In Mexico, all the top clubs have clearly defined identities. The hugely popular Chivas Guadalajara are known for their policy of only contracting Mexican players, Club America for their fanatical support and the financial clout that allows them to bring in top foreign talent, while Cruz Azul have forged a reputation as the little club that made it big on the back of attractive, winning football.
Another in this category are Club Universidad Nacional (UNAM), or Pumas, to give them their popular name. Though favoured by many students and academics, the club generates a passion comparable with any of its rivals and continues to espouse two of its oldest traditions: a top-notch youth academy and a fervent fan base.
Birth of an institution
It was back in 1937 when the university first tried to affiliate an UNAM representative into the Mexican top flight, but the petition was rejected by league officials. With their team overshadowed by the university's more popular American Football side, the squad had to make do with competing in inter-university tournaments.
However in 1954, thanks to tireless efforts of Guillermo Aguilar Alvarez, an engineer and esteemed former UNAM pupil, Mexico's most prestigious seat of learning was awarded a place in the country's second division. Their blue and gold colours were those of the institution, while their Pumas moniker was inherited from the name of their American Football counterparts, Pumas Dorados de la UNAM.
The club played their first league game 12 September 1954, travelling north to Monterrey. However, the transition to the professional game proved harder than expected and, after just three years, Pumas were granted permission to quit the league for 12 months to rebuild. Difficult though that was, the capital side would come back with renewed vigour. After a fine season in 1962, thanks in no small part to coach Octavio Vial and in-form striker Carlos Calderon de la Barca, UNAM secured their long-awaited promotion to the Primera Division with a 5-1 win over Cataluna de Torreon.
Making of a legend
Despite a challenging time in their early years in the top flight, the experience served to forge the club's philosophy of growing from within. Thanks to the intelligence and far-sightedness of the great Argentinian coach Renato Cesarini, a youth academy was set up that would become the hallmark of the university club and eventually produce some of the country's most talented players.
It was in 1974/75 when all the hard work began to bear fruit. First they won that year's Campeonato de Campeones, before lifting their first league crown two seasons later. Overseas players like Bora Milutinovic, Juan Jose Munante and Evanivaldo Cabinho Castro blended seamlessly with home-grown talent like Leonardo Cuellar and Miguel Mejia Baron in this entertaining side, who would also claim runners-up spot in the league in the next two seasons.
Their second league championship followed in 1980/81. It was to be a landmark year for the club, witnessing as it did the emergence of a deadly strike partnership between Cabinho and the academy's star pupil, Hugo Sanchez. Under the guidance of Milutinovic, who had made the transition from player to coach, the duo spearheaded a team that has since taken on iconic status for its attacking play.
For the remainder of the decade, Pumas continued to contend for major honours but, despite producing wave after wave of talented youngsters and buying top players from abroad, they would not add to their tally of league crowns. That title drought finally came to an end in 1990-91, when a superb team including the likes Jorge Campos, Claudio Suarez, Alberto Garcia Aspe and Luis Garcia, won their third league crown. Sweeter still was the manner of victory, secured with a win over arch-rivals America, with one of the goals being scored by current coach Ricardo Tuca Ferreti.
The 90s were to be a period of transition, with major honours eluding the club until 2004, by which time fans' favourite Hugo Sanchez had returned to take up the coaching reins. After three trophy-less seasons under Hugol, UNAM made a spectacular return to form in 2004, claiming both the Clausura and Apertura championships with players like Sergio Bernal, Joaquin Beltran, Dario Veron, Leandro, Francisco Fonseca and Bruno Marioni driving them on to new heights.
Though their 2005 league form was disappointing by comparison, Pumas came within a whisker of winning a continental title that year after losing the Copa Sudamericana final to Boca Juniors on penalties. 2007 was also a frustrating one for the fans, as they had to settle for runners-up spot in the Apertura after been beaten in the final by Atlante. In their last league campaign, the 2008 Apertura, Ricardo Ferreti's men made the end-of-season play-offs but crashed out in the quarter-finals to Cruz Azul.
The Estadio Olimpico Universitario, also known as Mexico 68, is part of the UNAM University City (Ciudad Universitaria) that was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007. Inaugurated in 1952, the stadium was the venue for the 1968 Olympic Games and a host city during the 1970 and 1986 FIFA World Cups. The venue also boasts a mural from acclaimed Mexican artist Diego Rivera and currently has capacity for 68,954 spectators.