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Soccer coach says ‘unity’ is behind revival in fortunes of Mexico’s most beloved soccer team

There’s one foreigner living in Guadalajara who won’t need to pay for meals in local restaurants over the summer.

pg24Matias Almeyda, the 44-year-old Argentinian coach of the Guadalajara Chivas, is the city’s hero of the moment after winning the Concacaf Champions League – his fifth trophy in the two and a half years he has been in charge of Mexico’s most popular soccer team.   

The nail-biting April 24 victory – the Chivas won on penalty kicks after a tie in regulation time – means Guadalajara will be represented at the World Club Cup for the first time.  That is a massive achievement for a novice coach who was virtually unknown in this country before his appointment.

Although he enjoyed a successful playing career in Argentina, Spain and Italy – also appearing 30 times for his country, including at two World Cups – Almeyda was a gritty defender who rarely scored goals and usually only made the headlines when he lost his cool and became embroiled in tussles with opposing players.

But Almeyda was respected for his intelligence and leadership qualities, traits that have served him well during his time in Guadalajara. For starters, he has completely reorganized the facilities at Chivas’ Verde Vallle training complex in Guadalajara.  Local sports writers have been impressed by how he has eradicated elites at the club and brought players and staff closer together.  The team and club employees now all eat together at a single long table, one way Almeyda ensures that everyone is treated equally. He is also a hands-on coach, not adverse to mucking in to help to set up equipment – a role usually reserved for junior staff.  His mentorship of the younger players – insisting they continue their studies – has also been a revelation, sports writers note.

Almeyda is convinced that team spirit and unity – rather than individual talents – are the cornerstones of Chivas’ recent success.  This togetherness was demonstrated a few days prior to last week’s final against Toronto, when he took the entire team to the wake of a player’s father – an hour and an half’s drive from the city in the lakeshore town of Ocotlan.

Following the Champions League victory, Almeyda becomes the most successful coach in recent Chivas history.  Along with his Liga Mx (Clausura 2017) and two Copa Mx (Apertura 2015 and Clausura 2017) titles, he also won the SuperCopa Mx in 2016.  (It’s virtually impossible, however, that he could ever match Chivas’ glory days of the 1950s and 60s, when the team won an astonishing seven Mexican league titles in nine years.)   

While Almeyda has managed to restock Chivas’ trophy cabinet with silverware after a longish drought, his Liga Mx record since winning the title 12 months ago has been far from stellar.  The team finished in penultimate place of the table this season and Almeyda has insisted that reinforcements are needed to compete in the upcoming competition, the Apertura 2018, which begins in August.   

Given his success as a coach of the team in Mexico to solely field only players born in this country, the Argentine will surely be a contender to replace Juan Carlos Osorio, the coach of the Mexican national team, who is expected to step down after this year’s World Cup, which begins in Russia next month.

Meanwhile, Almeyda is taking a deserved 30-day break from the sport while he basks in the accolades, a slew of which have come from Chivas’ owner Jorge Vergara, who makes no secret of how highly he regards the Argentine.  Exactly what kind of bonus the multivitamins mogul must have given his coach remains a private matter but it was likely generous. This week, Almeyda posted an image of his latest acquisition on Twitter: a Mercedes-Benz E-Class All-Terrain vehicle, which comes with a starting price of 2.46 million pesos ($US130,000).

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