After witnessing the departure of Hirving "Chucky" Lozano to PSV, Pachuca prepares to start a new chapter, which will include the club's participation in December's Club World Cup. The process of molding the next "Chucky" has already begun, but it must be highlighted that Los Tuzos are not only worried about producing excellent attackers but also focused on every other position of the field. Producing players of the caliber of Lozano, Hector Herrera and Rodolfo Pizarro, all of whom have left for significant transfer fees, sets Pachuca apart as the Liga MX club that best works its academy.
"We have a plan that obeys a specific strategy, which has a main goal to integrate as many young Mexican footballers as possible into our squad," Pachuca sporting director Marco Garces told ESPN FC. "It's true that 'Chucky' is gone and that his departure is a significant one for us, but we have had five consecutive transfer windows in which we lost our best player. Hector Herrera, Enner Valencia, Rodolfo Pizarro, Jurgen Damm and now 'Chucky' Lozano all left at one point.
"This planning continues repeating itself; now we have 24 players in our squad, eight of which are U-20 Mexican players, and then we have Angelo Sagal and Edson Puch, both of whom are experienced players, integrating into the current squad."
The signings of Puch and Sagal, both of whom are with Chile's national team in the Confederations Cup, bring in two players who can make Lozano's absence less noticeable. In Pachuca's recent CONCACAF Champions League triumph, Lozano finished the tournament as the top goal scorer with eight goals.
When talking about Pachuca's academy, Garces sounded optimistic for what's next at the club.
"[The new generations] give us a lot of reasons to be excited. We have a great group coming up that includes 45 Mexico national team players, lots of them in the U-20s, U-17s and U-18s," he said. "So we have a lot of generations that are nearing professionalism, and we believe that we have the best players in the country. Now we have to wait for them to prove it in the biggest stages."
Included in that group is California native Abraham Romero, who was the El Tri goalkeeper in the U-17 and U-20 World Cups. At the club's preseason camp in Acapulco, Romero detailed how he made the switch from LA Galaxy's academy to Pachuca's.
"Right after my national team duty in the Chile U-17 World Cup, I was sent to Europe for a few trials, and I came back not feeling that great about the European experience that I had, and Marco Garces contacted me and called my dad," Romero said. "[Garces] said that I could come to the training facilities, and that I wouldn't have to sign right then and there. They gave me days to decide. Honestly, [coming to Pachuca] was a better move because I saw the training grounds; I felt like it was a good fit for me and for my growth as a player."
The path to the first team will not be easy for the 19-year-old Mexican-American, who is still waiting to make his Liga MX debut. In front of him are experienced goalkeepers: 29-year-old Alfonso Blanco and the eternal 44-year-old Oscar "Conejo" Perez, who Romero sees as the best possible teacher to have.
"When I talk with him, I feel like I get a little bit more mature. I get a different view of everything, I get smarter, I get a little wittier on the football because he knows so much and has been through so much," Romero said. "I feel just talking to him gives me an edge over other goalkeepers that are my age because he's been playing for 25 years professionally, and I've been playing professionally for maybe a year."
In Perez, manager Diego Alonso has a player who provides leadership and who has been fundamental to Pachuca's successful run, which includes Liga MX and Champions League silverware. Garces strongly believes that having Alonso as manager allows Pachuca's academy to keep shining.
"It's very important to point this out because you always hear that Pachuca does a great job with its academy, but the reality is that if there's not a constant line that reaches first division, well, it's impossible because if the spaces aren't available after the departure of players, the opportunities won't exist," Garces said.
"Without a good job in identifying talent and developing it, plus without a first-division coach who's willing to risk it by handing these academy players the needed minutes to finish their formation, it would be impossible to have the success we've had.
"The player that comes out of the academy is not completely prepared to play in first division. He readies himself once he's playing in first division, and that's an opportunity that's given by a coach who has to be prepared to correct and have a lot of patience. And let's not forget that when the results are negative, the coach's job is always on the line, but he has the courage to play with our academy players."
Romero described the competition in the academy as "ridiculous." Every single member has to battle for his place.
"The competition is ridiculous; there's competition in every situation," he said. "Every goalkeeper aside from two in the club's academy have been to the national team. There was a time that Pachuca's U-20 had sent 12 to 13 players to the national team; then they'd come back and they wouldn't play because the guys that were on the bench that had to play when the national teamers were gone demonstrated that they had just the same exact amount of quality.
"They recently just offered me vacations to go home and visit my family, which I haven't seen in a few months, maybe five, six months now, and knowing the talent that Pachuca has in the goalkeeping position, I didn't take it because I had to come and continue to work.
"The U-20 World Cup already happened; it's in the past. No one remembers that anymore. Everyone is going to remember what you do today, so I told the club I don't need vacations. I'd rather have those extra days of training with the team, so they don't forget who I am."
Romero's case is similar to that of many youngsters waiting to get their golden chance with Los Tuzos, and as Garces suggested, if they prove to Alonso they're ready, they'll likely get it. Romero, like "Chucky", hopes to make a move to Europe, but first on his list will be carving out a successful career at Pachuca.