Ravel Morrison, Keisuke Honda, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Enner Valencia and Juan Iturbe. It sounds like the most bizarre charity five-a-side team ever, right?
But they’re together for another reason too. All five players are plying their trade in the Liga MX, the top football division in Mexico, this season.
Ravel Morrison’s club, Atlas, had said they wanted to make a “statement signing” with Morrison’s loan deal.
So, with such unusually large names having been attracted to the Mexican league, we look at just how these marque players have gotten on so far.
Ravel Morrison – Atlas
Signed on loan by Atlas on deadline day from Italian side Lazio, where he had spent the last few years of his career, Morrison has had a troubled and sporadic career – from being one of the top prospects in the Manchester United academy to having disciplinary problems off the pitch.
Once described as “the biggest waste of talent I ever worked with” by former West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, Morrison’s move to Mexico was another in a series of moves aimed at rescuing a career that never truly reached the heights that he was once touted to achieve.
Only one Englishman, Antonio Pedroza, had played in the Mexican league before Morrison’s move some 5,500 miles from his home in Manchester, and he had a Mexican father and grew up in Mexico.
So far Morrison has made just three appearances, all as a substitute, and failed to set the world alight. He has so far played in two victories and a defeat for Atlas.
However, should he adjust well to the foreign league and continent, he should have all the makings of a star player in Liga MX – which is a league that has much greater emphasis on technical ability and stamina, rather than the physicality of some of Europe’s top divisions.
Morrison is certainly an interesting player to keep an eye on in Mexico, and it will be interesting to see how his Mexican experience goes in the coming months.
Keisuke Honda – Pachuca
If Ravel Morrison was a troublesome character, then Keisuke Honda was the modest, refined gentleman in comparison.
Signing earlier in the transfer window from AC Milan, Honda joined Pachuca for one simple reason: guaranteed game time.
It is a World Cup year and Japan have already qualified, meaning it was tantamount to Honda to get regular appearances to keep his place in an increasingly competitive Japanese setup.
He simply wasn’t going to get the required amount of match time at AC Milan, and so he made the surprise and somewhat odd move to Mexico.
However, since his arrival at the club, he has been a bit of a force to be reckoned with, causing all sorts of problems for the Mexican defenders with his exceptional technique.
In six appearances, he’s already hit two goals, which is not a bad return for a midfielder who is new to the league and continent he is playing in.
Nevertheless, Honda’s attitude from the beginning – going so far as to learn in Spanish the welcome message the club released to the fans – has shown that he will no doubt thrive in Mexico.
He has without question the ability and talent, and regular game time will help improve his fitness to no end. Provided injuries don’t strike, he could be a very scary prospect when the World Cup rolls around in Russia.
Andre-Pierre Gignac – Tigres UANL
Andre-Pierre Gignac is an anomaly to this list in the sense that he did the move to Mexico long before it became cool.
Having already notched up some 90 appearances for Tigres, the veteran French striker joined from Marseille in 2015 despite interest from other European clubs – stating he wished to help Tigres both win the domestic league and help the side reach the final of the Copa Libertadores.
He debuted in the semifinals of the latter competition, scoring in the second leg in a 3-1 victory, but Tigres ultimately lost the final to River Plate.
Nevertheless, Gignac looked like a dangerous opponent for the other Mexican teams, and his form in the league proved just as much. In his 90 league appearances to date, he has scored 55 goals.
In that time, Gignac has also helped Tigres to two consecutive Liga MX titles and will be looking to add a third this season, as well as reaching the final of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Gignac was the first of this wave of European-based players arriving in Mexico, and he has set down a masterclass in how it is done right.
Enner Valencia – Tigres UANL
Teammate to Gignac, Enner Valencia joined Tigres from West Ham in 2017 and announced himself in some style with a debut hat-trick in a 5-0 thumping of Puebla.
While Valencia had previously played in the Mexican league before, turning out some 23 times for Pachuca prior to his move to West Ham, it was still an unusual move to see a player leave England for Mexico.
Either way, Valencia readjusted to the Mexican league brilliantly and so far this season has hit six goals in just seven appearance – albeit three of those coming in his aforementioned debut.
Valencia’s move certainly seems to have reignited his form, and could turn out to be a masterstroke if it can jumpstart a career that was beginning to stagnate at West Ham.
Juan Iturbe – Tijuana
Finally, there is the loan move of Roma’s Juan Iturbe to Tijuana which, like Morrison’s, came late in the transfer market.
Another attempt to restart a career of a genuinely talented footballer who was beginning to stagnate, having seen himself offloaded to Bournemouth and Torino respectively in recent seasons.
While he certainly didn’t burst onto the scene with quite the same vigour as Enner Valencia’s Mexico return, his technical ability makes him a player likely to perform quite well in the less physical Liga MX.
He is also known for his athleticism – another quality highlighted as being extremely important in the Mexican football league.
So far, Iturbe has made two appearances for Tijuana and failed to find the net, though it is still early days in his loan spell.
No doubt, if he adjusts well enough to the new league, he will be able to perform well for his temporary club.