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Chivas switch mascot from goat to Grinch for holiday

Friday 22nd December 2017

Wait a minute, sir /You kind of hurt my feelings/ You see me as a sweet back-loaded puppet /And you’ve got meal ticket taste.

Because everything is connected in our brave new world, Alanis Morissette’s lyric fits center half Oswaldo Alanis’ situation.

Chivas de Guadalajara has been Alanis’ club since 2015. His problem is that, connected as the world may be, Liga MX is still decades behind other top competitions when it comes to labour relations.

A so-called “Gentlemen’s Pact” prevents players from signing with other Mexican clubs when their contracts expire. This is not a collectively bargained agreement between management and workers. It’s backroom collusion between club chairmen. The men who pull the strings in Mexican football have agreed among themselves to control costs by not competing for players in free agency.

American baseball once had a similar policy. Known as the reserve clause, it was written into every player’s contract that they could only negotiate with their current club when their deal expired. Without an open market in which to peddle their services, pay raises were rare. A superstar’s marketability allowed him to bargain from strength. Everyone else was lucky to continue making the same wage every year, even when individual performance improved. A poor season almost certainly meant the player's salary would be cut.

In 1969, St Louis Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause as a violation of US anti-trust laws. His suit was backed by the players union. He sat out the entire 1970 season, then played a few games with the Washington Senators in 1971 before retiring. In 1972, the US Supreme Court upheld Flood's challenge. He had opened the gates to free agency in sport. His victory eventually resulted in the Bosman ruling that permitted freer movement for footballers. You can blame every overpaid, underperforming good-for-nothing holding back your club on him.

Alanis’ contract ends in June, 2018. Per FIFA rules, he should be free to discuss terms with other clubs, just as Arsenal’s attacking tandem of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez will be doing in the New Year. Chivas wished to extend the defender’s contract a further six months to benefit from potential marketing opportunities tied to the World Cup. Alanis politely declined. He was promptly sent down to the club’s third-division side.

The tactic amounts to career blackmail. If Alanis is not playing regular first-team football, his World Cup chances are put in doubt. Further, no foreign club not party to “el Pacto de Caballeros” is likely to pursue a Mexican third-division player. Essentially, he is in the Jalisco-based club’s back pocket.

Chivas CEO Jose Luis Higuera sees it as simply business.

It’s an institutional process, nothing personal. We’ve treated him with the greatest respect, but he didn’t want to renew with us. He asked for something that was too much.

Whether "too much" was an unacceptable salary or a move to another club, no other league holds its players prisoner. If agreement can’t be reached, parties go their separate ways. Tossing the player in a dungeon is not what most people would consider the "greatest respect."

Goats coach Matias Almeyda was even more blatant.

The club has invested millions of dollars into the player and we needed him to sign for another six months, above all because there is a World Cup coming up and he is a great player.

Players are bought and sold in football all the time. They are often referred to as a club’s property. Yet, the club's need does not override the player's freedom. The days when the phrase ‘in perpetuity’ was attached to 'property of' are long gone. Except, it would seem, in Mexico. Footballers elsewhere are ridiculously compensated for their abilities. Nevertheless, being denied the opportunity to determine one’s one career path is tantamount to slavery.

Chivas does not care. If they cannot have Alanis, neither will anyone else. They are happy to kill his World Cup hopes, and, by extension, Mexico's, purely from spite.

Fortunately, Alanis has some ammunition and an army on his back.

Last October, Mexican footballers formed a player’s union to combat such oppressive tactics by clubs. The association has spoken out in the player’s defence.

[We’ve] tired of some Mexican club directors continuing practices that seek to exert pressure that obligates players to sign contracts they don’t accept, including future threats that put their careers at risk.

The statement also reminded everyone that demoting a player because he will not sign a new contract violates the rules FIFA enacted in 1995 when the European Court ordered it to pay that insurrectionist, Jean-Marc Bosman, the "greatest respect." Whether the world body will act in this case remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, several of Alanis' El Tri teammates have spoken publicly in his support. Foremost is Carlos Salcedo, who is both Chivas captain and a serving president in the players group.

If more players let their voices be heard, and FIFA enforces its rules, perhaps Chivas and the rest of Liga MX will realise people see right through them.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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