Even though Jose Manuel de la Torre or Chepo as he is widely known has a lot of blame to shoulder, Mexico aren’t at risk of missing out on the World Cup just because of one stubborn manager. It’s a little bit deeper than that.
Current situation? Mexico are fifth in the final qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup in the CONCACAF region with only 8 points from their first 8 matches, scoring a total of 4(!!!) goals. They’re lost only twice, and yet they’ve won only once, and find themselves behind Panama, who are fourth with 8 points and holding the place for the playoff against the Oceania team. Honduras are third with 11 points, while Costa Rica and the United States have already clinched their qualification.
What’s left? Mexico have two matches left: A do or die home match against Panama at the Azteca, which is no longer the fortress it used to be. They lost to Honduras there, and their only win in the fourth round so far has come against Jamaica on the road. A win over Panama will mean Mexico have clinched at least fourth place, but in order to avoid a play-off they also have to come up big in their visit to Costa Rica, who don’t have much to play for.
How did it come to this? Mexico haven’t missed a World Cup since 1990, and that was only because they were banned due to playing ineligible players in a FIFA youth competition. The last time they missed out on the tournament through the qualifiers was 1982, and overall they’ve been to 14 of the 19 tournaments. The last time they didn’t make it out of the group stage was 1978.
Chepo took the job in 2011, and it started out quite well for him. Mexico won all six matches, including twice against Costa Rica, in the third round of the qualifying campaign. Even though the team wasn’t playing like many expected it to in terms of style, the results came. Chepo was a very successful manager at club level with Chivas and Toluca. The collapse, and imminent disaster was hard to predict.
There are two things Chepo is being blamed for: Using old players that simply aren’t good enough, and the whole Carlos Vela debacle. Vela doesn’t come out as the most reasonable of players from it all, but at the end, the coach is usually blamed for one of his best players and an emerging star in the Spanish La Liga not playing on the team.
And then there’s the whole Gerard Torrado, Pablo Barrera issue, who keep getting credit despite looking awful time after time. His alliance to players who don’t do enough for the side on the pitch has decimated the Mexico midfield, and has left talented forwards like Guardado, Dos Santos and Hernandez without anyone to help them, as Mexico look more and more apathetic to the outcome of their matches.
The problems do originate from something that has nothing to do with Chepo. The Mexican league might be too strong for its own good, in way that money has become the important thing. Billionaires own about half of the league’s teams, making it an excellent spot for South American players, ruining the chances of development for young Mexican players, who don’t get European interest as much as Argentinians and Brazilians do.
The MLS has been a huge boosting factor in the strengthening of the other Central American nations, who now have a proper league for most of their players to thrive in. Panama might be having some sort of “golden generation”, but Honduras have been strong for quite a while, and Costa Rica are almost always a threat, and have only gotten better. Mexico, on the other hand, seems to have taken steps back, with not enough young talent coming in to replace the old guard, while Chepo kept ignoring those who should have been playing.
Luis Fernando Tena has taken over – an Assistant manager who coached the U-23 side to Olympics gold in 2012. However, the team he has now has its confidence shattered, and might be in a position where the pressure will be too great for them to perform under. Missing the World Cup isn’t the worst thing that can happen – the Netherlands, England and France have gotten over it over the years. The problem for Mexico is what happens next.