Ramos, Wynalda have faith in Vucetich

Posted by Jeff Carlisle

Without question, Mexico’s bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup has been a shambles. El Tri has managed just one win in eight games, all while scoring a paltry four goals. But for two former U.S. internationals, Thursday's appointment of Victor Manuel Vucetich is precisely what Mexico needs to salvage its campaign.

For most fans in the U.S. -- and in particular followers of MLS -- Vucetich is the man who as manager of Monterrey orchestrated the downfall of numerous MLS sides in the CONCACAF Champions League, including the defeat of Real Salt Lake in the 2011 final.

But Vucetich’s reach into U.S. soccer extends beyond those exploits. Earlier in his career, he managed U.S. Under-20 manager Tab Ramos, as well as Ramos’ U.S. international teammate Eric Wynalda. Ramos played one season under Vucetich when the two were at UANL Tigres in 1995-96, while Wynalda was on loan to Leon when Vucetich managed there in 1999. Wynalda in particular was effusive in his praise for Vucetich.

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“The guy is just a flat-out genius,” Wynalda said. “He destroys opponents on knowing their frailties. He is the ultimate. He knows what opponents are going to do before they’ve thought it. His team will be prepared; they’ll know what they’re doing. He’s just thinking way ahead of everybody else.”

But there are bigger questions about Vucetich's appointment, ones that go beyond his tactical acumen. For all the talk of Mexico’s on-field problems -- El Tri has won just once in eight games during the final-round Hexagonal, and scored just four goals -- the biggest issue is between the ears. From the moment Eddie Johnson put the U.S. ahead during Tuesday’s 2-0 win over El Tri, one could see how Mexico’s self-belief evaporated, and how fragile the team’s psyche is.

“I feel like you could walk up to those [Mexican players], slap them in the face, and they wouldn’t do a thing,” Wynalda said. “That pride has been lost. I don’t see it. I don’t see guys really representing their country the way they have in the past.”

In the news conference confirming his appointment, Vucetich said he’ll hold two three-day training camps for Mexico-based players. Yet even when combined with the practices that will take place immediately before the Oct. 11 crunch match against Panama, he won’t have much time to prepare.

So how much repair work can Vucetich actually get done? Ramos admits it's an immense challenge, but he cited Vucetich’s man-management skills as among his strengths.

“Vucetich isn’t a rah-rah coach, but he’s very direct,” Ramos said. “He doesn’t need to yell it at you, he doesn’t need to be yelling from the sidelines, but he will be very direct and very honest. There’s no question he is a motivator, in his own way. He’ll tell you the things you need to hear, and that will force you to motivate yourself. He will get the most out of guys because he is demanding and fair.”

There are those who have suggested that a fiery personality in the mold of Javier Aguirre is precisely what the team needs. Wynalda disagrees.

“Mexico is in the middle of their own storm, they don’t need to add a hurricane to it,” he said. “The one thing about Vucetich, if he’s in the eye of the storm, everyone around him will feel calm and confident. That’s what Mexico needs.”

Questions also abound in terms of personnel. Goalkeeper Memo Ochoa and in particular forward Carlos Vela have been in self-imposed international exile, with Vela’s absence being especially felt given the dearth of goals. At his news conference, Vucetich said he would talk to both players first before deciding whether to bring them back into the team.

His conservative approach is understandable. Given the tenuous nature of Mexico’s qualifying, it will be imperative that Vucetich get the right mix of players with, more importantly, the right attitude.

“Vucetich normally will lean toward playing guys who have won things,” Ramos said. “It’s important to him to have a team of champions, of people who know how to win things.”

Ramos recalled that during this time at Tigres, Vucetich constantly reminded him that he had never won anything in his career. Later that season, Tigres won the Mexican Cup, and in a bit of ironic overload, that side included now-deposed Mexico manager Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre.

That is just one of 13 titles Vucetich has won in his managerial career. In fact, he’s lost only one final, that being in the 2012 Clausura against Santos Laguna. And given the success of his Monterrey sides, he should have no shortage of players from which to choose.

“I think he will select guys who have played for him, guys who are used to him, and I think that’s the right way to go at this point,” Ramos said. "He’ll bring them in, the guys know what to expect, he knows what he’s going to get out of them, he knows how to push their buttons.

“Playing Panama, that’s like a final for them. They need to win this game. I’m not saying it will only be players he knows, because he’ll need to bring in Chicharito and hopefully Vela. But in the end, I would think he’ll surround himself mostly with guys that he knows well.”

For El Tri, the hope is that such familiarity will breed success, even if it requires going to a playoff against New Zealand. Wynalda is optimistic that it will.

“Vucetich understands his job perfectly, and that’s to get guys to enjoy their profession,” he said. “That’s the one thing that Mexico needs right now. They need guys to loosen up and enjoy it a little bit because there hasn’t been a lot of smiling in Mexico.”

Ultimately, that will only come if Mexico qualifies.

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