Just a few years ago, the thought of 10 Mexican players roaming European pitches seemed like a pipe dream. Even after watershed performances from the likes of Hugo Sanchez and Rafa Marquez, Europe’s top leagues were slow to rely on players from the Latin American country in a more consistent manner.
High wages in Liga MX, coupled with the comforts of home also curbed the ambition of several big-name players for decades. However, 2018 is setting up to be a landmark year for the development of Mexican footballers abroad.
Here are 10 players to keep an eye on this season, ranked in descending order in accordance with their chances of having a more than productive campaign:
Just missing the cut
Oswaldo Alanis | 29 | Defender | Getafe | Spain
His future looks to be more in MLS than Europe at this point, after an embarrassing report stated he was brought to his club without the consent of his manager.
Antonio Briseno | 24 | Defender | Feirense | Portugal
Expectations are low for the former Atlas product, at a small club in a modest league. Can he excel enough to make the jump to a bigger team?
Jesus Corona | 25 | Forward | Porto | Portugal
Whatever the reasons, Corona’s performance was disappointing last season. This might be a last call at Porto to show he’s worthy of a consistent spot.
Carlos Salcedo | 24 | Defender | Eintracht Frankfurt | Germany
The former Chivas defender has been given new life (and a new position) by former Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio, perhaps allowing him more chances to play at his club next season.
Uriel Antuna | 20 | Forward | Groningen | Netherlands
A diamond in the rough who still needs consistent play to show what he’s truly capable of.
The top 10
10. Marco Fabian | 29 | Midfielder | Eintracht Frankfurt | Germany
When he’s healthy, the 29-year-old attacking midfielder has shown he’s one of the more electrifying players the country has produced. Unfortunately, fitness has been an issue throughout his three seasons in Germany. However, his most complete season (2016-17) yielded a glimpse into his potential: nine goals in 27 games across all competitions.
9. Hector Moreno | 30 | Defender | Real Sociedad | Spain
Once considered the heir apparent to Marquez, Moreno whiffed on a golden opportunity to star for a top club last season with Roma. He got a further chance at continuity in January, when he was transferred to Real Sociedad, but only amassed 13 league appearances. Real’s defense is among the more solid units in Spain, so his fight to grab minutes will continue amid a crowded backfield.
8. Nestor Araujo | 26 | Defender | Celta Vigo | Spain
The former Santos Laguna defender will get his first taste of European football this year, but reports suggest he’ll receive the lion’s share of minutes in central defense for Celta. Fans of the Spanish club will be hoping Araujo’s form quickly reaches the heights of his time with Santos and Mexico earlier this year, before the unfortunate injury that kept him out of a domestic title run and the World Cup.
7. Miguel Layun | 30 | Defender | Villarreal | Spain
Like Moreno, Layun played the musical chair game last season in desperate search for minutes ahead of the World Cup. The wing-back eventually landed at Sevilla on loan from Porto, where he was lauded by media and fans for his consistent play in La Liga. Those performances earned him a move to Villarreal this summer, where the 30-year-old will be expected to start and contribute in attack as well as defense.
6. Raul Jimenez | 27 | Forward | Wolves | England
On paper, Jimenez’s European career seems increasingly depressing. From Atletico Madrid to Benfica and now to Wolves, the bulky striker has never found consistency since leaving Club America. However, the expectation at a smaller club (but better league) might suit Jimenez’s waning confidence and allow him to start amid a less crowded strike force. His debut goal in a friendly shows he’s more than capable of contributing.
5. Javier Hernandez | 30 | Forward | West Ham | England
Mexico’s all-time leading goal scorer also has more than 100 European goals to his name. However, the former Manchester United poacher seems to always face an uphill battle with fans and media. At West Ham, after a frustrating debut season, “Chicharito” stayed on at the urging of new boss Manuel Pellegrini, a proven manager who will rely on the Guadalajara native to be efficient in front of goal.
4. Andres Guardado | 31 | Midfielder | Real Betis | Spain
After an excellent spell in the Netherlands, Guardado started 25 league games for Betis last season in his return to Spain. A late injury derailed an otherwise brilliant first season, in which he dispatched eight assists, scored twice and completed 86.5 percent of his passes. The Betis faithful will be hoping for an encore on a team with an outside chance of qualifying for European competition.
3. Guillermo Ochoa | 33 | Goalkeeper | Standard Liege | Belgium
There are major question marks over Ochoa’s season — and where he plays. Fighting to get Standard in to the Champions League group stage, El Tri‘s No. 1 is being courted by Napoli, who is already qualified to Europe’s biggest competition. A brilliant reflex keeper with a flair for the spectacular, the Club America product is on the verge of his biggest season in Europe after a long and winding road.
2. Hector Herrera | 28 | Midfielder | Porto | Portugal
Named Porto’s captain for this season (ahead of the likes of Iker Casillas), the Rosarito native is a guarantee in Porto’s midfield. Herrera was the focal point of the team’s build-up play last season, averaging 1.4 key passes a match while dishing out four assists in the Primeira Liga. His silky passing, otherworldly control and vision is unmatched among Mexican players.
1. Hirving Lozano | 23 | Forward | PSV | Netherlands
How do you follow up a debut season in which you scored 17 goals, created eight assists and won man of the match eight times in the Eredivisie?
If you’re Lozano, you’re hoping the answer is enough to force a sale to a big club in 2019. If the world wasn’t watching the dynamic Mexican winger for his club, they certainly did at the World Cup, where his strike beat Manuel Neuer and propelled El Tri to a historic win over Germany.
The future is now for one of Mexico’s most exciting prospects of all time. With reported interest from the likes of Manchester United and Barcelona, Lozano is primed to avoid a sophomore slump and make the leap after another great season with PSV.