America, 100 years of Mexico’s bad guys
“Hate me more” is the motto of Club America, an institution that inspires as much love among its supporters as it does ire among its domestic rivals. And with 12 league titles, seven CONCACAF Champions League crowns and six national cups to their name, America boast honours that are unrivalled in Mexican football.
The country’s most successful club turns 100 in 2016. Far from resting on their laurels, however, America have designs on international success and on giving their fans more reasons to celebrate and their detractors more reasons to turn green with envy. FIFA.com looks at the past and present of a CONCACAF giant.
Birth of a club The roots of what is currently the biggest club in the Mexican capital can be traced all the way back to a young man called Rafael Garza Gutierrez. At the age of just 13, Garza Gutierrez and some school friends decided to start a football team, which they called Record. Shortly afterwards, on 12 October 1916, Record merged with another school side called Colon and were renamed America - Christopher Columbus having discovered the Americas on that very day in 1492.
The club's early years were punctuated by disagreements between members of the two schools, an atmosphere of disharmony that ironically saw America renamed Union for a two-year spell. Back under the name America by 1920, the club subsequently won a place in the highly exclusive Liga Mayor. There they became the league's first all-Mexican team, a feature now the hallmark of Las Águilas' fiercest rivals, Gualadalajara.
Azcarraga welcomes foreigners America immediately established themselves as one of Mexico's top clubs during the amateur era, winning four consecutive titles between 1924 and 1928. By the early 1930s, however, that first golden generation had begun to break up, with many of its members moving on to pastures new as the club drifted out of the limelight.
Nevertheless, Los Cremas still managed to provide five key members of the Mexico squad that contested the 1930 FIFA World Cup Uruguay™, the inaugural world finals, with the club continuing to provide at least one player to the national team until Sweden 1958.
Domestic silverware proved elusive after the league turned professional in 1942, with America languishing in the lower reaches of the table, in the shadow of leading sides Espana, Atlante and Necaxa. With money short, the internationally renowned actor Mario Moreno, better known as Cantinflas, became the club’s honorary president, though not even his high profile could improve the its financial situation.
The turnaround began in 1959 when Emilio Azcarraga Milmo, owner of Telesistema Mexicano, purchased the club. Azcarraga, who would go on to turn his TV channel into Latin America's biggest media empire, arrived with very clear ideas on how to arrest his new team's slide.
In a deliberate contrast to the increasingly popular Guadalajara and their all-Mexican line-up, the shrewd businessman declared that his club would take the country's 'bad boy' role and use their financial might to sign the very best foreign talent. Thereafter, stars of the calibre of Jose Alves Zague, Carlos Reynoso, Dirceu Guimaraes, Ivan Zamorano and Francois Omam-Biyik have all pulled on the jersey of the Mexican Millonetas.
The first title of this new era in America's history came in the 1965/66 campaign, followed by two further league wins during the 1970s. Having built up a head of steam, the newly nicknamed Águilas dominated the Mexican football scene in the 1980s, winning five league titles in just six years. The last of these came in 1988/89, and Americanistas have not witnessed such a run of success since.
The present The 1990s will always be associated with the biggest idol in Club America history, Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Yet even Blanco's genius could not end the club's league title drought as they came agonisingly close on several occasions, only to fall short at the vital moment. In fact, the 13-year barren spell was finally ended in the Verano (Summer) championship of 2002, only after the fan's hero had joined Spanish side Valladolid. However, Blanco did return in time to inspire his beloved club to the 2005 Clausura and finally celebrate a league title with the adoring Estadio Azteca faithful. One year later, America contested the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006, finishing in fourth place.
Las Águilas went through yet more turbulence in the years that followed, and it was not until Ricardo Pelaez took over as president at the end of 2011 and appointed Miguel Herrera as coach that the club took flight once more. With order restored, America won the 2013 Clausura, re-establishing themselves at the pinnacle of Mexican football.
In winning the 2014 Apertura, they became Mexico’s most decorated club with 12 league titles, and went on to excel on the international stage, winning the 2014/15 CONCACAF Champions League and with it a prized ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2015.
Sadly for Las Águilas, they could finish no higher than fifth in the Far East, though it was not long before they were back in the limelight, retaining their Champions League crown the following year and booking a return to the Land of the Rising Sun in December 2016.
America celebrated their 100th anniversary on 12 October 2016, “celebrated” being the operative word: no other club has won more silverware in Mexico or the CONCACAF region. The one trophy that eludes them is the Club World Cup, though what better way for America to add yet more lustre to their legend than ending Mexico’s least popular centenary year than on the highest of notes?
The stadium So steeped is it in history, and such is the aura that surrounds it, that the Estadio Azteca needs little introduction. Host to matches at two FIFA World Cups™, in 1970 and 1986, many of the world's greatest all-time players have graced its hallowed turf, including Pele and Diego Maradona. The Azteca has also been renovated on several occasions, the last of these coming prior to the FIFA Confederations Cup Mexico 1999. The last major event it hosted was the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011.