It must feel like déjà vu for newly appointed Mexico coach Javier Aguirre who, just as in 2001, has been charged with dragging El Tri up by the bootstraps and ensuring their place at the next FIFA World Cup™ finals. First on the agenda in his second spell at the helm, the man nicknamed El Vasco (The Basque) organised a get-together for domestic-based players only as he looks to inject fresh blood into Mexico's South Africa 2010 qualifying bid.
Yet around the same time Mexico was hit by an epidemic of swine flu, with the entire country shuddering to a standstill in a collective effort to contain the outbreak. Despite the situation, the former Osasuna and Atletico de Madrid supremo made time to speak exclusively to FIFA.com about his new role and the challenges ahead.
FIFA.com: Now that you have had your first squad get-together since retaking the Mexico national-team reins, what impression did you get from your new charges?
Javier Aguirre: I can sense that the young players are very enthusiastic, they're very keen to stand out and to do a good job. They feel that this is a good opportunity for them to stake their claim for the future and be considered for future call-ups and qualifying matches.
How many of these players will stay involved?
I've no idea, but they're young players with a lot of quality who are very serious and professional in their approach. They're making a name for themselves in Mexican football and they want to make the most of their opportunity. It's my duty to ask them to give their best but they mustn't go to pieces if they're not included in the next squad list. We'll be monitoring them very carefully and, even if they miss out, they can still get another chance.
What type of player are you looking for ahead of your first game in El Salvador?
Basically, I need players who want to go there without having their arm twisted. I need people who are proud to represent their country. They should be aware that the match will be on a difficult pitch against one of our regional rivals and that the three points at stake could give us a real lift. I need committed players who understand that there are seven games remaining and we have to fight to the bitter end. We're not talking about a technical or tactical profile, we want Mexicans who love their national team and want to take it to the World Cup.
Can you sense there is a real danger of not qualifying for South Africa 2010?
In football it's very difficult to do equations and make predictions. From experience I can say that matches are played over 90 minutes. Bookmakers, experts and journalists talk about who is favourite, about the surroundings, they'll say ‘today such and such team will win'. But the history of football is littered with examples of huge disappointments, failures and surprises. Qualifying isn't difficult or easy, it's what it is. There are four of us, three qualify [automatically], and so we have to climb high enough up the table to finish the job.
After spending seven years in the European game, what differences have you noticed since you last coached El Tri?
The sporting infrastructure is better now. You can see that there are more people there to help the players, the organisation is better and there is a solid youth set-up at both club and national-team level. Back then we didn't have youth national teams like U-15s, U-17s or U-20s. Things have progressed.
That said, results have not got the way of Mexico's youth sides recently...
I'm the first to recognise that we've gone through two bad qualifying campaigns with the youngsters which have led to disappointment. But that happens all around the world. Argentina, winners of the last two U-20 World Cups, won't be going to [the FIFA U-20 World Cup] Egypt . These are generational issues. Mexico, unlike eight years ago, are doing well. Without looking further afield, the players I've called up to the senior side all have pedigree. Of those 23, only two have never pulled on the national-team shirt at any age level, and that helps strengthen our cause.
It is rare for a Mexico coach to last a full four-year cycle (between FIFA World Cup finals), isn't that correct?
That's the way the international market is going at the moment, it's not just Mexico. In Bulgaria, Romania and even England it's the same. It would be ideal if that (coaches lasting at least four years) were to happen but, if you look closely, only Bora [Milutinovic] and [Ricardo] La Volpe have managed to complete a cycle between two World Cups. That's two coaches in 20 years! It's very tough, you don't have time for anything. Last time I took the job 12 months before the World Cup, this time I've got 15.
It's not an excuse, I accepted the job and I'm happy, but it's not the ideal situation. It would be ideal to have a job like La Volpe had, when you're safe every step of the way, secure in the knowledge that you can try players knowing that you're going to be there at the end with a squad you built and moulded. A coach who can't make his team play well after four years in charge has a serious problem. With one year you can't wave a magic wand, you just have to work twice as hard.
After seven years working abroad, you are ideally placed to say whether Mexican footballers playing overseas is good or bad for the game...
You can't make generalisations. I'm one of those who are convinced that players who leave their country have a different perspective on things: an insider's view from having played in their domestic league and an outsider's view from having played elsewhere. They've got more information, they train in different weather conditions, experience a different language and culture, and that, just to start with, requires twice as much effort. Then we can talk about individual performances. Those who are abroad have a very good chance of improving but it all depends on the player.
The Mexican people are currently going through a tough time. Would success for the national team help give people a boost?
You're getting ahead of yourself there! More than anything because there's still some time before our first match and the [swine] flu epidemic is an issue that must be resolved as quickly as possible. We do have to help as much as we can though, that's true. A good result always gives people a boost, flu or no flu.