FOX Soccer Exclusive
Herrera earns shot to form his Mexico
Club América manager Miguel Herrera often spoke about his desire to one day manage Mexico. He extolled his own virtues, reiterated his interest in the position time and time again and wondered why more of his own players did not feature in the national team setup.
Herrera watched as José Manuel de la Torre retained his job through a torrid summer and Victor Manuel Vucetich snatched it when it finally became available. Vucetich's troubles in Costa Rica prompted yet another coaching change and finally provided the former Mexican international with a chance to assume control of El Tri.
“I've always wanted this opportunity since (América sporting president) Ricardo Peláez presented it to me two years ago,” Herrera told FOX Sports' Francisco X. Rivera during an exclusive interview on FOX Soccer Daily. “I thought the only way I would leave América was if I had a chance with the national team. And while people say this is not the right time, I feel indeed is the right time to support the national team and country.”
Herrera immediately displayed the strength of his backing and reinforced his previous statements by including 10 of his own players into the 22-man squad to face Finland in San Diego (live, Wednesday, 11 p.m. ET). Their exact status within the América side -- starter, squad player, reserve -- didn't particularly matter. Any Mexican player with a modicum of experience and the right club affiliation earned a place on the roster. Naturalized schemer Rubens Sambueza would have allowed Herrera to name a misshapen América starting XI had FIFA granted him clearance to feature for El Tri after appearing for the Argentina under-17 team in 2001 instead of rejecting the FMF's pleas on Tuesday.
Herrera justified the indulgence with an astute point: his final squad for the two-legged World Cup playoff against New Zealand next month might not include all of those América players, but he needed them now to espouse the principles he set forth at the club level. The new man wanted to install a completely revamped 5-3-2 system, a marked departure from the 4-2-3-1 formation often preferred by de la Torre and the 4-4-2 setup employed by Vucetich. As Vucetich would attest, it is not easy to implement novel concepts in a short period of time to an unfamiliar group of players.
The modest preparations -- including the usual training camps and a manageable friendly against a group of domestic-based Finns -- offers a way for the América players to shepherd their colleagues into life under Herrera. This group remains capable of muddling through the next few weeks, but there are questions about whether this América-centric approach befits a country with Mexico's resources and suits the task at hand against New Zealand.
Cohesiveness matters a great deal given the tribulations of the past year, but it must not come at the expense of putting the best representative team on the field. América isn't Chivas: there are foreign players -- including Aquivaldo Mosquera in central defense, the now-ineligible Sambueza in midfield and Luis Gabriel Rey up front -- logging significant minutes and playing important roles in the side. Turning El Tri into a faithful América replica would leave the same sort of holes experienced under other regimes and raise concerns about whether some of those domestic stars could make the proper leap.
Herrera's claims about improper representation hold some merit, but he must find middle ground between the two men included on Vucetich's watch and the 10 he named in his own squad. His confirmed lineup to face Finland includes seven America players -- Moisés Muñoz in goal, Paul Aguilar and Miguel Layún as the fullbacks, Maza Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Valenzuela in central defense, Juan Carlos Medina as the holding player in central midfield and Raul Jiménez up top -- to provide the spine with Club León trio Rafa Márquez, Luis Montes and Carlos Peña and Santos Laguna striker Oribe Peralta stepping into fill the remaining gaps. Even with a handful of other players integrated into the mix, Herrera might sacrifice physical attributes and technical ability for familiarity in some areas.
There are benefits to this approach, though. By blending his faithful club performers with other Liga MX stars for the date against Finland, Herrera can cull the qualities he fosters at the club level and merge them with the exacting standards in the international game. He took steps in that direction in the 4-0 victory over Ascenso MX side Altamira on Saturday by consigning Jiménez to the nominal second side temporarily and weaving his América players through both lineups.
Whether this spirit of integration extends to foreign-based stars such as Javier Hernández and Giovani dos Santos remains somewhat uncertain. Herrera recently wondered aloud whether El Tri would benefit from relying on a base of players for this match and setting aside any opportunity to add reinforcements just before the critical two-legged tie. The motivational tactic provoked good displays from dos Santos (perhaps the most in-form and ultimately most infuriating player in the pool, based on his performances with Villarreal and his indifferent efforts for Mexico) and Hernández over the weekend, but it might even extend beyond rhetoric depending on how easily the Finns are cast aside.
It is the sort of gambit too risky to undertake given the stakes, but Herrera might prove just wily enough to try it anyways. His belief in his own players -- the ones for Club América, the side he will manage once more when this peculiar interlude concludes -- and his route to control over this short-term project affords him the latitude to pursue just about any course of action.
"I work on repetitions a lot so that everything is clear I trust my players and I always tell them, you cannot go down without trying," said Herrera. "We have to try everything the only thing prohibited in my opinion is to give up and stop trying. People adapt faster to what they want, and I have been working with this group for two years now, they know what I expect from them on the field."
If Herrera eventually opts to rely on a large group of his América stars despite the alternatives at his disposal, then he will receive the answer he sought under previous regimes. He must hope his players prove him correct to justify his elevation to this role and secure the only outcome capable of validating his claims.
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