Mexico fans might not have rushed out to the Angel de Independencia to celebrate, but the firing of Diego Cocca surely led to some hearty celebrations across El Tri Nation.
The Mexican Soccer Federation (FMF) on Monday announced that the embattled coach had been sacked after a dismal seven-game tenure that included the embarrassing loss to Team USA on Thursday and six other unimpressive performances.
If the uninspired performances were not enough, it was evident that Cocca had lost the locker room and allowing him to remain in charge risked a deepening spiral.
The FMF has its hands full, as the entire organization is in a shambles with the Under-20 team failing to qualify for both the World Cup and the Olympics and the women’s team suffering the same fate.
El Tri has little turnaround time
Jaime Lozano has been named interim coach and his first task will be to lead Mexico in the fast-approaching Gold Cup.
Lozano, 44, led El Tri to a bronze medal in Tokyo so he is quite familiar with many of the players on Mexico’s roster though Cocca – and his predecessor, Gerardo Martino – misused the talent available to them.
To be fair to the heavily criticized Cocca, the current crisis really took shape under Martino who oversaw a dreadful showing in Qatar where El Tri failed to make it out of a World Cup group stage for the first time since 1994.
After Mexico won that bronze medal in the summer of 2021, many assumed that the Olympic squad would be the base of the World Cup roster. Ten Olympians did actually go to Qatar with El Tri, but only five of them played key roles (and two of those were among the three senior players that the Olympics allow teams to add once they’ve qualified).
In part, Martino’s actions during the Covid scare added to Mexico’s organizational issues. The Argentine coach chose to spend most of the pandemic back home in Argentina. In other words, he was unable to properly evaluate the form and evolution of potential roster choices. As such, Martino stuck with the veterans, many of whom were holdovers from the 2018 World Cup.
So when Cocca – whose tactical leanings can best be described as pragmatic and conservative – took over, it was no surprise that he favored veterans who fit his bland schemes. This is not what El Tri supporters had hoped for, especially since fans were enamored with the candidacies of Guillermo Almada and Ignacio Ambriz whose Liga MX teams play an exciting brand of pressing-and-attacking football.
FMF deserves its share of blame
Monday’s decision was made by an FMF that was only recently overhauled (new officials as well as a newly designed organizational chart that added a new executive position at the top).
Top executives had been fired in the weeks preceding the World Cup after the disastrous events involving the Under-20 team and the women’s team. New officials were brought in to manage the hiring of the senior team coach while owners of club teams were given a greater role in the selection process (though many later denied having any responsibility for the hiring of Cocca).
Last month, the FMF brought in new national team directors (Duilio Davino for the senior team and Andrés Lillini for all junior teams) and added an executive president role while announcing the organization’s stated purpose of completely overhauling the way the FMF operates.
Among the stated goals was to improve player development and promote player transfers to Europe while working with Liga MX clubs to enhance their academy systems.
One favored FMF activity was not discussed, however, and that is the frequency of national team games staged in the United States whose primary goal is to make money. These games – known pejoratively as “moleros” – tended to be little more than exhibitions against lesser teams and often did not coincide with FIFA dates so that European clubs were not obliged to release their players.
As such, Mexico’s roster was often nothing more than a make-shift squad playing against a second-rate opponent, but the FMF was getting reimbursed in dollars. So whether or not El Tri benefited always appeared to be of secondary concern.
El Tri fans are desperately hoping that the new FMF bosses were shaken by the embarrassing display against Team USA and return the focus to improving El Tri – at all levels – and working to strengthen the player pool.
Jaime Lozano will get his first crack at showing he deserves consideration as a permanent solution to the senior men’s team’s problems this Sunday when El Tri faces Honduras in its Gold Cup opener. Situated in Group B, Mexico then plays Haiti on June 29 and Qatar on July 2 and El Tri is fully expected to advance to the knockout round.
Here’s hoping the disgruntled players will be reanimated by the coaching change and start their road to redemption on Sunday in Houston.