Hugo Sanchez was as exhilarating as he was effective during a legendary playing career. Adored for his sublime touches and acrobatic volleys, he scored with military regularity throughout his years at the top. The Mexican striker won an incredible five Pichichi awards with the two Madrid giants between 1985 and 1990, and averaged a goal every second game in over caps for his country.
Sanchez moved into coaching in 2000, and after guiding Pumas to two domestic titles, he assumed the El Tri reins for a two-year spell in 2006. He has, however, been inactive since vacating the Almeria hot-seat last year.
FIFA.com caught up with the 52-year-old to discuss Real Madrid’s progress under Jose Mourinho, where Mexico rank among Las Americas’ best teams, the job facing their new coach Jose Manuel De La Torre, the talent of Javier Hernandez, his willingness to always be there for his country and desire to coach Los Merengues.
FIFA.com: Hugo, can you start by letting us know what you’re up to at the moment?
Hugo Sanchez: I’ve just settled back in Madrid again after a spell living in Almeria. My intention is to continue coaching in Spain and follow a similar path to the one I had as a player. Just as in my playing days, I started with a successful spell in Mexico, then I was national-team coach and now I’m in Europe. I’d like to stay in La Liga but I wouldn’t rule out coaching in another country. I’m waiting for an interesting offer, but if nothing comes up in Europe this year I would consider going back to Las Americas.
Real Madrid have always been close to your heart. How would you assess the club today?
To me they look to be on the right track. I think that they’ve sorted out the internal uncertainty that they used to have in the past. Fortunately the club’s identity always remains strong and Florentino [Perez] has taken the right decisions. Now they have to follow that up with silverware. As far as [Jose] Mourinho is concerned, I think he’s a great coach. I like his personality, which I feel is similar to mine. I like people to be true to themselves and he is. I’m convinced he’ll do a great job.
It came true for me as a player and I’d love to do so again as a coach. I won’t rest until I’ve done enough to be Los Merengues’ coach.
Do you think Madrid are a match for Barcelona yet?
Credit where credit’s due. Barcelona have done a great job in terms of their style of play, and above all they’ve put faith in a home-grown coach in Pep Guardiola and given him time to work. That’s very different to what happens at Real Madrid, where they demand immediate results. Let’s hope Madrid give Mourinho the time he needs. Good results don’t just fall from the sky, you need to be patient.
On a different subject, a few months on from the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, what’s your view on the current state of Mexican football?
We’re still not good enough to harbour hopes of winning a Copa America or a World Cup. Mexico are not yet ready to challenge the dominance of the likes of Brazil or Argentina. We started to show we were capable of going toe-to-toe with them back in 1993, but we haven’t taken the decisive step yet. I think that El Tri’s rightful place is as Las Americas' third-best team. Quite simply, the number of Mexican players at big clubs just doesn’t compare with those countries.
Do you think Mexico are in the process of narrowing that gap?
The results suggest not. I think the players have enough talent, but what often happens in Mexico is that other things are allowed to get in the way and slow the progress of our country’s football. Head coaches should be supported and backing should be given to the players, that’s what really matters. Without that, I think it [narrowing the gap] will be a real struggle. You can’t demand good performances if the set-up isn’t right.
El Tri are set to begin a new era under a new coach, Jose Manuel De La Torre. What needs to happen for this period to be a successful one?
I’ve always said that coaching cycles should be allowed to be brought to completion and that coaches need to be left to get on with the job. What happened to me was that I made the mistake of agreeing to coach the Olympic squad (Sanchez was sacked following Mexico's failure to qualify for Beijing 2008), which meant all the good work we’d been doing with the senior team was undone. The circumstances will be different now, but if people want results then coaches need to be allowed to get on with the job.
What can you tell us about the latest crop of Mexican footballers plying their trade in Europe?
I like their talent and their quality but, and I repeat, I think they need to be protected. They have what it takes to succeed but too much pressure is put on them, too much is expected of them, and they’re criticised too much. They’re very young players and the way they’re treated in our country makes them prefer to stay with their clubs rather than travel to play for the national team.
There are those that say Javier 'El Chicharito' Hernandez is the best striker to come out of Mexico since your good self. Would you agree?
Of course, you just have to look at the team he’s signed for. It’s not just anybody who earns a transfer to Manchester United at that age. I think he’s in the most favourable environment possible but watch out, he shouldn’t be compared to anybody because that’ll burden him with unnecessary responsibilities. Since we’ve not got many players with exceptional talent, we’ve got to look after them.
What advice would you give to these young Europe-based players?
They should be brave and not rest on their laurels. It was already tough for them to leave Mexico and come to Europe but they must understand that you have to maintain that level of effort. You don’t get too many opportunities like that in life and they’ve made the most of theirs, but they shouldn’t lose heart. If they’re patient, the results will come.
How do you think Mexico fared at South Africa 2010?
Well, it went the same as it always does. When I was appointed national-team coach I said that if we wanted to become world champions we needed to work as a team, with players, directors and journalists all pulling in the same direction. But that didn’t happen and there have been countless coaching changes. And while that’s good enough to see us in a mid-table position, between tenth and 20th in the world, I think that if there’d been continuity then we would have done as well as Uruguay did.
Do you feel like Mexico are no longer the dominant force in the CONCACAF region?
Not at all, the statistics are clear and the history books don’t lie. Only when the United States, Costa Rica, Honduras or Guatemala have appeared at more World Cups than Mexico or have historically got better results than we have will I think they’re on the same level. Form comes and goes, but you don’t build up that kind of prestige in a couple of years, not even in ten.
Mexico are not yet ready to challenge the dominance of Brazil or Argentina. I think El Tri’s rightful place is as Las Americas' third-best team.
Would you be willing to retake the Mexico reins at some point in the future?
Of course! I could never refuse my country anything. When they need me, I’ll be there.
That said, I’m sure you’d also be tempted by the Real Madrid role…
That’s the boyhood dream of any player or coach. It came true for me as a player and I’d love to do so again as a coach. I won’t rest until I’ve done enough to be Los Merengues’ coach. But I’m a patient man, I still feel like a young coach and I’ll have time to think about that possibility.
One final question: what would you say to those kids who hope to one day emulate your achievements?
First of all that self-improvement is key and a good education is a must. They should finish their studies and have psychological support, via a specialist who can prepare them for the difficulties they may face along the way, as a person and a sportsman. And, most of all, they should be very ambitious, because you never lose the dreams you have as a kid.