Sven-Goran Eriksson has certainly made a good first impression in Mexico. To those who questioned his knowledge of the country's players and footballing culture, he has responded in the most professional manner possible: from almost the moment he assumed the reins, the coach has been watching his players in action, live whenever possible, and the sight of him taking notes from the stands has become a weekly occurrence in grounds across the country and beyond.
The Swede's growing reputation has, of course, been helped by El Tri's impressive start in the North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, in which they lead the way in Group B with three wins from three. But Eriksson has also won over dubious fans in other ways, not least with his Spanish.
After his appointment, numerous observers claimed he could not possibly do the job with his paltry grasp of the country's language. Yet, just two months on, not only is the coach capable of speaking it, he has sufficient confidence to tell FIFA.com he would like this interview to be "en español, por favor" ("in Spanish, please").
Although Eriksson was his usual mild-mannered self for the interview, the passion and intensity with which he lives the game were self-evident. Displaying a good sense of humour and a firm grasp of reality, he spoke exclusively on his early experiences in Mexico and the challenges he faces.
FIFA.com: Sven-Goran, first and foremost, how are you getting on with the Spanish language?
Sven-Goran Eriksson: I speak Italian and also Portuguese, so that helps. When I moved country I knew I'd have to learn the language, and not just to be able to communicate with the players. It was important to speak Spanish because there is more to life than just football. It's also about being able to make friends, read a newspaper and so on. If you don't speak the language, then you're just like a child.
What do you make of Mexico City, one of the biggest and most chaotic urban centres anywhere?
I really like life in this city and the people are very friendly. The traffic is madness, however - I've never seen anything like it. What I particularly like, though, is the climate. It's perfect here in Mexico, not like in London, where it constantly rains (laughs).
Would you say you already understand the style of Mexican football?
Well, football is universal and, in addition, 15 members of the senior international squad are with European clubs. What type of football do they play? Mexican football, European football or some other kind? Yes, of course, there are differences between the Mexican league and that of England, for example. Players here have good technique, pace and huge stamina. OK, so they might not be like Peter Crouch in the air, but that doesn't worry me. I'll just be trying to make the best of these qualities.
When you first took the job, the critics claimed you had insufficient knowledge of the country's football...
Of course, I wasn't au fait with the Mexican league. I mean, I'd seen the odd game but nothing more. I felt the only way to get to know it was by watching as many games as possible. It's something I have to do for my job, and an aspect of it I'm very happy to do. Today, I have a much better grasp of Mexican football.
Going back to the national team, I imagine your first game in charge against Honduras was a tough one, given that you barely had a chance to train with the players beforehand...
I was new to the job as were the rest of the coaching staff. Our European-based players only joined up with us 24 hours before the game, so obviously we couldn't do everything in one training session. That said, everyone knew how challenging the game would be and they all responded well. We spoke on the (training) pitch and analysed positions, and in the end things worked out ok despite the limited time.
Your decision to stick with Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela in the starting XI despite their failure to score has generated a bit of controversy. What is your take on that?
Calling a youngster into the squad should never be a negative thing, as they will have to be mainstays of the team one day. I have a lot of faith in those two and if they don't play, how are they going to get international experience. Perhaps they're not complete players yet but that's normal as they're only 19, and they can only improve by playing. Both have active roles for their clubs (Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal respectively), two of Europe's biggest, so they must be good. I believe they will get better and better.
There have also been rumblings about the team not playing with a regular penalty-box specialist.
We have players who can fill this role, (Vincente Matias) Vuoso for example, but I'm not worried about that. There is a lot of talent in this team. In recent games we've opted for 4-3-3, the logic being that the characteristics of the Mexican players suit this system well. However, in the future we might go with 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, always with four at the back, of course.
The team has come in for criticism for not winning their opening qualifiers more emphatically. Would you say it has been justified?
Big wins don't happen as much in international football today, as the gap between sides has become smaller. Take the Canada game, for example. It's not easy to play against a team that shuts up shop. You need a little luck and an early goal, otherwise you must have a lot of patience. Playing frantically is not the answer, as that just spreads panic. Sooner or later a goal will come. And that is precisely what happened.
Can you tell us what happened with Cuauhtemoc Blanco and why he retired from international football?
He was called up for the three qualifiers, so it was his decision to retire. If he'd been a player of 25 then I would've tried to dissuade him, but he's 35. He knows his body better than anyone and so knows what he's doing. He was, and still is, a great player, but what can I do if he decides to retire?
What about Nery Castillo. Does he figure in your plans?
He's not had the best of luck. I think the last time he played at a really good level was last year. Since then, he's been unable to play regularly due to a combination of injuries and tactical decisions (at his club Manchester City). It's a pity as he's a great player with tons of talent, pace and skill. I hope he starts playing again, because otherwise it will be very hard for me to recall him. I know what he's capable of, however, so he's still on my mind.
Guillermo Ochoa or Oswaldo Sanchez as your goalkeeper?
I have a lot of faith in Ochoa, who represents the future of Mexico. At present, though, Oswaldo is playing very well and has a lot of experience, something fundamental for a goalkeeper. Guillermo needs to be patient and understand that he will be national team goalkeeper one day.
Mexico's glass ceiling at recent FIFA World Cups™ has been the Round of 16. How far is this team capable of going?
First of all, we have to qualify (touch wood), but I believe we'll do that. Then we need to be fortunate and have our best players available - neither exhausted nor carrying injuries. And then we need a bit of good luck with the draw. I'd say we're at a level now to make life complicated for any team. We shouldn't regard ourselves as inferior to anyone. We need to take it one step at a time, but I'm very optimistic.
You have touched wood a couple of times during our interview. Are you the superstitious kind?
We Swedes always touch wood when we want good luck (laughs). Football is not a science and is unpredictable... but I'm optimistic by nature.
Finally, tell us a little bit more about the man Sven-Goran Eriksson.
I'm a normal guy, albeit a very fortunate one. I've had the chance to work in Sweden, Portugal, Italy, England and now Mexico. They've been very enriching experiences. They have enriched me as a person by allowing me to get to know different cultures, learn new languages, etc. I'm a very lucky man.