Up until 2011, the name of Raul Gutierrez conjured up thoughts of a rugged and determined defender who performed with distinction for Atlante, America and Leon, as well as for the Mexican national team, with whom he competed at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ and at two Copa America tournaments.
He hung up his boots in 2002, but returned to the pitch eight years later in a very different role, that of coach of the Mexican U-17 side. What happened next is well-documented: the hosts surged to glory in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 final in front of a huge, raucous crowd at Estadio Azteca, who were overjoyed to see their young countrymen crowned world champions for just the second time.
Two years down the line, the precocious Mexicans will soon face a new challenge in the shape of UAE 2013. FIFA.com talks exclusively to Gutierrez about the upcoming tournament and his dreams of guiding El Tri to a second consecutive global triumph.
From teacher to player
Long before he oversaw the 2011 victory or even retired from professional football, the man known as El Potro (The Colt) trained as a teacher. And when analysing his success, it is worthwhile bearing in mind his background in education.
“All I wanted was to play football,” he said. “However, my mum wanted me to study, and as there are teachers in my family, that’s what I opted for. During the four years that I was studying for my degree, I kept trying out for teams until I eventually earned a slot on Atlante’s reserve side,” he continued.
“There are many aspects involved in being a teacher. One of them, didactics, which is the art or science of teaching, shows the different approaches you can take to demonstrate a concept or deliver a lesson. In my time as a coach, this has helped me to get across my ideas – for what should happen on the pitch – in different ways and with greater clarity,” explained Gutierrez.
The Mexican’s ability to teach combines well with one of the key areas of his current work: encouraging players’ mental strength. “We all have people who we admire for their work and abilities,” he said. “Usually those people have good ideas. I’m of the opinion that people can take the ideas of these role models, apply them in their own way and make them even better.”
Gutierrez promotes several crucial values, but there are two in particular on which he focuses when instructing his youthful team. “Perseverance is a quality that players must have in abundance if they want to excel at international level. A player selected for his country must also exhibit leadership, and set an example at his club and in his community,” he said.
“That is the type of player that we’re trying to motivate, those that arrive at clubs and act as agents for change, those that make it easy to see why they’re internationals. And that applies to their day-to-day behaviour off the pitch as well as on it.”
The former right-back’s coaching career could not have got off to a better start, and the FIFA U-17 World Cup victory of 10 July 2011 is still fresh in his mind.
“The emotions I felt are practically indescribable. My first thought was for my sons and my wife, who were there watching the game. In fact, I turned around and headed straight for the stands. We’d achieved the goal that we’d set ourselves as a team; it was the moment we’d dreamed of. When all is said and done, everything starts with an idea, with a dream,” he stated.
But Gutierrez’s aspirations did not end there. He is now faced with the challenge of inspiring a new generation of Mexican starlets, who will travel to the United Arab Emirates in October in order to defend their title. This time, however, they will not enjoy the benefits of home advantage.
As far as the coach is concerned, that need not necessarily be a major handicap.
“Mexico’s youth teams play abroad a lot. In fact, with the 2011 team, we actually had to teach them how to play at home. I’ll give you an example: there was a game in Guadalajara against El Salvador where the majority of players who were from there were included in the line-up, and in the 20th minute one of the boys got so nervous he started throwing up on the pitch,” he said.
“The players change, but the ideas don’t. We’ve got a completely different side now, but they’ll take the same approach – they’ll play as a team, fight hard and never give up. In my opinion, those are the characteristics that define Mexican footballers, but they’re capable of more. They have great individual abilities, but that must be backed up by a strong mentality and good teamwork”.
As to the possibility of making history again and achieving yet more success, Gutierrez is as clear as possible: “We’re building our dream using a precise, straightforward approach,” he said.
“We’ll head there with the goal of representing our country and aspiring to be champions once again. We’ve still got two months to put the finishing touches to that goal. We’ll give our all to ensure that our dreams become a reality, and that we come back home holding the trophy,” he concluded confidently.