Before making the step up to a large European club, many Latin American footballers stop midway in the southern Dutch club of PSV Eindhoven.
“¡Mira qué cabrón!” Miguel Ángel was done with José’s antics. The middle-schoolers went down to the local park after school each day, and each day they took each other on: 1-v-1 fútbol. Rain or drought, the boys would stay out until it got dark. Today was a different story, though, as Miguel Ángel couldn’t take losing to his friend anymore. José was clearly the better player and his flashy tricks on the ball left Miguel Ángel embarrassed at times. “Regateas como ‘Chucky’.” Yes indeed, José does dribble like Chucky, the nickname for Mexico’s up-and-coming star, Hirving Lozano.
Lozano is arguably the best player for El Tricolor already despite his tender age of 22. Chucky played for CF Pachuca for many years, but the player that millions of Mexican children aspire to play like does not play in his home nation anymore. Actually — despite interest from some of the world’s richest clubs — Lozano now lives in a village-turned-megalopolis an hour east of Rotterdam, Holland. That place is Eindhoven: home to old stone-wrapped churches, a diverse population, and the country’s most successful football club since the turn of the century.
On March 10, PSV Eindhoven did something they hadn’t done in over five decades: a 5-0 loss to relegation candidates Willem II. Their largest loss since 1964. Perhaps it was a fitting result for the Eredivisie leaders; they remain seven points ahead of second-place detractors Ajax Amsterdam, but their performances have been shaky. Many will boast how unlikely their title charge has been, considering their poor performances throughout the season. It almost seems as if fate is determined to make the Boeren champions for the third time in four years.
Each of the “Big 3” clubs in the Netherlands has a well-defined profile. Ajax, the golden boys with young domestic talents and a dash of Danish flavour. Feyenoord, the gritty workers with a strong, diverse Dutch core. PSV often seem like a mix of the two – often flashy but never arrogant. They’ve also got a large conglomerate of domestic talent, but there’s an added element unseen in any other Eredivisie club: a saturation of Latin American flair. So when a Mexican player tipped as a potential world beater chose Eindhoven as his next destination, very few were surprised.
Manchester City’s record-breaking Premier League adventure has seen them praised as potential Champions League winners. Over the summer, perusing the world for talented players, City came across Hirving Lozano. Despite a presumably posh offer from the to-be English champions, Chucky made his way to the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven to continue his development.
To a fan from afar, this may seem like an odd decision. Manchester City need a backup winger to Leroy Sané, a role Lozano would have excelled in. The Dutch club are no more than an oligopoly power in a receding European league. Sure, Ronaldo Lima developed there for two seasons in his early years, but their power on the European stage has steadily declined since then. This general footballing illiteracy regarding the Dutch league leaders is exactly what made Eindhoven the perfect stepping-stone destination for Hirving Lozano.
Chucky joined a squad comprised of mostly Dutch players glued together by Latin American talent. Santiago Arias – the right-back – and Gastón Pereiro – a versatile attacking midfielder – are staples in the PSV starting eleven. Two fellow Mexicans, Héctor Moreno and Andrés Guardado, were fixtures in the squad for years before they moved clubs over the summer. The two internationals’ reviews of the club were surely a large part in why the promising 22-year-old skipped Pep Guardiola for Phillip Cocu’s project.
These transfers are not a new revelation for the PSV front office. In fact, they have purchased or loaned 19 players from South America, Central America, or Mexico since the 2006/07 season (transfermarkt.de). Carlos Salcido, Marcelo Guedes Filho, and Bryan Ruíz have all turned out for the Rood-witten in recent years. This Spanish and Portuguese-speaking contingent has largely been a positive influence on a club known for its strong development of Dutch talents. Eindhoven broke Ajax’s hegemony in 2014 with two straight Eredivisie titles with Guardado as a key player.
The year is 2022 and José has earned himself a spot on the youth roster of his local team, Atlas Fútbol Club. He’s only 16, but the Mexican National Team scouts have begun to take notice of his talents already. It seems only a matter of time until he dons the vibrant green colors of El Tri as he represents the country he loves so dearly.
Ever since its inception, PSV (Philips Sport Vereninging) has been about business. Business is rooted not only in the name of the club and arena, Philips Stadion, but in the club’s actions. Seven of the top twenty most expensive Eredivisie sales are from the Boeren, including Ruud van Nistelrooy and Memphis Depay to Manchester United. The historically richer rivals Ajax only best Eindhoven by two players in this category. To Ajax, football is a romantic comedy; players brought through the youth system glide across the pitch with a nearly god-like aura before ditching the club for the lights of London or the lust of Madrid, returning only to offer support as disruptive staff. To PSV, football is like the film The Big Short; a drama, no doubt, but the drama focused on a financial vista.
This is why so many foreign players are happy to join the club. What they have to offer is the next step in a burgeoning career. Like an internship after university, a move to the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven is seen by many as a way to showcase a young player’s talent on the European stage. Many recognizable names have done it in the past: Romário and Ronaldo from Brazil, Park Ji-sung and Lee Young-pyo from Korea, and a gluttony of others from around the world. That’s why Mexico’s next sensation and arguably their best player already, Lozano, joined the Dutch club instead of Europe’s elites. He gets playing time in a division geared to showcasing his attacking talent instead of rotting in the reserves of a bigger club. If Ronaldo got his move to Barcelona at 19, Chucky Lozano would be damned if he didn’t try the “get rich quick scheme” himself.
This scheme doesn’t just help the player, but the club itself. Some may even say that this unique method of supply chain management benefits the club the most in the long run. With declining European success and declining revenues in Holland, the clubs are forced to be nothing more than a developmental club for players. Some of the best developmental clubs in Europe, but “selling” clubs nevertheless. The promise of frequent player turnover allows teams like PSV to earn the services of players with abilities greatly exceeding those of the average Eredivisie player. They promise to showcase Lozano’s talents for a season or two before selling him on to the highest bidder. In return, the Mexican international gives them a Gouden Schoen performance for their troubles. Lozano gets his payday when Manchester City sign him to a €100k per week contract and the club gets the reward of winning the league. This is business in its truest form.
Other Dutch clubs are privy to this method and have been using it for decades as well. Johan Cruijff’s world record transfer to FC Barcelona in 1974 earned AFC Ajax a cool €1 million. The Dutchman’s talents had outgrown domestic football at its peak; Barcelona had the capacity to fund a move to take El Flaco’s career to the next level. The entire process had become much more sophisticated by the time a 17-year-old O Fenômeno was signed by PSV Eindhoven for €5.5 million in 1994. Ronaldo scored 42 Eredivisie goals across two seasons there, earning himself a move to Barcelona which gave the Dutch club a cool €15m (nearly €10m profit). The Eredivise may have been recessing by the 1990s, but the club were at the helm of a transformation in how teams conducted transfer business.
Mexico perform extremely well at the 2022 World Cup, reaching the semifinals only to bow out against Frenkie de Jong’s Holland. However, by 2025, the squad is growing old and the federation is now looking to bring through a younger generation of Mexican talents. Atlas’ lively winger, José Garía emerges as an option to take up an attacking position next to the legendary veteran “Chucky” Lozano. Now at the height of his club career, Lozano is a two-time Champions League winner with Manchester City. His increased role in the national team has seen interest in José pick up around Europe. However, Lozano advises him one thing. “Primero, ve a Eindhoven.” First, go to Eindhoven.
While the bulk of transfer business in Holland is mainly done with Dutch players themselves, there’s no doubt that an influx of foreign talent has affected the bank balances of many clubs. The Brazilian, Mexican, and other Latin American talent enlisted by Eindhoven has seen the club rise to continental recognition. Their first of four straight domestic titles in 2004 was won with a team consisting of no less than five Latin Americans, led by Brazilians Heurelho Gomes in goal and Alex in defense, as well as the speedy Peruvian Jefferson Farán up front.
Ajax have always been a home for talented foreign players, but there has been a noticeable shift in their transfer policy since PSV’s success throughout the nineties and early millennium. While Feyenoord have shifted their focus towards Scandinavia, Ajax have been supplementing their domestic and Nordic talents with those from South America. Henk Veldmate was brought on board as head of Ajax’s scouting department after his success with FC Groningen. A highlight of his career was the signing of Luis Suárez from Uruguay, and he has certainly blessed the Amsterdam club with his eye for South American talent. Mateo Cassierra, Luis Orejuela, and Davinson Sánchez have all joined the club from Colombian teams, with the latter moving on to Tottenham Hotspur in the offseason for a club record sale. Brazilian David Neres has asserted himself as a key fixture in the squad, while Argentine Nicolás Tagliafico has bolstered the defense in recent months.
It’s hard not to accredit Ajax’s success with young talent from the far-away continent to their big southern rivals. During their two title campaigns in 2015 and 2016, PSV relied heavily on their Latin contingent. The physically dynamic and attack-minded Santiago Arias has been the best Eredivisie full-back for some time. The Sporting CP exile has found his footing in Eindhoven making crunching tackles and whipping in crosses for years now. The glamorously divisive Andrés Guardado controlled the midfield alongside Georginio Wijnaldum as he put in performances for both club and Mexico.
Héctor Moreno’s massive presence in the backline aided Eindhoven’s Eredivisie repeat attempt in 2016 while Gastón Pereiro’s highly anticipated arrival from Uruguayan club Nacional was paid back in the form of 11 goals. The club snuck past Ajax on the final day of the season, winning their sixth title in twelve seasons. Memphis Depay, Luuk de Jong, Wijnaldum, and Jorrit Hendrix were large components to the success, but it wouldn’t have been done without the players from the streets of Guadalajara, Medellín, or Montevideo.
Football is a business. The recent inflation in the markets due to Premier League and Champions League revenue streams is just one indication of this. Dutch football is often seen as an affront to this financial mentality; the Oranje bleed for voetbal. From the skinned knees of a young Cruijff on Amsterdam’s canal-parted roads to the aching hearts of a Leiden born-and-raised family after the 2010 World Cup, the Netherlands represents everything romantic about the beautiful game. This hasn’t stopped Eindhoven – synonymously tied to a corporation like VfL Wolfsburg or RB Leipzig – from prospering more than any Dutch club over the past two decades.
With this combination of romance and business acumen, Eindhoven have arrived at a compromise. Latin America. Home to favela-born Brazilian kids pursuing their dreams in a suffocating environment. A teenage Mexican footballer kicking a ball against a wall as drug cartels enforce terror on a northern Chihuahuenese city. Financially-stricken football clubs with little bargaining power against a European powerhouse. Globalization allows an opportunity for these kids to make it big in England, Spain, or Italy. It also brings the opportunity for supply-chain mediators to crop up. Luckily for PSV Eindhoven, they’ve been one of the forefront clubs in the race for Latin American football talent.
Maybe if José keeps practicing, one day he’ll earn a move to southern Holland like his idol.