After eight rounds of games in the 2011 Mexican Clausura, unbeaten Pumas UNAM sit proudly atop the overall standings on 18 points. Given Los Auriazules' status as of the country’s so-called 'Big Four', it should perhaps come as no surprise to see them doing so well. Yet when you consider that the Mexico City club has not signed a single player in the last two years, the story of their recent progress takes on a more interesting slant.
Pumas’ refusal to venture into the transfer market comes at a time when multi-million-dollar deals have become the norm rather than the exception. Their squad has remained largely unchanged over the last couple of seasons, with the handful of departures to foreign teams being covered by the emergence of some of the club’s home-grown talent. The no-buy policy did not stop Pumas from winning the 2009 Clausura, however, or from maintaining their position in the national elite, and hopes are now high that they can add another league title to their roll of honour.
A recipe for success
To find out more about Pumas’ innovative approach to squad-building, FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the club’s Director of Football, Mario Trejo, who explained that their methods were spawned by a combination of belief and necessity.
“When the new board came in four and a half years ago the club was staring relegation in the face and was also in serious financial difficulty,” he said. “In the past it was always Pumas’ philosophy to develop its youth teams, and we wanted to go back to that, albeit gradually because there was the threat of relegation to deal with first. The first decision we made was to hang on to a core of experienced and proven players and to bring in Ricardo Ferreti, a coach with a good track record.”
By successfully avoiding the drop, Los Auriazules could then begin to implement their plan for long-term success, as Trejo explained: “Instead of making seven or eight changes, which is typical in Mexican football, we decided to keep the squad together and gradually bring in young players to cover the team’s needs.”
Long regarded as the most prolific of all Mexico’s youth academies, Pumas have reared players of the stature of Hugo Sanchez, Jorge Campos and Luis Garcia in the past, although the club’s productivity in unearthing talented youngsters had tailed off considerably in recent times. One of the new board’s first objectives was to restore Pumas’ reputation as a breeding ground, a task requiring considerable patience.
“When we came here we were told that we’d have to clear out the youth teams because the system wasn’t working,” commented Trejo. “But when we watched the youngsters in action we could see that wasn’t necessary. The main problem was that players were being brought in from other clubs to cover any vacancies in the first team. So we started giving opportunities to young players like Hector Moreno, Pablo Barrera and Efrain Juarez, who are all playing in Europe at the moment, and we opened the way for the lads who are in the first team now.”
An ongoing project
The best-known of Pumas’ current breed of home-reared tyros is the multi-talented Javier Cortes, the scorer of two of the goals of the season to date. Starring alongside him are the equally precocious defensive midfielder David Cabrera and fleet-footed winger Carlos Orrantia.
However, as Trejo points out, the nucleus of the team is still formed by seasoned campaigners: “They’re the ones who take all the responsibility, although we don’t set much store by a player’s age. We prefer to study their performance on a day-to-day basis, and though some people criticise us and say, ‘This footballer’s 32, that one’s 39, and that one’s 18’, it’s that very blend of youth and experience that makes us such a strong side.”
The same philosophy also applies to the bench. “When Ferreti decided to leave the natural thing to do was to appoint his assistant Guillermo Vazquez,” continued Trejo. “People said, ‘You need to get someone with more experience’, but we know Memo. He came here when he was still a boy, he identifies himself with the club and he worked for a long time with the youth teams. And he’s done a lot better than many thought he would. It wasn’t a question of just wanting continuity for the sake of it. We were absolutely convinced he had the ability.”
In signing off, Trejo confirmed that the pacesetting Pumas would be pursuing their policy for many years to come: “There’s no end to this project. It’s a specific way of seeing and experiencing football, and we’re going to keep on pursuing our philosophy and try and win every league title along the way.
"We’re not going to be radical about it, though. When a player’s performance drops off at a certain age and we don’t have an obvious replacement, then we’ll look to bring in someone from outside, although that won’t be necessary if we carry on working with the youth teams the way we are now. So far we’ve been getting results without betraying our principles, and that’s what really counts.”