There can be little doubt that Jose Manuel de la Torre has been handed a challenging task, with Mexico’s new coach now charged with fulfilling the hopes and dreams of over 100 million highly demanding followers. Indeed, the pressure has continued to pile on El Tri since they bowed out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ - at the Round-of-16 stage for the fifth consecutive time - despite the best efforts of previous boss Javier Aguirre.
Not one to be overawed, the respected 45-year-old is optimistic he can succeed in his new post. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, 'El Chepo' discussed a whole range of issues, including the obstacles on the path to Brazil 2014, his plans for the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa America next year, and how Mexico can win back the affections of those fans disillusioned with their national team.
FIFA.com: Jose, what is your principal objective in your new role?
Jose Manuel de la Torre: Our overriding objective is to qualify for Brazil 2014. That’s what we’re working towards. But clearly there are other competitions in the short and medium term, and we’ll have to focus on them first and hit the targets we’ve set. That said, this is a four-year cycle.
So, it all comes down to reaching the FIFA World Cup, something you missed out on in your playing days…
I never got the chance to play at one. In fact, I was involved in qualifying games, but never at a final tournament. I was part of a very strong generation of players, which burst on to the scene at the U-17 World Cup in China [in 1985] and which supplied the core of the national squad for ten or 12 years. I was unfortunate because I would have gone to Italy ’90 but Mexico were suspended. I was too young for Mexico ‘86 and then coach Miguel Mejia Baron didn’t select me for USA ‘94.
I won’t be focusing on players’ ages, just on results. The players who are in the best form and can help our cause will be in the team.
Putting Brazil 2014 to one side for a moment, 2011 will feature your first two tournaments as Mexico coach: the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa America...
Every competition has something to offer. The Gold Cup has a place at the Confederations Cup at stake, and we’re going to go after that. We’ll have to tackle the Copa America using an Olympic (U-23) squad plus a few choice reinforcements, but we’ll still have to approach it with a great deal of professionalism.
How will you handle the fact that the two competitions are so close together?
Given how close together they are, we’ll pick two different squads, because we can’t be competing in one tournament and training for another at the same time. And each squad will also have a different set of coaches. The Copa America project will be focused towards London 2012 and will also include the Panamerican Games. As to whether some players will take part in both tournaments, we’ll have to agree on what’s best and on who are the right ones to choose. There’s still six months to go and not everything is clear yet. Of course there’ll need to be a certain amount of flexibility, depending on the circumstances.
In Mexican football circles there’s always mention made of El Tri’s failure to get past the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup. Is that an achievable aim?
It doesn’t make much sense to talk about the final tournament now. That said, Mexico are a good side, and that’s something we have to prove constantly, at every competition. We often set ourselves very long-term goals, but what counts is what we do day in, day out. If we want to go further than ever before, we first have to lay solid foundations. That’s our initial objective, and one that we have to carry out.
Would you also include the relationship between the squad and the Mexican fans as part of those solid foundations?
Of course, when things don’t go well it always creates a lot of instability. But a new cycle is starting, and it is open to everybody. What happened before can be used as experience to avoid past mistakes. Every cycle begins in the same way, with a lot of excitement, a lot of hope. But of course, when it comes to the national squad things are taken to another level. But this responsibility and this opportunity are not mine alone: they’re shared among everybody who gets involved. The level of responsibility will be huge, and is something that you have to know how to handle. Fortunately I’ve already experienced this pressure as a player, which works to my advantage, and I know just how interesting a challenge this is.
What steps need to be taken to bring the national team and fans closer together once more?
It always comes down to results. When you set objectives and start achieving them bit by bit, then you set new ones. There are obstacles in your path of course, which can sometimes be a nuisance, but you need to know how to avoid them and not trip up. And we’re all part of this process: footballers, the media and the coaching staff. We have to move forward, hand in hand, to overcome these obstacles.
In footballing terms, is it time for an overhaul or can the current group of players acquire the level of maturity required?
We’ve got a lot of talent. It’s all based around the generation crowned world U-17 champions in 2005, such as Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Efrain Juarez. Javier Hernandez is also among their number despite not being part of that squad in Peru. They’re players who’ve established themselves, but they’re not the only ones. There’s a great generation of young players in this country who, bolstered with experienced colleagues, are capable of breaking down the barriers that have halted Mexican football throughout history.
Footballers need to understand that being a national-team player isn’t just about playing well. You have to imagine you’re wearing the green jersey 24 hours a day, everywhere you go.
So, will you wipe the slate clean and start afresh?
I won’t be focusing on players’ birth certificates or their ages, just on results. The players who are in the best form and can help our cause will be in the team.
Amongst Mexican supporters there has been a lot of talk of the need for instilling discipline in the side. Will that be one of your priorities?
Discipline is vital everywhere, though that doesn’t mean there’s no communication, because you need that too. Communication needs to be very efficient and very effective. I’ve always been very receptive to my players, but footballers need to understand that being a national-team player isn’t just about playing well. You have to imagine you’re wearing the green jersey 24 hours a day, everywhere you go. It’s not something you can take off one day and put back on another. It’s about so much more than playing football because El Tricolor means a lot to Mexican people.
One last question: tell us how you enjoy spending your free time?
I enjoy all kinds of sports. I go through stages: when I was young I played more tennis because I was more energetic, but now I play a lot of golf. In fact, my cousin coaches (Mexican golfer) Lorena Ochoa. Every year we play a 'family open' and I’ve got a handicap of ten or 12, so I enjoy myself. I’m also a big fan of motor sports and follow Fernando Alonso really closely. So much so that sometimes I get up in the middle of the night to watch Grand Prix.