Queretaro F.C. recently signed Brazilian legend Ronaldinho. Is Ronnie past his prime? Sure. But he still offers moments of brilliance. Thus, we have to ask: Why? The answer is simple: a fat paycheck. Which leads to the more important question: How? How can a Liga MX team outside of Mexico City afford such lavish wages?
And that, dear reader, is where things get interesting.
Queretaro F.C. was not always Queretaro F.C. It hasn’t even always been the gallos blancos. The club has existed since 1950, an adolescent by European standards, but gone through numerous name and ownership changes. It was first Quertaro F.C., then Atletas, then the Cobras, then simply Club Queretaro, and in 2002 defaulted back to Queretaro F.C.
The club was one of the founding members of the second division, where it floundered for decades before finally earning promotion for the first time in 1980. Since then, it has bounced between the top and last division, often earning promotion and then promptly getting relegated. For Premier League fans, think a modern-day Hull City or Birmingham.
The state of Queretaro is smack dab in central Mexico, not so far from either Mexico City or Veracruz. The capital is Santiago, which boasts a population of only about 800,000. The team plays at the La Corregidora stadium, which barely can hold 45,000 fans. The stadium was remodeled in 1985 for the World Cup and is gorgeous, but numers don’t lie. he gate pales in comparison to the 100,000 that pack into the Estadio Azteca to catch Club America games. So how can a club in a city small by flyover country standards afford Ronaldinho?
A super sketchy owner. In fact, it’s a scandal that Queretaro FC is even in the Primera. It was relegated last season, but, in true Mexican fashion, the owner of Grupo Delfines, Amado Osuna, bought the recently promoted team from Chiapas and simply relocated it to Queretaro and re-named it Queretaro FC. Wasn’t that easy?
Granted, after Yanez got charged by the feds, Grupo Delfines dissociated from Queretaro FC due to “financial irregularities.” But for Mexican clubs in the Primera and not in the capital, financial irregularities are the name of the game. For sugar daddy club owners, they often opt to pay player wages with unpaid taxes (like Puebla). Assuming they pay wages, that is. Please note: Liga MX is not a direct deposit every two weeks professional environment. In fact, of the four new owners of Queretaro FC, three have chosen to remain anonymous. S-k-e-t-c-h-y.
If the players aren’t getting paid regularly, or are getting proceeds in the form of laundered tax shelter profits, then the club is pulling a classic binge-purge along the lines of Pachuca. Liga MX clubs, not limited by a salary cap, often get a new, free-spending owner who will inject cash short-term, build a great roster, and then scram when bills come due. That’s how teams can go from first to worst so easily (and often).
Of course, MLS fans will recall Queretaro as the team that plucked star Brazilian Camilo Sanvezzo from the Vancouver Whitecaps. In short, the Whitecaps exercised an “option” on Camilo’s contract, and these “options” are basically illegal in most other countries. Allowing a boss to say – hey, you have to work for me for another year – is deemed too one-sided to stand up in many courtrooms outside of North America. Camilo, Queretaro, and, of course, an agent decided to ignore the option year, Camilo went to Queretaro, and MLS meekly asked for a sliver of compensation. Take note: the Camilo deal was no anomaly. It was par for the course for a struggling Liga MX club.
So, back to ‘Dinho. Coming from Brazil, another league with serious player payment irregularities, he will either fit in or get fed up with Queretaro F.C. pretty quickly. And it’s a shame. Queretaro isn’t located on any of the major narco-corridors and is a lovely city and state – a great place to settle down and raise a family. It’s not even the fake sense of security you get at places like Tijuana or Monterrey, where federalis patrol the tourist zones in numbers. Queretaro is so safe it’s boring, and boring because it’s safe. Only the futbol is filthy as sin.
And I wouldn’t expect Ronaldinho to stick around for too long. It’s fitting that the last Quixotic chapter of his career has led him to Queretaro. He’ll soon be battling more than windmills (and defenders).