Accustomed to seeing their beloved Guadalajara battling it out for domestic glory, the fans of Mexico's most popular club have seen their team's reputation grow beyond their country's borders. Winners of the Mexican Apertura championship in 2006, Chivas have also reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores twice in the last three years, establishing themselves as a genuine force on the continental scene.
And though many clubs to have enjoyed a similar run of success have built their squads around a number of key individuals, Guadalajara's approach has been quite the opposite - but with spectacular results.
Prolific production line
Whereas Francisco Palencia was once the undisputed star of the Chivas show, the likes of Carlos Salcido, Oswaldo Sanchez and Adolfo Bautista have all since enjoyed hero status at the Estadio Jalisco before departing for other climes. And these former Rojiblanco greats have something else in common: their exits all served to make room for a new generation of up-and-coming young talent.
Such wholesale changes would not be possible without long-term planning and an emphasis on youth development. Much of the credit must go to owner Jorge Vergara, who has never shirked the cost of packing his club with the finest professionals around. In fact, the current first-team coach, Efrain Flores, was once the director of the club's youth system.
Of the starting 11 that drew with Cruz Azul last Saturday, no fewer than eight players had come through Chivas' scouting and player development infrastructure. Only Ramon Morales, Sergio Santana and Gonzalo Pineda began their careers elsewhere, though all three are steeped in the Rojiblancos' heritage after several years with the club. To further underline this remarkable trend, all three of Flores' substitutes were Guadalajara youth products, the players in question having been called up to replace three of the side's first-team regulars who are currently on duty with the Mexico U-23 squad looking to book their place at the Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.
Results speaking volumes
In the build-up to this season's campaign, while most other club owners were involved in transfer-market dealing, Guadalajara's Vergara bucked the trend - and not for the first time. "Away from Chivas, there are no players that are so much better than our own as to be worth signing," said Vergara in typically bullish fashion. "We'll keep putting our faith in the youngsters. It is true we'll lose players to national team call-ups, but that will just give other talented players the chance to make their debuts and shouldn't affect the team's performance."
The Rojiblancos storming start to the season quickly silenced any doubters, Chivas topping the overall Mexican league table with 16 points from eight matches and currently the only unbeaten side in the competition. Guadalajara also boast the division's best goalscoring and defensive records thus far.
Nor does the club's much-admired production line of young talent show any signs of slowing down. The U-19s even pulled off a coup at the Copa Chivas, beating the likes of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Buenos Aires' powerhouse Boca Juniors to the much-coveted trophy. Leading from the front was striker Antonio Salazar, whose 11-goal haul earned him the top-scorers' award and triggered interest from former Spain and Real Madrid star Michel, now head of the youth system at the Bernabeu.
So far so good for the men bedecked in red-and-white stripes, but sterner challenges are set to come thick and fast. Needing to do battle on the domestic front as well as mounting their now customary bid to reach the latter stages of the Copa Libertadores, tired limbs may require Chivas of Guadalajara to reach deep into their well of young talent once more.