Mexico coach merry-go-round goes on

Posted by Tom Marshall

From English to Swedish, Hungarian, Argentine, Brazilian and Mexican, El Tri's coaches have come in many different guises over the years, in terms of both nationality and outlook on how the game should be played. Since Justino Compean took over as president of the Mexican soccer federation in 2006, there have been eight coaches, although three have been on an interim basis.

The flip-flopping and indecision highlights a kind of philosophical question regarding just what soccer in Mexico is and where it should be heading. The short answer -- as the hodgepodge list of coaches shows -- those who run the national team don’t really know. .

Compean's term in charge is a microcosm of the larger issue of the identity of Mexican soccer. Hugo Sanchez was his first appointment, charged with improving the impressive four years of his nemesis, Ricardo La Volpe, the only Mexico coach since 1970 to complete a four-year World Cup cycle with the national team.

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On paper, Sanchez had the credentials after a successful period in charge of Pumas; he guided the university club to consecutive league titles. Combined with Sanchez's global profile and experience playing overseas, it seemed a positive step.

Yet 16 months after taking the job, Sanchez was fired after the Mexican U-23 side failed to make the 2008 Olympics.

Compean and his Mexican federation cronies went back to the drawing board and plucked out the name Sven-Goran Eriksson, who had been reasonably successful for England in the 2006 World Cup.

The risks of bringing in somebody who had little experience with the Mexican game were obvious, but it was a bold decision that would necessarily need time and some flexibility. It was also the most recent example of the federation's admitting that a large dose of external influence would be positive for the domestic game. But that didn’t last long as Eriksson's ideas clashed with those of the players and upper management.

Results weren’t good, and instead of riding it out and looking for an improvement over the longer run, the federation fired the Swede. Ten months were clearly not enough for what would have been a long-term project, and Eriksson's comments since remain a devastating condemnation of how the Mexican game is run.

One classic Eriksson line: "[Players] arriving [back at the hotel] at six in the morning wasn’t acceptable for me." Another: "Playing for the national team is not the same as playing in the park on a Sunday morning."

But aside from the quips, Eriksson -- who can talk openly knowing he’ll never likely be involved in the Mexican game again -- was flummoxed by the politics involved, such as having to explain in meetings with the club owners why a certain player was playing or not and answering questions that he "didn’t understand."

"What I did understand is that the meeting was with people who didn’t understand anything about soccer," Eriksson said -- a strike at the very heart of the way Mexico’s national team was and is run.

Cue the swing back to comfort, with Javier "The Fireman" Aguirre returning to rescue the team, qualifying for the World Cup and keeping everyone reasonably happy by once again scraping out of the group in South Africa in 2010 to fall in the round of 16 to Argentina.

Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre came in with plenty of domestic experience and success and started well, but most will need no reminder of the downhill spiral that 2013 has been.

For key players such as Andres Guardado, 26, and Giovani Dos Santos, 24, who have played with El Tri consistently from La Volpe onward, the constant chopping and changes of system, tactics, preparation and so forth doesn’t necessarily forgive recent below-par performances, but it certainly gives them some context.

It also helps comprehend the stance of striker Carlos Vela, who has stayed on the outside after becoming unhappy about the state and way the national team is run. With the frequency with which the Mexican federation changes coaches, could you blame Vela for holding out for De la Torre to fall on his sword?

The lack of a clear, consistent strategy from the top bosses in the federation isn’t the only reason Mexico is where it is now in World Cup qualifying, but it does create an insecurity and instability in the national team that surely hasn’t helped.

Follow Tom Marshall on Twitter @MexicoWorldCup


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