GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Just who is José Luis Real? And what will he do at Chivas USA?
That’s the question many fans are asking after Tuesday, when the MLS club named the Mexican coaching veteran as its new head of soccer operations, the first domino to fall as ownership changes are sweeping through the Home Depot Center.
On the surface, it’s good news for fans of Los Rojiblancos. Real, a former Chivas Guadalajara player known as “El Guero,” is quite possibly the most respected developer of young talent in the Mexican game.
His work at the youth level has long been recognized at Chivas, who he joined during the pre-Jorge Vergara era in 1996 and quickly got to work. Real worked with players like Carlos Salcido, Francisco Rodríguez, Jonny Magallón and others before he left in 2003 to join Dorados de Sinaloa.
In his second spell at the Guadalajara giants starting in 2006, he was hands-on with other big names like Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, Marco Fabián and Jorge Enriquez, all of whom ended up making their debuts for the first team.
“What he can contribute to Chivas USA is experience in the formation of players, which comes as a guarantee with El Guero,” said MedioTiempo.com correspondent José María Garrido, who has been reporting on Chivas for the last eight years. “The results of the work he has done are in the first team.”
Less recognized is the job Real did in structuring one of the most respected youth systems in the Mexican game, across town in Guadalajara at Atlas. During his time there in the early 1990s, Real helped develop three players who went on to become cornerstones of the Mexican national team: Rafa Márquez, Pável Pardo and Oswaldo Sánchez.
“He has a clinical eye for detecting youngsters that will work for the club and which ones won’t,” explained Karina Herrera, a Guadalajara-based journalist working for Televisa Deportes. “That’s helped him make his name.”
Real’s role at Chivas USA is as yet hazy, but it’s almost a guarantee that Vergara and Angélica Fuentes will use his talent to oversee a similar revolution in the youth system in at the Southern Californian club. After all, that’s where his expertise and passion lay.
“My heart is in working with youngsters,” he told the Chivas Guadalajara website last month.
Regular weekend trips to Los Angeles over recent months to give his bosses the lowdown on Chivas USA may not have provided many glowing reports of the first team, but they did convince Real of something he already suspected: Southern California is crawling with talented players.
“I’ve known for some time that there are players of Mexican descent with a lot of talent there,” he told MedioTiempo.com earlier this month. “[Chivas USA] don’t have them, [Guadalajara] don’t have them and the national teams don’t have them. That makes me enthusiatic because we can intervene over there to capture that talent.”
The Real appointment and the Vegara/Fuentes takeover also raise the possibility of increased exchanges between the two institutions, and Real’s role could be crucial, with him having a foot in the door of both clubs and having an in-depth knowledge of the players at Guadalajara.
Real boasts an excellent record on his coaching résumé, too. Easily the highlight was guiding Chivas to the finals of the Copa Libertadores in 2010. When he left the job 12 months ago, he had put the team in playoff position and had guided it in 67 games – more than any of the other 15 coaches in the Vergara era.
Many Chivas fans were sad to see him go after he employed an attack-minded, flowing, passing game.
But the big question is not Real’s pedigree. His past achievements are testament to that. The key is whether his knowledge and experience can be transferred to Major League Soccer, where so many foreigners have been tripped up by nuances like the SuperDraft, the salary cap and allocation.
Regardless, it should all make for an interesting ride.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.