Guadalajara, UNAM fill head coaching vacancies

Rafael Puente, Jr., (left) chats with Ricardo Ferretti during a FC Juárez match in February. Puente was named head coach of UNAM, his fourth coaching gig in Liga MX. (Photo by Alvaro Avila/Jam Media/Getty Images)
Rafael Puente, Jr., (left) chats with Ricardo Ferretti during a FC Juárez match in February. Puente was named head coach of UNAM, his fourth coaching gig in Liga MX. (Photo by Alvaro Avila/Jam Media/Getty Images) /
Liga MX Chivas Pumas
Veljko Paunovic was presented as the new Guadalajara Chivas manager this week. It will be the Serbian’s first job in Liga MX. (Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images) /

While Pachuca was busy demolishing Toluca last week to claim its seventh Liga MX title, two teams were busy filling coaching vacancies while another sought to confirm their manager’s status before making roster decisions ahead of next season.

New Guadalajara general manager Fernando Hierro (yes, the Real Madrid legend) made his first big decision, hiring Veljko Paunovic to take charge of “El Rebaño Sagrado.”

In Mexico City, UNAM discarded Plans A, B and C and settled on Rafael Puente, Jr., as the next Pumas boss.

And in Monterrey, new Rayados general manager José Antonio “Tato” Noriega is conferring with head man Víctor Manuel Vucetich who has one year remaining on his contract. “King Midas” has declared his interest in seeing out his contract and the team is formulating plans for training camp ahead of the Clausura 2023.

Welcome to Liga MX, Veljko!

Guadalajara’s presentation of their new coach sent Chivas fans scrambling for information about their new Serbian coach.

Upon taking the GM job, Hierro told reporters he wanted a coach with experience in Europe, a history of working with youth teams and familiarity with Mexico and Concacaf.

Over the weekend, Hierro was in Spain trying to convince Alberto Celades (former Spain U-17, U-18 and U-21 coach, ex-Valencia manager) to accept the job.

Back-up choices reportedly included three-time Liga MX champion Antonio Mohamed and former Cruz Azul manager Paco Jémez. Mohamed led Tijuana, América and Monterrey to Liga MX titles and also coached in LaLiga (Celta de Vigo). Jémez spent a year as Cementeros boss, ending a three-year playoff drought for the club in 2017, and has managed multiple clubs in LaLiga.

So the hiring of Paunovic came out of the blue. The 45-year-old Serb faced his new boss as a member of crosstown rivals Atlético de Madrid before retiring with MLS side Philadelphia Union.

Paunovic started his managerial career in the Serbian national team youth program, coaching the U-18, U-19 and U-20 sides, winning the Under-20 FIFA World Cup in 2015 (defeating Mexico in the group stage).

A few months later, he moved to MLS where he managed Chicago Fire for four years. In August 2020, Paunovic took over at Reading in England’s Championship league, a second-division side, but left by mutual decision in February of this year.

The new Guadalajara boss checks off two of Hierro’s boxes – experience with youth sides and in Europe – but during his presentation to reporters on Monday, Paunovic admitted he knows very little about Liga MX.

It remains to be seen how much patience will be shown to the new “shepherd of the Sacred Flock.” Chivas fans are tired of seeing their heroes fold in the playoffs so Hierro and Paunovic will be expected to deliver results soon.

Pumas settle on a familiar face … sort of

Once UNAM made the decision to dismiss Andrés Lillini after five season in charge, legendary manager Ricardo Ferretti was the favorite to return to the CU.

The winningest Liga MX coach in history (a record-tying seven Liga MX titles plus four Champions Cup trophies) not only led UNAM to a league title as a player (1980-81) but also guided “los felinos” to the Clausura 2009 championship.

And Pumas GM Miguel Mejía Barón had made it clear he wanted his next coach to have Blue and Gold blood in his veins.

Even before the Aperura 2022 ended, it appeared that Ferretti was signed, sealed and delivered. Only he wasn’t.

The name of former León manager Ariel Holan then popped up as Plan B even though he had no connection to UNAM. However, the Argentine led the Esmeraldas to a Liga MX final during his two seasons in charge of “La Fiera.”

Then after Jaime Lozano relinquished the Necaxa job, the former Pumas star (“Jimmy” was a member of UNAM’s back-to-back champions in 2004) applied for the job and suddenly he was the favorite.

Turns out that in addition to wanting the new coach to have ties to the club, management was insisting on selecting the coaching staff. Neither Ferretti nor Lozano were willing to make that concession and their applications were tossed in the bin.

So up steps Rafael Puente, Jr., who is apparently undisturbed that he is the team’s fourth choice.

Puente came up through the Pumas academy system though he never played for UNAM (the midfielder spent his brief playing career with Atlante and Necaxa).

The 43-year-old Mexico City native was most recently Ferretti’s bench coach at FC Juárez and also has three Liga MX jobs on his résumé (undistinguished terms with Lobos BUAP, Querétaro and Atlas).

Vucetich and Noriega on the same page in Monterrey

After taking over for outgoing GM Duilio Davino, the first thing “Tato” Noriega did was get in touch with coach Vucetich, a four-time Liga MX Coach of the Year with four Liga MX titles to his credit.

Vucetich was already making plans for a preseason training camp in Cancún, so the two will next begin discussion about roster adjustments.

Next. Pachuca strolls to seventh Liga MX title. dark

The Rayados finished the Apertura 2022 as the No. 2 seed, but were dispatched with ease by Pachuca in the Liga MX semifinals.