Don’t Dismiss Liga MX’s ‘Big Four’

Mexico’s four biggest clubs still retain importance for fans and players alike
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, February 15, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

There has been a lot of buzz in the past few years about the decline of the traditional “Big Four” in Mexican soccer – Club América, Chivas de Guadalajara, UNAM Pumas and Cruz Azul.

While these teams haven't performed as well recently as they had in previous decades, they are still the biggest clubs in the country. The continued fanbases of these four clubs is proof positive of the ingrained value of their brands.


Mexico's historical Big Four clubs have won 36 out 88 (41%) of all championships since 1943-1944. Those are pretty considerable numbers and compare well to a better known “Big Four” in world soccer. If you followed the global game during the last decade, you've undoubtedly heard of England's Big Four – Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. The English Premier League's Big Four account for 54 titles from the 112 (48%) completed professional league seasons since the creation of the professional Football League in 1888.

During the initial period of professionalized soccer in Mexico's history from 1943 to 1970, the Big Four teams won 11 of 28 titles (39.3%) and under the next league structure from 1970 to 1996 the four clubs captured 14 of 27 titles (51.9%). Since the latest league reorganization in 1996, the Big Four clubs have only claimed 9 of 33 possible titles (27.3%).

Recent seasons

Even more notable than the lack of titles has been the fall from form of the two undoubtedly most popular teams in the country, Chivas de Guadalajara and Club América.

Neither of these teams has made it to the playoff finals since Clausura 2007, but both teams play some attractive soccer and produced quality players for the national team.

Both teams have finished at the top and bottom of the regular season standings in that time. América finished inside the top four on four occasions and made the playoffs 6 times despite also finishing in 17th and 18th places. Chivas missed the playoffs 5 times even though they finished Clausura 2008 regular season as the first seed. Each of the two teams has had some dramatics ups and downs in recent years, but the fact that they have shown the resilience to bounce back is a testament to the strength of the clubs.

Consulta Mitofsky poll released in February 2012 revealed that América was still the most popular club in the country, with 23.4% of respondents saying the Mexico City club was their favorite team.

However, América was also overwhelmingly the most hated team in Mexico, as 43.5% claimed to hate the azulcrema. These numbers back up the saying I heard when I told friends in Mexico that I support Club América; “América fans have lots of friends in Mexican football, it's true, but they have many more enemies.” This is similar to sentiments towards the New York Yankees baseball team; they are the most popular and most hated team in their league.

Chivas ranks a close second in terms of people's favorite team, registering 21.1% of respondents and only drew hatred from 18.5%. Cruz Azul was third in both categories as 12.5% of people's favorite team and 5.8% of people's most hated team. 11.2% responded that Pumas was their favorite team and 4.1% said they hated the team from UNAM. No other team registered more than 1% in terms of hatred and the next most favorite team only clocked in at 3.7% (Morelia).

Transition of power to the north

Consider the following:

- Since 1996, teams from the north of Mexico have won as many titles as the Big Four (9 of 33). These northern teams (Monterrey, Tigres, Santos Laguna and now Tijuana) have claimed 5 of the last 7 titles, were 9 of the 14 finalists for those titles and finished on top of the regular season points total 2 of the last 3 full-year seasons.

- Monterrey and Santos Laguna have been 3 of the last 4 finalists in the CONCACAF Champions League and all of Monterrey, Santos and Tigres finished undefeated and in first place in their groups of the current Champions League campaign.

- Despite these successes, Monterrey's national popularity has only increased by 0.7%, Santos Laguna's by 1.0% and Tigres has actually decreased by 0.3% over the last 3 years.

Even though Mexico's traditional “big” clubs have not performed well by their standards, they are still big. Club América had a marketing campaign entitled "América es grande, muy grande." It is precisely because these clubs maintain their expansive fan base despite poor performances, they are considered great. Ask a lifelong Liverpool fan if the Reds can still be considered a big team despite finishing 7th, 6th and 8th in the last three seasons.

Final thoughts

There has indeed been a paradigm shift within Mexican soccer in the last decade or so. Poor performances by traditional powerhouse clubs have allowed other teams to capitalize and win trophy after trophy. But don't count any of the Big Four clubs out just yet.

América is sitting in second place after beating the Xolos in Tijuana to leapfrog them in the standings and Cruz Azul is one of two teams to still be undefeated in the league this season. When América and Chivas travel to play away games around Mexico, stadiums sell out and several cities show as much or more support to the visitors than their own home team.

Chivas de Guadalajara only earned 2 points in their first 7 games of Clausura 2012 and ended that torneo losing 5 games straight. While they probably won't recover their historical good form this season, they have 7 points from 6 games and could make a run at the playoffs this season and come back reorganized in the fall. The Chivas squad includes promising young players, as always, but also Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo who have been among the top goal scorers in Liga MX for the past few years.

While not to the same extent, Pumas and Cruz Azul also have the clout to attract marquee players and the organizational strength to put together a playoff run. Cruz Azul currently boasts national team goalkeeper Jesus Corona, Olympic gold medalist Nestor Araujo and recently sent 23 year old academy product Javier Aquino to Villarreal in Spain. Pumas UNAM are also known for producing quality players like Olympian Javier Cortes but have the big name to draw well known talent like Spaniard Luis Garcia to Estadio Universitario.

Because the last 13 titles have been won by 9 different teams, Mexico's Liga MX is as wide open as MLS, a league often complimented for its parity. The nature of Liga MX allows teams to rebuild over the course of one or two torneos. Mexico's Big Four haven't fared well in the past few years but one is currently a favorite for the trophy, one is projected to qualify comfortably for the playoffs and two are middle of the table teams who could make late runs while reshuffling the pack.


Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.