This past weekend, a relegation-threatened Chivas de Guadalajara played league-leading Club América, a game that has become commonly referred to as the “Súper Clásico.” The term has become a complete misnomer. Rather than being a “classic,” the two teams played 90 lifeless minutes to the tune of a 0-0 draw. Still, what does the need to mislabel games say about Liga MX, let alone other leagues around the world?
A lot. And none of it’s good.
A decade ago, when I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, I was pumped to see a game between Boca Juniors and River Plate. That’s Argentina’s Superclasico, in large part because both teams regularly won titles and featured the country’s best young players. They also had passionate fan bases: standing is still allowed in South American stadiums, and flags, banners, and flares fill up the area.
Still, some linguistic clarification is needed: clasico means “classic” in Spanish, not “derby.” The River-Boca game is also a derby – both teams reside in the same city, Buenos Aires. What makes it a clasico is the historic and current greatness of the clubs. And, perhaps most potently, the rival fans absolutely detest one another.
The rivalry between Chivas and Club América has it roots in the “Chilangos vs. everyone else” mentality once prevalent in Mexico. For decades, folks outside of Mexico City hated Club América as you probably detest the New York Yankees. Even better, Chivas has a “Mexican-only” policy, so nationalistic fans flocked to them as nuestra.
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For a while, the team fielded talented players like “Bofo” Bautista, a younger Omar Bravo, and future starlet Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. However, after Mexico won the U-17 World Championship in 2005, European scouts began to pluck players at younger and younger ages. Carlos Vela left Chivas a teenager for a paltry fee of 125,000 pound fee. The club never even released the fee for which it sold Chicharito.
Now the pipeline is dry, and the current talent level at Chivas sucks. The team is just plain horrible. While Club América can count on the gate revenue from the gigantic Estadio Azteca and numerous corporate partnerships, Chivas’s brand as “Mexican” has taken a hit: Nobody wants to be associated with a loser, even a nationalistic one.
Behind the scenes, owner Jorge Vergara seems to have grown tired of his plaything. He sold Chivas USA, the North American affiliate, and the Mexican team has not made any major signings in years. The return of 34-year-old Omar Bravo does not count. Also, Mexicans face enough problems from the narco-state to complain beyond regional scuffles (it was all really about taxes on NAFTA earnings, anyway).
The so-called “clasico” relied upon a quality Chivas side and some good old-fashioned regional hostilities. Currently, neither exist, leading to a broader question: Do we really need rivalries for a league to thrive?
In Spain, the slanted TV deal means that Barcelona and Real Madrid will always be at the top of the table. They also have a seriously bitter and acrimonious past, thanks in no small part to the Spanish Civil War and the unique Iberian fusion of sports and politics. In Argentina, Boca Juniors and River Plate fans just plain hate one another and have done so for decades. But for leagues in other parts, like Mexico and the U.S., slapping the title “clasico” on a game does not make it so. In fact, Chivas-Club América isn’t even a derby. Guadalajara is 537 kilometers from Mexico City.
Any rivalry between Chivas and Club América was and is manufactured, and therefore temporal, fleeting, mercurial. At least the Chivas USA (R.I.P.) vs. LA Galaxy games could lay claim to neighborly hate. In the world at large, with salary caps in MLS, financial fair play in Europe, and talent drain/churn in the top South American championships, leagues (outside of Spain) have started to see title races between more than two teams.
Duopolies have gone the way of the Cold War. We don’t need rivalries or clasicos anymore than Berlin needs a wall. So please, stop calling any and every game a clasico.