Sinaloa, Mexico's breadbasket and breeding ground for soccer maestros

The state of Sinaloa is located on the Pacific Coast so fishing is big, but it is best known as Mexico's breadbasket, the leading producer of rice and vegetables. Its fertile fields and rugged terrain make it perfect for the production of the illegal drugs like marijuana and heroin.

Opium was first cultivated by Chinese immigrants who arrived in the 19th century as railroad laborers, and its production was later subsidized by the U.S. government in need of morphine for soldiers during World War II.

Sinaloa is the home of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico's most famous narcotrafficker and former head of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, currently in jail and awaiting extradition to the United States.

In terms of sports, Sinaloa is baseball country, producing many MLB players, most recently young Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna. During the winter, three Sinaloa teams compete in the Mexican Pacific League: Los Mochis, Mazatlan and Culiacan.

Soccer players who have come out of Sinaloa include Jared Borgetti, Omar Bravo and Hector Moreno. Dorados, based in Culiacan, is Sinaloa's biggest biggest soccer team, but it has only spent three seasons in Mexico's top flight, most recently in 2015-16.

Culiacan has produced more homicides in the last decade than any other city except Juarez, and Americans are advised to avoid non-essential travel there. But it holds a small place in soccer lore as the former home of Pep Guardiola, who spent the last six months of his playing career at Dorados.

The New York Times' Rory Smith recounts the story of how Guardiola was lured to Culiacan by journeyman Spanish coach Juan Manuel Lillo, a friend and mentor, in 2006.

Even back then, Culiacan was dangerous, and Guardiola was holed up at the Hotel Lucerna, a popular Mexican chain, where he had plenty of time to talk and think soccer.

For all the importance that is placed on coaching schools, much of the what aspiring coaches learn can take place anywhere there are coaches like Lillo with a passion for sharing what they know and players willing to listen. Dorados teammates like Argentine Angel Morales and Uruguayan Sebastian Abreu told Smith how Guardiola would spend hours coaching them on little details.

They might not have known it at the time, but Culiacan served as a testing ground for Guardiola's theories about soccer that he later put to use at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City, though Lillo downplays his role in making Guardiola a soccer maestro.

“Happiness is not about the place,” Lillo said. “There was not much security there at the time, but we lived a life of work, and of friendship, so those things did not trouble us. I remember those days happily because of the emotions they brought, emotions that endure now, that will last all our lives.”
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