Toluca's recipe for success
It was in the late 90s that Toluca began to re-emerge as a force in Mexican football. With the likes of Jose Saturnino Cardozo, Sinha and Vicente Sanchez in their ranks, Los Diablos enthralled fans and neutrals alike with a winning brand of attacking football. With first Enrique Meza and later Ricardo La Volpe at the helm, the team went on to dominate the domestic scene round the turn of the millennium, winning four league titles between 1998 and 2002.
Though three years would pass before they next tasted league success, this time under the tutelage of Americo Gallego, Toluca continued to produce competitive sides, culminating in league title number nine in December 2008 with Jose Manuel De La Torre. Indeed, only behemoths Guadalajara and Club America have now enjoyed more league success than Jose Manuel de la Torre's side, who are favourites to retain the crown again this campaign.
Imported and home-grown talent
In a league known for its openness and frequent upsets, Toluca's consistency is all the more impressive. Only one other side from the provinces, Pachuca, have come close to matching their achievements in recent times.
So what has been the key to their success? Well a significant factor has unquestionably been their astute transfer policy. When it comes to getting the most out of overseas signings, no other club comes close to matching Los Diablos. The club first struck gold with the purchase of Jose Saturnino Cardozo, arguably the best foreign player to grace Mexican football in the past 20 years.
True, the first couple of seasons there were tough for the legendary Paraguayan, with a combination of poor form and injuries raising serious doubts about his suitability. However, Toluca kept faith in the centre forward and were duly rewarded when he went on to become their all-time top scorer, netting 249 times in 342 appearances.
In the intervening years, Los Escarlatas have shown time and time again their eye for foreign talent, with signings like Hernan Cristante, Sinha, Paulo Da Silva, Vicente Sanchez and Hector Mancilla (all of whom have represented their countries) enjoying success at the club. In fact, Toluca's most recent trophy drought coincided with the departure of Cardozo in 2005 and their struggle to adequately replace him.
Foreign signings are only half the equation, however. Toluca have established scouting networks and football schools right across the country to unearth and harness the wealth of young talent available. It was this avenue that brought a host of first-teamers into the squad, including Enrique Alfaro, Jose Manuel Abundis, Diego de la Torre and current Mexico internationals Edgar Duenas, Nestor Calderon and Carlos Esquivel.
Stability the key
Toluca's on-field success has been underpinned by a policy of stability and continuity at the club, something of a rarity in modern Mexican football. The club have had just two presidents in the last 25 years and their policy of giving coaches sufficient time means that when they do move on it is generally of their own volition.
Enrique Meza and Ricardo La Volpe, for example, only quit Los Escarlatas when the chance to coach Mexico came, while Americo Gallego and Nestor Pekerman did so voluntarily despite fine results and the best efforts of the board to retain them. For his part, current strategist Jose Manuel de la Torre is only one year into his contract, yet he has lost just six times in 36 games and already secured a league title.
Meza, coach of Los Diablos during the glory years of the late 90s and currently in charge at Pachuca, was fulsome in his praise of his former club: "They're the best football team in Mexico. Jose (de la Torre) has done a great job. His record and achievements there prove the board did a very good job in appointing him. I'll always have a lot of affection for this great institution."
Asked recently for the reasons behind his team's success, De la Torre himself said: "It's a team of many qualities. I don't manage footballers but people. Each of them clearly knows their qualities and we simply try to make the most of them for the good of the group. At the start of every tournament, we set ourselves goals, which we then go about achieving. That's how we get results."
Concise and unequivocal, just like Toluca. With the team safely through to Clausura play-offs again this season, the club looks set to extend their proud recent record well into the future.