Saturday, June 11, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: June 12, 11:14 AM UK
Chicken riddle could derail Mexico
Mexico's drugs bust at the Gold Cup was a case in point for those who believe national football teams often deliver the worst traits of the populations they play for.
While back home a nation has declared bloody war on the murderous cartels that terrorise its towns and cities, across the border five footballers tasked with delivering hope to the Mexican people tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs back in May - in tests administered by the Mexican Football Federation (FMF).
Sadly, and for the second time in nine months, the soaring talents of Mexico's next generation have been overshadowed by scandal. Last September it was alleged the team celebrated a friendly win over Colombia with a group of prostitutes and a transvestite at a riotous party in Monterrey. This time the charges are far more serious. Guillermo Ochoa, Francisco Javier Rodriguez, Edgar Duenas, Antonio Naelson "Sinha" and Christian Bermude all tested positive for clenbuterol, and were immediately suspended from all competitions.
The story should have been successive 5-0 demolitions of El Salvador and Cuba, of Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos running amok as part of the most exciting Mexican side for a generation. But for now all plaudits are on hold, and a cloud of suspicion hangs over Jose Manuel de la Torre's wide-eyed overachievers to undermine everything they'd been working towards.
The players themselves are maintaining their innocence - or at least their ignorance. Clenbuterol is a crude growth drug used with Mexican livestock, and they're blaming the presence of the anabolic in their systems on contaminated chicken. Further tests set to be carried out on the players today (Friday), at the University of California in Los Angeles, are designed to prove whether the substance in their bodies matches that identified by the Mexican Department of Agriculture. If that happens, the players will presumably be exonerated. If the tests are inconclusive, or prove the steroid came from somewhere other than ingested meat, Mexican football has a highly serious problem to deal with.
If FIFA decides to intervene, there could yet be implications for their hopes at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The game's governing body are unlikely to tread lightly on the notion of 'team doping' that would be appear to be suggested here - especially in the wake of Diego Maradona's repeated claims that his Argentina squad were given stimulants before the 1993 World Cup play-off match against Australia, and with re-elected president Sepp Blatter plagued by allegations of corruption, and vowing to clean up the game.
While individual offences typically result in just a ban for the player concerned, it's unclear what FIFA would do about widespread drug taking amongst teams. It's not unthinkable to suggest they could ban an entire team.
Such a ruling would have devastating implications for a maturing Mexico side hoping to realise the potential they showed in South Africa last year. Their coach at the World Cup, Javier Aguirre, talked proudly of a "precocious generation", and when you consider a crop of Hernandez, Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, and Andres Guardado, and the fact Mexico's 2005 Under-17 World Cup winners are now in their early 20s, it's easy to get carried away. This is a team from which big things are expected, and anything short of matching their 1970 and
1986 quarter-final appearances at Brazil 2014 would be deemed a failure.
"It's a new era for the national team," said Mexican legend Blanco in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup. "Time passes and young players come along ready to play. That's the beauty of soccer."
At 37, Blanco really was a man amongst boys in South Africa. Ten of Mexico's 23-man squad were 24 or under, and they delivered their infectious enthusiasm to a team who progressed at the expense of France in the group stages, and were far from outplayed in a 3-1 defeat to Argentina in the second round.
When considering that Carlos Tevez scored a controversial first from an offside position, and Mexico claimed a goal that wasn't given, it's little wonder Aguirre was fuming afterwards. It says everything about the the ambition of this Mexico team, that he tendered his resignation on the basis of failing to reach the last eight, and having been knocked out by one of the favourites. "I'm the person responsible. The plan was to be among the best eight in the world," he said.
Aguirre the player provides a link back to the last time scandal gripped the Mexican national team, in 1988. With a strong squad looking to build on their run to the quarter-finals at Mexico '86, where they were ultimately beaten by West Germany on penalties, big things were expected of Mexico as thoughts turned to Italia 90.
Hugo Sanchez was in his prime, and there was every reason to believe the team could match or even better what they'd achieved before. But when FIFA discovered they'd used over-age players in qualification for the 1989 World Youth Championship, Mexico were banned from participating at all levels for two years. As a result they missed out on 1990's World Cup finals in Italy.
It was a devastating blow to a football-crazed nation who felt this their time, and must hope history isn't about to repeat itself as a new generation of Mexican talent emerges - with an ambition to surpass even the class of 1986.
For that reason, most of Mexico will be praying their meat is contaminated tonight. And you can bet your last peso that chicken fajitas will be off the menu as Chicharito and company continue a troubled quest for Gold Cup glory.