To say that Reinaldo Rueda is a popular figure in Honduras would be something of an understatement. The Colombian coach earned a deserved place in the country’s football annals by taking Los Catrachos through to the FIFA World Cup™ finals for only the second time in their history, 28 years after their maiden appearance at Spain 1982.
In reviving their fortunes on the pitch, Rueda has done a considerable amount of psychological work off it, changing the fortunes of a side that have always been able to count on talented players but have rarely converted those individual gifts into results.
Since his arrival, the Colombian taskmaster had made it clear that places in his team are awarded on merit alone. Having also had the good fortune to be able to call on gifted performers in virtually every position, he has put together a formidable unit that he believes can hold their own against anyone.
When he took over the CONCACAF underachievers in 2007, Rueda set his sights on leading them all the way to South Africa 2010. In his 50 games in charge so far, there have been some testing moments but a good number of notable successes too, not least three victories over Mexico, a historic 4-0 thrashing of Costa Rica and a vital qualification-clinching win over El Salvador. Indeed, the only team to avoid defeat to the reborn Hondurans during the campaign were USA.
Meticulous planning has been the key to Rueda’s success. Although he never played football professionally, he decided at a young age that he wanted to become a coach. Graduating in Physical Education, he then did a PhD at the University of Cologne before embarking on his career on the touchline. In his first job he saved Cortulua from relegation, moving on to Deportivo Cali and then Medellin, the stepping stone to a position as Colombia’s national youth team coach. The positive results he obtained there led to his promotion to the senior side, which he took to the brink of qualification for Germany 2006.
A learned scholar of the game, Rueda is an astute tactician and gifted motivator, and as the Honduras players acknowledge, he has instilled them with a new-found faith, teaching them to believe in themselves. An advocate of a 4-4-2 system, he has been known nevertheless to switch his line-ups depending on the opposition and the circumstances surrounding each game. In the home match against the Mexicans in the final CONCACAF qualification group, for example, he put out an eminently offensive side. Yet, for the return fixture at the Estadio Azteca he opted for more defence-minded personnel while still lining up with the same 4-4-2 formation.
One of the sharpest minds on show at South Africa 2010, Rueda is sure to be a huge factor in Honduras’s success or failure at the tournament. And if the coaches of Spain, Chile and Switzerland, their opponents in Group H, are to outwit this shrewd strategist, they will certainly need to do their homework.