El Tri manager is on loan from Club America

Posted by Andrea Canales

It might be the first instance where a tweet may have fired a national team coach. No, it wasn't anything posted by the coach himself or any of his players. But minutes after the USA completed a last-moment victory over Panama that had the side effect of putting Mexico into a World Cup play-in versus New Zealand, some cheeky employee of U.S. Soccer sent a tweet from the official national team account directly to its Mexican counterpart with the hashtag #yourewelcomeMexico.

That humiliating tweet may have been the death knell for El Tri coach Victor Manuel Vucetich.

On Friday, the Mexican federation made official what had been rumored in the aftermath of Tuesday's loss to Costa Rica. Vucetich was out as coach, and Club America coach Miguel Herrera was in. The twist to the scenario is that Herrera is expected to remain on at his club until the end of the year, thus serving double duty as national team coach as well. Granted, he only has two matches versus New Zealand to worry about as El Tri coach, but to split his attention between two squads is still a lot to ask of any coach.


Make no mistake about it, either - Herrera is on an exceptionally short leash. Two games is now the norm for Mexico coaching stints.

The implication is strong that if Herrera falls short in these games, and if Mexico loses out on the World Cup, he is out as coach and the way is cleared for a rebuilding cycle under Argentine experienced coach, Marcelo Bielsa.

Some would actually prefer this to the shame of what has befallen the squad. Herrera may represent the final chance given to a domestic coach for some time.

It's darkly amusing to have the Mexican Football Federation (FMF), who for so long tolerated poor results under Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, suddenly sputter insistently that results are what determine a coach's fate.

Vucetich actually accomplished in one try what de la Torre had been unable to manage all year long -- a win in Estadio Azteca. After his firing, Vucetich rightly pointed out that this result had, in fact, helped Mexico reach the playoff, which was the requirement given to him by the FMF at his hiring.

Although the FMF had talked all during the de la Torre era about qualifying como sea, or basically nothing mattered other than making at least the playoff, suddenly FMF president Justino Compean was splitting hairs over what it meant to "make" the playoff.

"We had the right to end the contract," Compean said in the Friday press conference. "Vucetich did not qualify the team for the playoff. We were qualified (by the USA). We needed a draw, and we did not get it against Costa Rica."

Regardless of the passive voice versus the active, the end result was the same. But that wasn't good enough for the itchy trigger finger the FMF has had since finally firing de la Torre. The weak justification for firing Vucetich makes Compean's statements of how the FMF supports its coaches downright morbid.

"We support the coach to the death," Compean said. "We supported Vucetich to the last moment, but then he didn’t get the results. At that point, it's either Mexico, or it's Vucetich."

Now, of course, the new coach is Herrera. The 45-year-old has coached five Mexican clubs since 2002 and won his only title, the Liga MX Clausura, with Club America earlier this year. Las Aguilas are currently in first place in the league by an impressive margin, though the upcoming playoffs could render that lead moot.

Herrera should probably have been made the coach months ago, but the powerful club was clearly reluctant to lose its leader. Rumors abound that the club blocked his exit and, even now, is forcing Herrera into a time-share agreement that may ultimately doom his national team tenure.

Yon de Luisa, the Operations President of Club America, did nothing to dispel this idea at the conference. "It didn’t enter into our plans," he said when asked how the team felt about giving up their coach for national team duty. "We were focused on continuing our excellent course and seeking to defend our championship."

In fact, De Luisa made the whole weird, coach-sharing arrangement seem as though Club America was doing Mexico a great favor. "We are loaning our technical staff," De Luisa pointed out, referring to the appointment of the team's administrator, Ricardo Peláez, to the national team alongside Herrera.

That any club has the nerve to deign to "loan" a coach to the national team in the time of its greatest crisis probably reveals, more than anything, the dysfunctional nature of Mexico's sporting environment. Nothing should be more important than El Tri, but clearly, making Herrera shoulder a double responsibility, in effect coaching Mexico in his spare time as club coach, negates that priority.

Even those calling for Vucetich's head after the loss to Costa Rica should be wary of any coaching setup where the national team is considered a loan. It's also hard to trust the FMF when they seem to make decisions based on hurt pride rather than logic and careful planning.

Herrera himself cannot be criticized for failing to refuse this convoluted assignment. He has often stated that coaching El Tri has been his dream for years. It's not surprising that he agreed to do so, even under these bizarre circumstances.

It's actually possible that he can pull off the feat of qualifying Mexico and getting Club America to repeat as champions. But no coach should be asked to do so. The national team is important enough that if Herrera is the man for the job, it should be his only task.

His results need to be extraordinary. The time is short.


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