Football outside Europe is rapidly growing. China is realizing President Xi Jinping’s dream of football domination by making several advances in European football. We’ve recently seen Chinese investors buy a majority stake in Inter Milan and that hasn’t been a singular event. Aston Villa and Espanyol were also recently bought by Chinese businessmen while Chinese investors already have minority stakes in England’s Manchester City, Spain’s Atletico Madrid and New York City FC. AC Milan is also in talks to sell a majority stake to a group of Chinese investors.
The growth of MLS in the United States of America has also been an un-ignorable development and the league has positioned itself well. MLS is moving away from being just a “retirement league” and clubs are doing more to work on their academies to make the league an attractive prospect. Players in the MLS such as FC Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta and New England Revolution’s Diego Fagundez have been linked with a move to Europe. Matt Miazga was signed by Chelsea from New York Red Bulls in January earlier this year.
Mexico of course, already regards football in high regard and has done so for a long time. The sport is popular and important which can be illustrated by El Tri’s record in international competitions. Mexico is not only the most successful national team in the CONCACAF region, but has also enjoyed respectable success in the bigger competition, having qualified for fifteen World Cups. Mexico has qualified consecutively since 1994, which puts it in an elite club of only six countries. The Mexican national team, along with Brazil and Germany, are the only nations to make it out of the group stage over the last six World Cups. This shows that football is already an important sport in the country.
Francisco Pazmiño, Fox Sports Latin America’s senior vice president of programming and acquisitions remarked at the Soccerex Americas Forum earlier this year that the Bundesliga would not be as popular in the Spanish language if Chicharito wasn’t playing for Bayer Leverkusen. This means that the Latin American viewers are more likely to watch a game in a European league if they saw a Hispanic player playing. In this case specifically, Mexican audience would likely watch a Bundesliga game to watch Javier Hernandez play. Quite naturally, clubs would want to expand their appeal and influence in other countries by getting one of the country’s own talented star to play for them. This would be a massive commercial boost.
North America is a market that needs to be further tapped into and this is being realised now.
Manchester United have strongly been linked to Mexican international Hirving Lozano. The 20-year-old plies his trade for Pachuca and was called up to the national side by coach Juan Carlos Osorio after a highly successful season for the club. Before that, in 2015, Lozano was part of Mexico U-20 team that participated in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. He vastly impressed and caught the eye of most after an impressive tournament where he finished as the Golden Boot winner, tied at 5 goals with USA midfielder Romain Gall.
Lozano operates as a winger, predominantly on the left, although he has played on the right flank as well as in the middle in the hole behind the striker and even as a forward. However, his main position could be called the left flank. The ability to play anywhere in the forward line must be an exciting and enticing feature for Mourinho.
Lozano is right-footed and upon observation of his game, one can summarise that the player has all the attributes of being a “classic inverted winger”. He is a pacey player and the ability to accelerate and beat defenders with his speed and dribbling skills is his main strength. He can also shoot with accuracy — he also possesses a great long shot in his arsenal — which can be illustrated by the fact that he scored 12 goals for his club in the recently concluded season, a very good end product for a 20-year-old winger.
“Chucky” as he is fondly called is also good at creating chances and with a strong left foot, delivers strong and accurate crosses in the box for the strikers to feed off.
The 20-year-old is raw and needs to improve in several dimensions. His mentality and attitude should arguably be better as sometimes he looks too confident and crosses the attenuated border towards cockiness. His performances sometimes dip and stagnate after a run of great games. However, these are not reasons for any suitors, Manchester United according to reports, to be deterred. Under the right guidance and as he matures, he would rectify these flaws.
José Mourinho of course, just completed his first signing as Manchester United’s new boss in youngster Eric Bailly. This gives indication that the Portuguese does want to bring in quality youngsters to the side and build for the future.
Meanwhile Borussia Dortmund are targeting Mexican international Jürgen Damm. He already gained fame when Mexican club Pachuca did a study, backed by FIFA, which concluded that he is the second fastest player in the world, behind only Gareth Bale. He can run at an astonishing speed of 35.23 km/h with the ball.
Damm operates as a winger for Mexican side Tigres. The 23-year-old was eligible to play for Germany, as his paternal grandfather was born there, but chose to represent Mexico. He has three caps for the side but was left off the Copa America squad due to a minor injury.
Interestingly, Damm has attracted interest from European clubs even in the past. In 2013, the winger underwent a two-week trial at Manchester United but a move failed to materialise under then manager Sir Alex Ferguson. He was also targeted last summer by Chelsea and José Mourinho. Serie A side AS Roma also submitted a bid for him last season as per certain reports.
He is a winger by trade, and plays predominantly on the right flank, but like many other attackers of his age, he is versatile and can play in a number of positions across the front line. Damm is exciting to watch as he is delightful on the ball. Like Lozano, he likes to cut in and likes to play centrally in the middle.
He would find it easier to adapt to life away from Mexico than many of his compatriots, due to the ability of being able to speak good English. He would find it especially easier to adapt to life at Dortmund given his father’s side of the family hails from Germany. Damm could prove to be another smart buy for Tuchel’s side which is making all the right moves in this window.
The other El Tri star to be targeted by a European outfit is Hector Herrera. News recently broke that Liverpool want to bring the Mexican international to Anfield. The difference here is though Herrera already plays in Europe, at FC Porto. He has been playing for the Portuguese giants since 2013 and has become a household name in the city of Porto.
The midfielder spot is one where the Reds have struggled last season with there not being enough quality options. The 26-year-old box-to-box midfielder, and current vice-captain of Porto, could be an important addition to the side especially if one or both of Lucas Leiva of Joe Allen were to leave.
Europe has imported talents from South America for the longest of times. However, up north in their neighbouring continent, the football market hasn’t been properly utilised. A study by the European Club Association or the ECA proved that “there were 14,322 transfers made by European clubs in the 2-year period 2011/12 and 2012/13, with 66% of those being made within Europe and the remainder being primarily driven by transfers from and to South America (14%), Asia (8%) and Africa (7%)”. North America features in the negligible 2% with the ‘Rest of the World’.
The fact that three Mexican stars are linked with huge moves to three of Europe’s biggest club suggests that trends are going to change as European clubs look to tap into the resources of North America, both in terms of player market as well as the fan base expansion. The process started a while ago and we see so many clubs tour the United States of America for the preparatory pre-season. Don’t be surprised to see more clubs extracting this potential and more Liga MX and MLS stars being targeted in Europe.