Jesús Ramírez: "We're more than a match for Brazil"
Since arriving in Peru in early September, Jesús Ramírez has certainly made people sit up and take notice. "We've come here to take the title, that's our goal and that's what we have prepared for." Early on, many thought the Mexican coach guilty of overconfidence, but events since then have shown that his faith in his charges was well-founded. A potent combination of lethal finishing, defensive solidity and teamwork has seen the Tricolor reach their first ever final of a FIFA U-17 World Championship.
Safe in the knowledge that his side are just one step away from fulfilling their dream, Ramírez spoke to FIFA.com about his team's current form, the highlights of their campaign so far and Sunday's big game.
Mr Ramírez, since you set foot in Peru you have seemed convinced that your team would reach the final. How does it feel to be so close to achieving your goal?
We've been determined to make this happen since we left Mexico. This is what we've been striving for, what we've been planning for and what we've wanted for so long and here we are. We feel like there's less pressure on us now than in the other games. Now we don't have to worry about the fact that "if we don't win we can't make it all the way." All we have to do today is win the game to become champions. Our belief that we can make this happen is what has got us this far. If not, we wouldn't be here. Now all that remains is to finish the job.
Are you able to enjoy a moment like this, or is there too much tension in the air to be having fun?
There's a really fun atmosphere within the group, we're a very laid-back bunch. Of course, we're also very aware of our responsibilities. It's important to maintain a certain level of discipline within the group, but I also like the lads to be happy. These boys are easy to work with; they're like a group of mates who all care about each other. In my country this kind of group ethic is frowned upon as people prefer to maintain an air of aloofness and keep the players at a distance. Here however, we treat the players as people first and footballers second. The boys have shown out on the pitch that this approach works.
Do you take the view that in the long run it is important not to forget that they are still just boys?
Exactly. I myself admit to having a childish streak and being a bit of a dreamer. It's my way of staying enthusiastic. The next step is transmitting that enthusiasm to the players. The idea is for them to enjoy themselves, even in training. The key is to leave them to it. If you start cracking down on them too hard, then they'll play within themselves when they get out on the pitch. I let them try anything they want, as long as they have a team-mate behind to cover for them. I give them a lot of freedom to play.
Are you aware of how people are following your progress over in Mexico?
People have told me about it, but I haven't experienced it myself because I try not to watch Mexican television. The fact that we've stuck to our task and shown that it is possible to achieve what one sets out to do have been particularly satisfying. Far from putting more pressure on us, this should motivate us to even greater things.
What concerns you about Brazil?
Although some may think that we lack respect for Brazil, it is most certainly not the case. Our first rule of thumb is to treat each opponent the same: we can't go putting anybody on a pedestal because it would make them seem untouchable, but neither must we underestimate anybody or we run the risk of being caught out. Brazil are a great team with explosive pace and individual skill. But when I compare the two sides I see that we have conceded fewer goals, and that we have a very good backline and a spectacular attacking line-up. We're in really good form and have a great chance. I think that they ought to be worried too…
Do Brazil have anything that Mexico do not?
We're more than a match for Brazil. My players can turn a game with a moment of individual skill and I'm also convinced that we play better as a team, because they tend to blow hot and cold. I'm very aware of just what my players are capable of. It's very rare for us to concede a goal, which makes everything else that much easier.
What kind of final are we going to see?
I expect that the final will be quite easy, and that we'll win without much trouble. That's what I'm looking to happen, and that's what we've been telling the lads. I see the mental side of the game as being very important, and I think that's the best way of getting the message across. Usually a coach will say "it's going to be a very difficult game," but if that's what you're expecting then that's what will probably end up happening. I expect to have an easy time of it.
Every time someone asks you about Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela, you emphasize the importance of the team as a whole. Is this a deliberate ploy?
It's true, honest! They are full of confidence because they are surrounded by great players. Giovani wasn't even in the starting eleven in qualifying which surprised some people, but at the time he wasn't the best player in his position. Just because he plays for Barcelona doesn't mean that he should automatically be in the team, right? Now, with the emergence of Ever Guzmán I had a problem: I didn't know whether or not to play him instead of Giovani in the quarter-final. When I had made my decision, I spoke to Ever and explained that I can't play with 12 players out on the park. "It's not a problem, if it's for the good of the group… go ahead," he told me. It's not often you hear something like that from such a young lad. This group is incredibly mature, they know exactly what they want which makes everything much easier.
What kind of contribution can you see this generation of players making to Mexican football?
These boys are going to revolutionize Mexican football, and in fact they are already well on the way to doing just that. When we started out in 2002, I told them that they had the opportunity to change the face of football in our country, and become a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. Having talked about it for so long, now we're seeing all our plans come together. Their tremendous self-belief, allied to my colleagues' sterling work, is the reason behind their success.
One last question: How do you see Jesús Ramírez after the final?
At home, chatting with my family and my son about the cup and about this tournament which has been a really pleasant experience. I can see myself in good spirits, relaxed and happy. Do I see myself as a champion? Of course! I hope to be able to talk about how we won the title. One thing's for certain: there's no reason why we can't win, as long as we want it enough.