Liga MX 10/8 rule has negative effect on Mexico national team

The Liga MX has been under almost constant fire since the 10/8 rule was announced in May, which limits the number of foreign-born players allowed in each matchday squad to 10 and reserves eight spots for Mexican nationals. In response, the league released a statement on Monday that was surely designed to at least partially calm the criticism.

"During the nine games in the opening round of the Apertura 2016 [this past weekend], the majority of clubs fielded players that were registered with the FMF [Mexican Football Federation] before 18 years or before 19 years in the case of Mexican-American dual nationals," reads the statement. "They made up 54 percent [107] of the 198 starters."

The overriding question now is whether Liga MX, under the 10/8 rule, can be both the "Premier League of Latin America," as Herculez Gomez stated recently, and provide the necessary environment to develop the talented youngsters that clubs are producing. In theory, at least, the latter appears to be the loose aim.

The 10/8 rule was brought in ahead of the 2016 Apertura to halt the phenomenon of players from South America and, to a much lesser extent, the Iberian Peninsula becoming naturalized Mexican citizens in two years' time in accordance with Mexican migration law. The league's defense is that the rule guarantees eight home-grown Mexican players in each 18-player matchday squad, whereas last year clubs could have fielded squads wholly made up of players born outside of Mexico.

So far, the rule has been almost universally slammed. Experienced Mexican players and coaches have said it will stunt youth development for the national team; naturalized Mexicans have been put at a significant disadvantage; a handful of Mexican-Americans dual citizens are now counted as non-domestic players; and some Mexico-born players -- including Cruz Azul's Rafa Baca -- are also considered non-domestic because they developed outside of the country of their birth.

Mexico's first division was re-branded as the Liga MX in 2012, taking the Premier League's split from the FA in 1992 as the general example. The new 10/8 rule can be understood partially as a shift of power between the league's wealthy owners and the federation. After all, just how accountable should Mexican clubs (all of which are owned by Mexican companies or people) be in making the development of national team players a priority? If the English example is anything to go by, the answer is not very accountable at all.

These are nascent days in assessing the implications of the new Liga MX rule, but early indications from the first round of games are that it is more likely to accomplish the internationalization of the league than be positive news for young Mexicans.

In the first week of the Apertura, there was quality on display from foreign newcomers to the league who are already starting to squeeze established naturalized players out of the picture. Santos Laguna forward Jonathan Rodriguez (from Benfica) looked sharp, Spanish midfielder Abraham Gonzalez showed promise with Pumas and Club Tijuana's shopping spree in Argentina appears to have provided some solid purchases. We are even witnessing a bizarre situation right now with French striker Andy Delort, who is holding out for a move away from Ligue 1 to Liga MX side Tigres.

We have already seen 15 players move from Europe to the Liga MX this summer but so far, only two players -- veteran Chivas midfielder Israel Castro, who left for Spain's lower divisions, and Marc Crosas' move to Tenerife -- have headed in the other direction. There does not appear to be a consistent pipeline for Mexican players whose futures may lie in Europe; instead, there's just a slow trickle of rumors.

This issue reflects the changing times in the Liga MX. TV broadcast rights are wide open, with the former duopoly of TV Azteca and Televisa now competing for live match coverage with Grupo Imagen (Queretaro, Chiapas), Fox (Leon, Pachuca) and Chivas TV. The income that clubs receive now in this era of wider competition in the TV market, and the amount they have to spend on players, should continue to increase from here.

But how this change affects the future of the Mexico national team is of the greatest concern. While there was a majority of Mexican starters in the opening weekend of the Apertura, there was a dearth of youngsters; the average age was up to 27.3 years.

In total, only 20 Mexicans in the U23 (Olympic-eligible) pool started Liga MX games last weekend, and Monterrey's Cesar Montes was the only teenager of the bunch. Of the group, there were two center-backs (Montes and Carlos Salcedo), three right-backs (Raul Lopez, Carlos Guzman and Jose Abella); five central midfielders (Orbelin Pineda, Jaime Gomez, Erick Gutierrez, Javier Salas and Rodolfo Pizarro); six wingers (Carlos Cisneros, Alonso Escoboza, Hirving Lozano, Bryan Garnica, Daniel Alvarez and Arturo Gonzalez), and four strikers (Alejandro Diaz, Victor Zuniga, Martin Zuniga and Angel Zaldivar).

These names represent only a snapshot of one weekend, of course, and numbers will obviously shift from week to week but there is no doubting the trend. And it is not an exaggeration to suggest that this was a bumper week for Olympic-eligible Mexicans players to be starting, with many internationals from the Copa America returning late to preseason.

The numbers for young Mexican players look even worse if you take Atlas, Pachuca and Chivas out of the equation. Of the remaining 15 teams and 165 starters last weekend, only nine were Mexicans born after Jan. 1, 1993.

There is a clear disconnect between good youth development work at U17 and U20 levels and players making the jump up. These players can compete with other countries at youth national team tournaments but somewhere along the line, there is stagnation.

The Liga MX must shoulder some blame for the lack of incentive for clubs to promote young Mexicans, but this trend started when the doors were opened to "naturalized" Mexicans in 2014. Furthermore, it is the club owners who are both voting for the new rules and, crucially, deeming it better to buy from abroad than trust in domestic talent. Chivas and Pachuca have been the consistent exceptions.

At present, the depth pool of Mexican players under the age of 23 and getting regular first-division minutes is painfully shallow, even if the quality of the league is set to improve. As a result, young Mexicans are missing out on playing time in their domestic first division at a vital age.

The national team -- still reeling from that 7-0 defeat to Chile -- is likely to suffer down the line if this trend continues.