As the Clausura 2023 gets under way, we’re taking a deep dive into Cruz Azul’s recent history.
In Part I of Deconstructing Cruz Azul, we outlined the beginnings of this proud Liga MX franchise, while in Part II we examined its unique organizational structure as well as early indications of internal turbulence.
In Parts III and IV, we looked at the emergence of the legal troubles and allegations that ensnared the Cooperativa La Cruz Azul and its soccer team and in Part V, we we saw how the Cementeros rose above the chaos to end their 24-year league title drought.
Part VI took us through the nadir of the Apertura 2022 and to the cusp of the New Year which is where we pick up in the 7th and final installment.
Gutiérrez given the reins at Cruz Azul
Even after restoring equilibrium to the crisis-ridden Cementeros last season, the front office demurred, letting “El Potro” swing in the wind nearly two months before finally confirming in early December that Gutiérrez would be retained as head coach.
The newly entrenched manager submitted his wish list, a striker and a fullback as top priorities. The ensuing activities have demonstrated that the Cementeros’ front office remains woefully disorganized.
As the Jan. 8 season opener approached, Cruz Azul had signed just two players, neither of whom conformed to Gutiérrez’s wish list. Back in mid-December headlines blared that the Cementeros were recruiting legendary Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez, but skeptics scoffed at the notion suggesting it was just an empty headline grab. (“El Pistolero” eventually signed with Brazil’s Gremio.)
“El Potro” and his men ignored the noise and focused on training camp, then made a statement in the preseason Copa por México, topping their group to advance to the Dec. 30 final where they defeated Guadalajara.
But a “friendly” tournament is hardly a measuring stick and Cruz Azul opened the Clausura 2023 with an insipid draw at Tijuana before coming up short against their new antagonist – Monterrey – on Matchday 2.
Saturday’s loss in Estadio Azteca won’t dictate the direction of the Cementeros’ season especially as the club has until Feb. 1 to address roster shortcomings … though if past is prologue Cruz Azul fans should not hold their breath.
Who is in charge?
It’s still not clear who has his hand on the rudder at La Noria of late, nor does it seem that the problem will be clarified soon.
Víctor Velázquez – the president of the Cooperative La Cruz Azul board of directors – is the one apparently making the decisions, but he is not a fútbol man.
Critics have posited that general manager Álvaro Dávila was unjustly fired in January 2022 (perhaps Velázquez felt Dávila was getting too much credit) after which Jaime Ordiales was reinstated as GM six months after he had been shuttled out of the front office. Still, he remained on staff as a consultant for Velázquez.
This directly impacted the locker room because the well-respected Dávila was well-liked by the players while Ordiales had a history with then-coach Juan Reynoso, causing an even greater rift.
The ongoing financial difficulties at Cruz Azul caused by the money-laundering and corruption scandal involving the previous administration – and the related judicial procedures – have no doubt tied management’s hands, but Ordiales’ personnel decisions last year were sketchy (Lucas Passerini, Alex Castro, Pablo Ceppelini, an overpriced two-year extension granted to Sebastián Jurado just weeks before he lost the starting goalie job).
Then after completely botching the Cruz Azul roster last summer (as discussed in Part VI), Ordiales somehow got a promotion – he was named director of operations for Mexico’s national team.
Journalist Javier Alarcón made the outrageous claim that Ordiales was awarded the new job precisely because he bungled the situation for the Cementeros. Alarcón’s argument is that the slip-shod operation in La Noria helped rivals América.
In addition to the roster foul-ups, Ordiales fumbled a chance to bring back striker Jonathan Rodríguez who ended up signing with América and that pleased Televisa owner Emilio Azcárraga (also the owner of Club América) and federation president Yon de Luisa, a former América executive.
OK … that might seem far-fetched, but it dovetails with other reporting.
Ordiales attempted to install an acolyte – Carlos López de Silanes – as his successor, but he was seen as a lackey, especially as Ordiales had imposed him on Diego Aguirre’s coaching staff.
The scuttlebutt was that he acted as Ordiales’ ears in the locker room. López’s candidacy to be the new GM was rejected in October, but he remains in the building though his role is unclear.
Then legendary Cruz Azul goalie Oscar Pérez was left with the impression that he would get the job (Pérez was tasked with the Luis Suárez negotiations) only to be shuffled aside. Two weeks ago, “El Conejo” was again identified as the most likely to take over front office duties. To date, nothing has ben confirmed.
Oh, and while the front office was left unmanned in November, Cruz Azul failed to submit paperwork to FIFA to get reimbursed for its players who were on World Cup rosters (Uriel Antuna and Carlos Rodríguez with Mexico; Michael Estrada with Ecuador). It appeared that the front office shambles had cost the Cementeros big money until FIFA allowed the club to submit a late request.
So it’s no wonder the franchise seems adrift, a happenstance illustrated by the recent scandal involving long-time defender Julio César Domínguez.
“Cata” threw a big birthday party for his 12-year-old son … a narco-themed party, that is. The tone-deaf decision infuriated fans and the general public and was a clear violation of the league’s morality clause.
Cruz Azul “punished” Domínguez by forcing a public apology from the defender and suspended him three games. League officials folded their arms and looked askance even though bylaws provide authority to rescind a player’s contract.
All things considered, this seems certain to be another long season for Cementeros fans and coach Gutiérrez has his work cut out for him. Here’s hoping that whomever takes over in the Cruz Azul front office gives “El Potro” a genuine opportunity to prove himself and provides the younger players on “La Máquina” roster the chance to develop.