexican fútbol history, despite arriving nearly 20 years after professional soccer was instituted. In doing so, Cruz Azul earned the nickname “La Máquina Azul.”
After topping the table in the 1979-80 season, the Cementeros had claimed eight league championships in 12 seasons, equaling the number of titles won by Guadalajara, the team that dominated the 50s and 60s to earn the moniker “Campeonisimo.”
Surviving the Droughts
Soon enough, the juggernaut Cruz Azul had built saw its foundation start to crack. “The Blue Machine” would lose three Finals in the next decade (Mexico initiated a playoff system to determine the champion after the 1970-71 season). Making it even worse, the Finals’ losses came against their three great rivals: Pumas (1980-81), Chivas (1986-87) and América (1988-89).
Another Finals setback (against Necaxa, 1994-95) would be suffered before Cruz Azul climbed back atop the Primera División mountain. After a 17-year wait, “Los Celestes” collected their ninth piece of First Division hardware, lifting the Winter 1997 trophy after edging the Esmeraldas of León in an overtime thriller on a Carlos Hermosillo penalty kick.
Cruz Azul fans then had to wait nearly 24 years for their next celebration as the club explored new ways to demonstrate Murphy’s Law, going so far as to suffer the ignominy of seeing a new verb created – cruzazulear: finding a creative way to lose when victory appeared certain.
Cruz Azul fans learn to suffer
The Cementeros produced quite a few quality teams that featured efficient, yet entertaining performances. But late-season stumbles and playoff pratfalls became a habit.
The 24-year drought included plenty of heartbreak as Cruz Azul came up empty in six Finals appearances punctuated by three Finals losses in a four-season span. And adding insult to injury, the last two of those Finals reversals came at the hands of América (Clausura 2013 and Apertura 2018).
It got worse. In December 2020, a surging Cruz Azul squad was poised to reach yet another Liga MX Final, crushing No. 2 seed UNAM 4-0 in the first leg of the semifinal.
Cementeros fans were already anticipating the match-up against top-seeded León, forgetting one thing – the uncanny ability of a talented team to cruzazulear when least expected.
At home for the second leg, UNAM scored three times before the break then found an 89th-minute equalizer that allowed the higher-seeded Pumas to advance to the Final.
However, the humiliating collapse paled in comparison to what was happening upstairs. The scandals that were unveiled before the Apertura 2020 season began will be the subject of Part 2 of this series.