GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Verde Valle, the large sporting complex which serves as headquarters for Chivas and its first team, hasn't been the same since Matias Almeyda arrived in Guadalajara and the same can be said about the storied Liga MX club. The Argentine manager, who moved to the city in September 2015, has been the architect of an extreme makeover for an organization which was struggling to avoid relegation and now finds itself regularly collecting hardware.
Almeyda has dramatically modified the way in which Los Rojiblancos live day by day. The immediate changes implemented by him have resonated not only with his players, but the whole organization. From Day 1, he got rid of fiefdoms and dissolved any hints of hierarchies and differences among the group.
"We are all equal and the same in here," Almeyda preached. He not only talked the talk but he walked the walk. For the manager, there are no differences between a front office employee and his striker. He treats field personnel and centre-backs in the very same way.
Almeyda surprised everyone when he started doing labor usually reserved to field maintenance staff: placing cones on the pitch, organizing equipment, putting the footballs away and pushing carts with coolers filled with sports drinks in them. Everyone at Verde Valle was shocked to see it.
"Those things drew everyone's attention," a club employee says to ESPN. "Especially since you've never seen anything like it before. You would never dream of seeing our previous manager placing himself at the same level as we are or hanging out with the rest of the staff." The team employee recalls a penalty kick tournament played by field maintenance personnel in which Almeyda took part.
Another Chivas staffer remembers dinner on the first team tour with Almeyda at the helm. "I can recall perfectly that, there were several tables placed on the room in which the team was going to have dinner, so everyone started to divide into several groups. Matias ordered that there would be only one table for everyone. The amazing thing was that he ordered to have all traveling staff having meals alongside the players. That had never happened before. The players ate first and then it was everyone else's turn. That was an impressive gesture of unity, as proof that there's no one above the rest," the employee says.
Almeyda has treated everyone the same way. However, since his first day at Chivas, he has always kept an eye on the young players newly promoted to the first team. These youngsters, who are vulnerable in such a ferocious environment, in which outstanding performances are followed by constant attention and praise from the media and sudden money and fame, have always been protected by Almeyda.
Javier Lopez was one of these young players. Lopez, nicknamed "La Chofis" was taken under Almeyda's wing. The manager helped his mother and his brother (who is now part of Chivas' development system) move to Guadalajara, so they could be near him and took special care in order to shield him from the press. The case was the same for Jose Juan Macias and Jesus Godinez, whose development was closely followed by Almeyda, who was able to keep them focused on the pitch instead of the surrounding noise.
That paternal side of Almeyda is not restricted to sport. He has advised several youngsters, such as Angel Zaldivar or Carlos Cisneros, to spend their new money wisely. He has insisted on instructing them against splurging on fancy cars and focusing on academics. His advice has also extended to those players with an established spot in the first team. However, his style has always been persuasive rather than dictatorial, despite the following statement made by the manager. "As far as I'm concerned, if you don't study, you don't play in here," Almeyda said in strong terms during a press conference when asked about his young players.
Almeyda has also integrated all four teams of Chivas development system (Third and Second Divisions, U17 and U20). That way, he is able to keep a close eye on the youngsters' growth without having to rely on other coaches' perceptions. That has enabled Almeyda to monitor and spark their development personally.
Other measures taken by Almeyda have included a reshuffling of the club's facilities. He placed the team's weight room in a spot previously reserved for an all-purpose suite, since it had better lighting and has a more intimate setting. Two first-rate dining rooms were built: one for players and the other one for the club's staff and employees, something that never existed before at the club. Bedrooms for young players were completely remade and the manager placed his office on the first floor of the main team's dressing room. His door is always open, but there's one condition: Almeyda never sets a foot inside the locker room. "He won't get in there, not even by mistake. He respects our space quite a lot," a player reveals.
Matias Almeyda has fully rebuilt Valle Verde from the inside out, but most importantly, he has instilled a sense of humanity throughout the whole organization. That is the key behind Chivas' success in winning five trophies and Almeyda becoming the most successful coach in the club's recent history.