Chivas face huge risk in replacing Matias Almeyda with Jose Saturnino Cardozo
New Chivas coach Jose Saturnino Cardozo was presented on Tuesday, ending a tumultuous week for Mexico's most popular team in which their manager, sporting director and star player all exited.
"Whoever says he's not excited by coaching Chivas is telling a lie," said Cardozo, the former Paraguay international who scored more than 250 goals in Liga MX with Toluca. "I'm happy to be here, to have the possibility to coach a big club. We have a great fan base who will be expectant of what we can do."
Winning over the legion of supporters around Mexico and the United States will undoubtedly be one of Cardozo's toughest mandates. A string of bombshells that bared Chivas' fragile state preceded the forced resignation of former coach Matias Almeyda.
Sporting director Francisco Gabriel de Anda told Almeyda that his list of transfer targets would not be possible to sign, going so far to reveal the full list to media (and rival teams) days before Liga MX's mandated transfer period. The reveal was meant to pressure Almeyda out of the team in order to hire a cheaper manager. If the Argentine resigned instead of being dismissed, the team also saved on a seven-figure exit clause. Gabriel de Anda boldly declared to the media and fans that this was not the case, and that if Almeyda left the club, he would too. Both were gone days later.
Chivas' money problems stem from team owner Jorge Vergara, who was recently outed by Mexican newspaper Reforma as owing the Mexican tax department close to $94 million. Vergara's nasty public divorce and subsequent financial battle with ex-wife Angelica Fuentes has caused deep instability within the 12-time Liga MX champions.
Last season, national team defender Oswaldo Alanis was embroiled in a public spat with the team when it was revealed he had signed for Spain's Getafe, departing on a free transfer with six months left on his deal with Chivas. Angry that Alanis' exit would not net the team a profit, the club separated him from the first team, a labor issue that became the nascent Mexican players union's first major controversy. Alanis was later reinstated, but lost his starting spot for much of the season.
Later, the rest of the team publicly demanded that Vergara and team CEO Jose Luis Higuera pay them a promised bonus after a run of success that saw them eventually net the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this year.
The belt tightening reached a crescendo when the team was forced to sell off Rodolfo Pizarro, their best player in the 2017-2018 season, to Liga MX side Monterrey, who paid $16 million for the talented wide midfielder.
The lack of adequate replacements for Pizarro, as well as the lack of guarantees that his players (and coaching staff) would be paid on time next season, caused Almeyda to eventually resign, prompting a series of tearful goodbyes from his players and fans.
"You leave us with thousands of lessons," wrote striker Alan Pulido in a note shared on social media. "You leave us physically but you'll stay forever in my heart and in the heart of Chivas fans. Thank you for so much."
Thus, new manager Cardozo will have to quickly assure his players that they can continue building on the massive legacy left behind by the departed Argentine coach. During Almeyda's tenure, Chivas won two Copa MX titles, the Liga MX championship, a Supercopa MX and the aforementioned CONCACAF Champions League, cementing one of the most fruitful modern periods for the team.
Chivas will be Cardozo's sixth team in Liga MX as manager, and undoubtedly his biggest challenge. As was the case with his playing career, the Paraguay international found his principal success as Toluca boss, coaching them from 2013 to 2016.
Ironically, the goal poacher was sometimes criticized at the club for being too conservative. At Toluca, Cardozo made four semifinals with the club, but never won the title. Later stints at Chiapas, Puebla and Veracruz were ho-hum at best.
At Chivas, Cardozo will now face a downtrodden squad, a front office in disarray and a hurt and antagonized fan base expecting the team to ebb after massive success under an immensely likable figure. With just a month before the Apertura 2018 is set to begin, the risk is huge -- the reward could be as well.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.