It looks like we won’t see any white smoke coming from the Mexican Soccer Federation chimney today after all.
Mexico’s decision-makers were expected to announce the next coach for El Tri today, but have put off the decision to reconsider another candidate, according to Record sports daily.
The latest twist has legendary manager Marcelo Bielsa getting a second look from Federation officials after his candidacy had apparently been rejected earlier in the process.
The El Tri job comes open
Team Mexico slinked out of the Qatar World Cup after only three matches, vilified by fans for failing to reach the knock-out stage for the first time since 1990. Only Brazil had a longer streak of emerging from the group stage.
Coach Gerardo Martino’s contract ended shortly thereafter and El Tri supporters said “Good riddance!” It wasn’t long before the debate over the next manager started making headlines.
Many pundits insisted that after two World Cup cycles with foreigners in charge (Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio led Mexico to the 2018 World Cup; Martino is Argentine)
‘I nominate myself!’
Former Mexico manager Miguel “Piojo” Herrera tossed his hat into the ring almost immediately and the controversial coach garnered considerable support with his early and aggressive lobbying even as others declared he did not merit a second chance with the national team.
Herrera came to the rescue of Team Mexico in 2013, taking over for José Manuel de la Torre and leading El Tri to the 2014 World Cup via an inter-confederation playoff against New Zealand.
In Brazil, Mexico stunned Croatia in the group stage to advance to the Round of 16 only to be eliminated by the Netherlands thanks to a questionable penalty call, but “El Piojo” was lauded for his work.
However, Herrera was unceremoniously fired by the Federation in 2015 after he assaulted a TV commentator in a Pennsylvania airport hours after leading El Tri to Gold Cup victory.
It took the polarizing manager two years to get back in the good graces of the powers that be, finally landing a job with Club América and leading the Aguilas to a Liga MX title a year later.
But “El Piojo” was fired in December 2020 after an infield skirmish with a rival coach that came on the heels of a homophobic rant against a referee.
Herrera was hired by Tigres six months later but lasted four drab seasons before ownership tired of his refusal to accept accountability for failing to guide one of the deepest rosters to a single league final.
Despite this résumé, Herrera is a finalist for the El Tri job even as rumors of dissent among team owners have leaked to the press.
Almada has support, too
Guillermo Almada arrived from his native Uruguay in 2019 and has enjoyed tremendous success in Liga MX, reaching the playoffs every season and advancing to three finals, including the past two.
Almada directed Santos Laguna to the Clausura 2021 Final where the Guerreros lost to Cruz Azul, but the club played an exciting brand of attacking fútbol, both offensively and defensively
After five seasons in La Comarca, Almada moved to Pachuca in January 2022 and the Tuzos made it to the finals in both seasons last year, losing to Atlas in May before destroying Toluca in October to claim the Apertura 2022 crown.
Almada has earned the reputation as a taskmaster who works well with younger players. Both are qualities required of the next El Tri boss, especially as recent reporting suggests several national team “stars” were able to set their own rules in Mexico’s training camps.
As for developing youngsters, Santos Laguna and Pachuca benefited from Almada’s willingness to entrust academy players with responsibility and several of the players he groomed could be candidates for the El Tri roster in the upcoming World Cup cycle.
To think simply lacking Mexico citizenship would work against Almada is unfortunate especially as his experience in Liga MX and knowledge of the Mexican game and players should be a plus.
‘El Loco’ Bielsa has long been an El Tri target
Hailed as one of the most influential managers of all time, the legendary Marcelo Bielsa has been on the Mexico Soccer Federation wish list for some time.
In fact, there were reports back in September that Martino had resigned and Bielsa would be chosen to replace him.
“El Loco” coached Atlas and América in Liga MX back in the mid-1990s and was very popular here. His coaching tree is said to be upwards of 250 managers and includes “Tata” Martino himself, as well as Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pocchetino and Eduardo Berizzo.
Former América coach Santiago Solari, former Chivas coach Matías Almeyda and current Cruz Azul coach Raúl Gutiérrez are also identified as acolytes.
Earlier this month, Pachuca ownership lobbied for Bielsa to be nominated to take on El Tri duties but the proposal appeared to go nowhere.
On Friday afternoon as Mexico’s footballing media breathlessly awaited the final decision, reports emanated that the Federation decided to make it a three-man race. That means we won’t see any hint of white smoke until Monday at the earliest.