Guadalajara, León find themselves hunting for head coaches

Veljko Paunovic quits Chivas; Esmeraldas hand Nicolás Larcamón his walking papers
Veljko Paunovic reportedly turned in his resignation during the Apertura 2023 season but was talked into staying. This week, he repeated his request and was allowed to leave.
Veljko Paunovic reportedly turned in his resignation during the Apertura 2023 season but was talked into staying. This week, he repeated his request and was allowed to leave. / Simon Barber/GettyImages

And the Liga MX coaching carousel spins a few more times

The lull between the Apertura 2023 Finals matches affords us time to catch up on a pair of surprising managerial openings.

During Thursday’s first-leg contest, word leaked that Veljko Paunovic had resigned as coach of Guadalajara less than seven months after leading the Chivas to the championship series, the franchise’s first Finals appearance in six years.

The Serbian manager had asked out of his contract on Tuesday and after two days of discussions, his departure was confirmed. He leaves after helping the Chivas become Liga MX protagonists again – the team earned the No. 3 seed – but was done in by locker room turmoil and insubordination that saw three players suspended during the season.

The Serbian manager had asked out of his contract on Tuesday and resisted the club’s pleas to stay on. His insistence that he was done opens the door for one of the more desirable jobs in Liga MX.

Immediately, commentators identified former Real Madrid midfielder Fernando Gago as the front-runner for the position.

The 37-year-old Argentine spent four-and-a-half years with los Merengues though he never fulfilled the promise he’d shown at Boca Juniors.

Gago retired in 2020 and quickly transitioned into coaching, first at modest Aldosivi before taking over at Racing Club where he won a couple of trophies.

An interesting side-note that has emerged is that should Gago end up with the job he is likely to bring along Federico Insúa as an assistant. Insúa is familiar with Liga MX, spending three seasons in Mexico where he played with América and Necaxa.

More often than not, Chivas Nation does not take kindly to former Americanistas wearing the team’s colors. Perhaps since Insúa only spent a year with the Aguilas, he won’t be tormented by the “home fans.”

Esmeraldas suddenly have a job opening

León is already back home from the FIFA Club World Cup and the team’s brief appearance in Saudi Arabia was costly for Nicolás Larcamón.

The 39-year-old manager was in high demand across Liga MX when “La Fiera” plucked him from the Puebla locker room just under a year ago. The Esmeraldas front office hoped for a quick return to the upper echelons of the Liga MX table, but the past two seasons have been disappointing, to say the least.

In his first season at the helm, Larcamón’s results were mixed. Although León boasted the stingiest defense in Liga MX, the offense was ineffective and the club crashed out of the playoffs in the wildcard round, losing to 12th-seeded Atlético de San Luis as the No. 6 seed.

This past season, The Green Machine again sputtered in front of goal while playing erratically in front of Rodolfo Cota. The Esmeraldas staggered out of the Liga MX Play-In Tournament as the No. 8 seed, for which they were rewarded a quarterfinals date with league-leading América.

The top-seeded Aguilas dispatched León which gave Larcamón & Co nearly two weeks to prepare for its Club World Cup against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds. 

“La Fiera” had qualified for the prestigious FIFA tournament by winning the Concacaf Champions League in early June, its first piece of international silverware.

But any cachet Larcamón had built up as a result disappeared after its stumbling performance on Friday, a dismal 1-0 loss.

In fact, it was such a poor display – an embarrassment for the team and all of Liga MX, declared pundits – that management announced Larcamón’s dismissal in a terse communique shortly after the team returned home.

Like Guadalajara, León now has just over a month to recruit and install new management before the Clausura 2024 season starts.

If the Esmeraldas do some thorough soul-searching they might realize it is time for far-reaching change. Much of the current roster were the same guys who had the club perennially battling for Liga MX supremacy (one league title and twice runners-up in the past four years), but they never really fit the player profile that Larcamón had so much success with in Puebla – underdogs who were hungry for success.

The team struggled to adapt to the pressing, aggressive style imposed by the demanding coach. The veteran squad was more comfortable playing a free-flowing offensive style while relying on rugged back-line play and sparkling saves by Cota.

Next. Tigres America first leg Liga MX finals. Untidy Tigres lucky to hold América to draw. dark

Now it is up to the front office to decide the direction the franchise will take. Will Jesús Martínez opt for a roster overhaul or will he try and mix and match new faces with the veterans who have had so much Liga MX success?