After achieving global successes at youth national-team level, Mexican football is fully focused on making the leap with El Tri’s senior side, currently under head coach Jose Manuel de la Torre. The respected supremo has certainly made a promising start to his time at the helm, having claimed victory at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup – thus securing a spot at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 – and guiding Mexico comfortably through to the six-team final round of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
As he continues to prepare his charges for the decisive ‘Hexagonal’ phase of Brazil 2014 qualifying, ‘Chepo’ De la Torre graciously took time out to speak exclusively to FIFA.com about this June’s Festival of Champions in Brazil, the current form of Tri striker Javier Chícharito Hernandez and his burning desire to “take Mexico to the very top”.
FIFA.com: What are your hopes and expectations for Mexico’s FIFA Confederations Cup campaign this year?
Jose Manuel de la Torre: It’s very important for us to be involved in a competition of this calibre. This is a very strong tournament featuring the champions of all the confederations, which will help us find out where we’re at in footballing terms. Of course it’s going to be very tough, but we’ve got pretty high expectations. Mexico have been growing stronger for some time now and we need to prove that at major tournaments and with the senior national side.
From a squad perspective, this competition will be a further opportunity to bed in the many youngsters that have been brought into the group, right?
Definitely! It’s going to be a good way of testing the mettle of those youngsters who’ve been breaking through, to see if they’ve got what it takes. I know there’s still some way to go, so it’s hard to say who might be selected or not, but there are a lot of lads chasing a place in the squad and in the team. These decisions will be tricky for us to make, but this competition will be an important benchmark.
How else could this tournament prove useful? In terms of logistics ahead of Brazil 2014?
Yes, that too. It’ll be played around the same time of year as the 2014 World Cup, which means it could give us an idea of everything that might come up in the future. But, we’re not getting carried away, because we’ve not guaranteed our ticket [to Brazil 2014] yet. We’re going to be cautious, even though it [the FIFA Confederations Cup] is the precursor to the World Cup.
Where do you rank CONCACAF football in global terms right now?
It’s really come on a lot. In fact, at the Olympic Games [in 2012] we saw two teams from the region reach the knockout stages [Editor’s note: Honduras exited in the last eight]. There were some worthy opponents there, and Mexico came away with the gold medal. That boosts the profile of the CONCACAF Zone. The region has been gradually on the up, increasing standards, and that will help us when it comes to taking on teams from other confederations.
Mexico have in recent years won world titles at youth level but have yet to claim a global crown at senior level. How can they take that next step?
By consolidating [our success at youth level]. It’s all part of a process that’s been in place for a long time, during which both the game’s leaders and club owners made the decision to invest a little more at grassroots level, in training people better and in becoming more competitive at international level. That’s helped Mexico achieve results at youth level, but this entire process needs to be capitalised on by the senior squad. As we spoke about at the beginning, we’ve got competitions coming up which will give us the chance to watch and get the most out of our young players. I think they can really help us take the next step that Mexico needs to be at the forefront of the footballing world.
In fact, you called up several members of that Olympic squad in the previous round of FIFA World Cup qualifiers. How are they adapting to life with the seniors?
Very well, as we’ve followed them very closely all the way through the ranks – from U-17 to U-23 level. We’re in constant communication, attending their training sessions and when they play competitions. That gives us more information on the players and helps us get to know them better. They know they’ve got the chance to progress or position themselves better at any time. That’s why they were involved in the game against El Salvador and they did a good job. They’re young but they’ve already gained a lot of international experience, and they’re able to take on any opponents anywhere and play the same way they would in Mexico. It’s been quite pleasing. It’s been good to introduce them gradually when opportunities have come around, because they’ve gone about establishing themselves and adapting to life with the senior squad. Of course, we see them being involved in the future too.
One of your higher-profile players, Javier Hernandez, has been subjected to very mixed treatment from the Mexican media recently. In psychological terms, how do you work with a player in this situation to prevent it affecting his performances?
Chícharito has a great attitude. Whether he’s had a great game and scored a couple of goals or hasn’t been able to find the net, he’s still the same person. He’s a guy who’s mentally very strong, who never gives a ball up as lost. He just keeps going and going, something we see him do constantly at Manchester United. He doesn’t pay much attention to what the press say. When he’s come in for criticism he’s stayed on the same path, and continues to be a player who gives his all for the national team. And that always puts him back in a position to stay in the squad by playing well and scoring goals. Whatever people say about him, he’s still the same lad.
The final six-team qualifying round of CONCACAF Zone qualifying is approaching. Is there more pressure on Mexico’s shoulders given their status as regional giants?
You have to be realistic; we’re always going to be in that situation. But I don’t like to put any labels on my team, and I think the only thing that can give us that status is getting good results. Of course, the fact the region’s sides are growing stronger makes qualifying harder. It’s not going to be easy, but Mexico know that, understand that and have always found a way of trying to get the results they want. In this case our goal is to seal our ticket for the World Cup. What happened and what’s been done before is behind us, it’s in the past. It’s not useful anymore, it doesn’t count. That said, it does help us validate the work we’ve been doing, which is something we have to justify constantly. That makes us prepare better and not leave anything to chance.
For the first time in a while, Mexico have an abundance of attacking talent to call upon. How do you keep so many players happy when there isn’t room for everyone?
The players have things clear, they know the competition is fierce. They also know that their national-team chances mainly come down to what they do at club level – that’s their calling card. We’ve always had a very good level of communication with club coaches, so we know what’s going on with the players, as well as how they’ve behaved and reacted in different situations. That helps us include the players who best fit the national squad. They know that, because it’s something we’ve spoken about constantly. The problem’s always about deciding who to select, but better that than having nobody to choose from!
Mexico haven’t played five consecutive games at a FIFA World Cup final tournament since the 1986 edition on home soil. Is breaking through that invisible barrier an extra motivation for you?
It’s not about making a name for myself, it’s about furthering Mexico’s cause. It’s about Mexican players realising they can achieve any goal, like they did at the Olympics. Yes, I take a measured approach and don’t like to get too carried away, but we’ll always dream of reaching the very top. And this case is no exception.