Up in the north of Mexico, Torreon and the adjacent cities of Matamoros and Gomez Palacio – known collectively as La Comarca Lagunera - aren´t the type of conurbations you will find in vacation brochures for tourists wanting to visit Mexico.
The white, sandy beaches are far away and, as a city just over 100 years old, it doesn´t have the colonial quaintness of other places in Mexico´s interior.
The area – like so many in northern Mexico - has also had its fair share of narco-related violence, making worldwide headlines back in August when a shoot-out took place outside the Estadio Corona during a game between Santos Laguna and Morelia.
Despite the incident, Santos Laguna has become both a reference point and a beacon of success for the industrial city.
The club has finished runner-up three times out of the last three championships in Mexico and is generally considered to have one of the best and deepest squads in the league.
Santos only came into being in 1983, winning the first of its three titles in 1996, thanks to a goal from club legend Jared Borghetti.
The club´s identity and modernization really took off when Alejandro Irarragorri became president and brewery Grupo Modelo formally took control of the club, both in 2007.
Since then, the club won the Clausura 2008 title and has qualified for the playoffs eight times, missing out just twice.
It is not only on the field that the club is advancing. A new 30,000-capacity stadium was opened in November 2009, as part of the Territorio Santos Modelo, which is a complex outside the city containing a soccer academy, club house, offices and, eventually, a hotel with rooms looking onto the pitch.
President Irarragorri has also searched the globe in attempting to emulate the best practices of clubs around the world.
“In the last trip, we had the opportunity to be at Everton and got as deep as into the kitchen,” Irarragorri told Mexican football magazine Fútbol Total (www.futboltotal.com.mx) recently. “Afterwards we went to Seville, probably one of the most successful teams in buying and selling players.”
He added: “We also went to Wigan, Manchester City and Real Madrid, where (Emilio) Butragueño let us in to be able to understand some of their best practices.”
One of the things the club has implicated is players arriving for breakfast, then training and then eating lunch at the club, thereby making sure that two of the players´ main meals of the day are taken care of.
The strongest foreign link Santos Laguna has is with Scottish club Celtic, with 25 percent of Santos´ staff having gone to Glasgow for training for at least 15 days.
One former Celtic player, Spaniard Marc Crosas, is currently with los Guerreros and playing well.
“Santos is the first (Mexican) team, in this era, to bring a youngster from Europe,” said Irarragorri in the same interview, talking about 24-year-old Crosas. “Others have come for other reasons, maybe for marketing or to retire, but we play differently.”
The team that plays differently, despite its place of origin going through rough times, is having another good season. Santos, at the time of writing, are in first position in the league, set for another playoff run and are in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
The club with the green-and-white hooped shirt is definitely one Mexican team to keep an eye on.
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