Will León rise like phoenix from the ashes?



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Video: Pinguinogalaxia (YouTube)

The total mayhem which took place at Club León (Mexico)’s stadium premises on October 9th seems right out of a Hollywood action flick – Estadio León owner Robert Zermeño arrive with a bailiff, Club León members escape with all the trophies, supporters storm the facility and Zermeño reportedly runs for dear life. Since then, it is getting bizarre by the day.

Zermeño has, in fact, violated the deal as per which Club León could use the arena till 2022 and literally threw them out of the stadium.

The Estadio León, unofficially known as Nou Camp, is a mid-sized football stadium with a seating capacity of 31,297 built in 1967, and located in the City of León, Guanajuato, in the Bajío region of Central Mexico.

Club León, also known as León, is a Mexican professional football club based in León, Guanajuato, Mexico. León won titles including the Liga MX México Primera División title five times in 1948, 1949, 1952, 1956, and 1992.

When it comes to their playing form, the Leóns are going great guns. ‘The Wild Beasts’ have recently entered the FIFA break comfortably atop the Liga MX (top professional football division of the Mexican football league system) table and riding a 10-game unbeaten streak. They come out of the break uprooted but are apparently homeless due to the stadium drama which broke out recently.

In the first week of October, ‘The Wild Beasts’ were booted out of their own stadium after a lengthy legal battle resulted in ownership of the Nou Camp being transferred to a private interest. The judge ruled the winners of the lawsuit could finally take possession of the facility.

Mexico Leon stadium October 2020Image: HKS

Right before dawn on October 9th, club officials finished clearing out their offices in the stadium – carting out trophies, mementos, archives and furnishings – and this caused much consternation among the team’s fans. Supporters forced their way inside the gates after the new ‘owners’ took control of the property, but the presence of the National Guard helped prevent major violent incidents from breaking out.

It is very likely that Leóns will call Estadio Victoria – Necaxa’s home stadium – home for the remainder of the Guardianes 2020 (top-flight football league in Mexico).

Estadio Victoria is sports stadium in the Mexican city of Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes. The stadium opened in 2003 and boasts capacity of 23,851. It is the home stadium of the Necaxa football club, which played in Mexico City at the Estadio Azteca before relocating to Aguascalientes and Estadio Victoria.
 

Rewind

Back in 2018, the City of León lost its ownership of Estadio León to businessman Roberto Zermeño. It saw the end to a seven-year long drawn-out battle with the court ruling that Zermeño owns the City’s only professional stadium – Nou Camp. The legal battle continued till 2019 resulting in Zermeño having the last laugh.

Earlier, Zermeño was the owner of the club but left the ownership of the football team later, only retaining ownership of the ground and six hectares of land. All this time, he was assuring the fans that he would respect the present tenancy lease with Club León (now owned by Grupo Pachuca – professional football club in Mexico) and they would be allowed to use the facility until 2022.

Suddenly, Zermeño apparently had a change of mind and came to forcibly take possession of the grounds from Club León on the early morning of October 9th. However, the millionaire had to flee the facility when fans descended on the venue coming to know that he was trying to bully their sporting heroes. Irate fans also engaged in vandalism which caused minor damage to the arena.

However, later, flouting all rules Zermeño stood ground and the ‘Los Esmeraldas’ lost their stadium which served as their home venue for over half a century.

It is reported that Zermeño suddenly decided to take possession of the land on which the stadium sits as he wanted to increase the rent of the stadium. Media reports further stated that the City of León tried to acquire the site but the tycoon quoted an exorbitant rate. The land was valued in 2018 at MXN 540 million ($25m), while Zermeño supposedly asked for a billion ($47m), a price tag hardly justified when COVID-19 is burning big holes in everybody’s pockets.

Club León plans to build a new stadium has been in the works for a long time now. Construction should have started by now but the same hit the COVID-19 speedbreaker. In September end, the club had assured its fans that construction would start in 2021. The construction work should be over by 2023. Till then, where would the Leóns play is a million-dollar question.

The President of the group that now owns Estadio León has said the Esmeraldas can continue to play at the Nou Camp, but ownership has said it does not trust the association led by Roberto Zermeño, a team President way back in the ‘80s and ‘90s who spent six years in jail after a tax evasion conviction. Zermeño has told State and municipal officials that he will sell the stadium to the State of Guanajuato in Mexico for 100 million pesos.
 

No solution in sight

The picture is still very unclear as to whether a new deal can be struck between the disgraced businessman and the club. At the moment, it seems ‘The Wild Beast’ would not at any cost sit for a compromise with Zermeño. An agreement to sell land to the City is also unlikely, even though Zermeño has invited authorities back to the table.

Things went to such an extent that the Governor of Guanajuato Diego Sinhué Rodríguez Vallejo was thinking on the lines of expropriation, so that the stadium serves its community and not the interest of one man’s wealth. Even more interestingly, the association of private box holders (across Latin America ‘palcos’ are often sold for generations in advance) is considering a class action lawsuit against Zermeño, which could – by their estimate – mean MN 800 million in damages.

For now, Zermeño is sitting on six hectares of centrally located land. However, he may not emerge victorious. The land is designated as sports use, which blocks major commercial projects unless zoning changes. And, Zermeño hardly has any friends left in the City hall.

As of now, everybody is keeping their fingers crossed and the fans are confident that ‘The Wild Beast’ will rise like the phoenix from the ashes.

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