Just a year and four months after taking on the job, Hugo Sanchez was relieved of his duties as Mexico boss on Monday. The President of the Mexican Football Association (FMF), Justino Compean, made the announcement at a press conference following a lengthy meeting of the presidents of the country's first division clubs, held to decide the fate of the ex-Real Madrid striker.
Sanchez's departure marks the end of one of the most turbulent periods in the history of the Tricolor. Much was expected of the legendary goalscorer when he was appointed, but his position became untenable after failing to lead the U-23 team to Beijing 2008, a setback that led to mounting pressure from both supporters and media alike.
Hope gives way to despair
The former Pumas UNAM tactician was an extremely popular choice when he took the job, enjoying unprecedented support from the Mexico fans. His sustained success with the university outfit, including two championship wins, not to mention his status as the greatest player in his country's history and his promise to make Mexico world champions at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa ™ had the whole country dreaming of future riches.
And on the evidence of his first few outings, the hype seemed to be justified. After opening up with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of deadly rivals USA, Sanchez's new charges reeled off four back-to-back wins, beating Venezuela 3-1, Paraguay 2-1, Ecuador 4-2 and Iran 4-0, producing some spectacular, attacking football along the way.
It was not long before the first glitches started to materialise, however. The Mexicans flattered to deceive at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, scraping their way into the final, where they came up against their perennial nemesis US, who underlined their local supremacy by coming back from behind to win 2-1.
Temporary redemption then came at the Copa America in Venezuela. After Sanchez had rung the changes in terms of personnel, Nery Castillo and Guillermo Ochoa inspired Mexico to third place following an historic 2-0 triumph over Brazil and an equally noteworthy six-goal demolition of Paraguay. With the men in green having regained their sizzling attacking form, hopes of sustained success were raised once more.
Yet it was all downhill for Sanchez from there on out. While the full national team won only two of their next seven games, their U-23 counterparts were pipped by the likes of Guatemala and Canada to the semi-finals of the regional Olympic qualifying tournament.
Ramirez to the rescue
Spurred by the latest crop of disappointing results, the FMF decided to show Sanchez the door. Explaining the decision, Compean said, "The people who are concerned about and who work for the Mexico team felt results out on the pitch were not good enough and unanimously decided to terminate the contract of the national side's coaching staff."
Compean also confirmed that Mexico's youth coach Jesus 'Chucho' Ramirez would take over on a temporary basis while a permanent replacement is sought. The caretaker can point to an impressive CV, having steered Giovani Dos Santos and Co to glory at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005.
Meanwhile, speculation is rife in the press as to who will replace Sanchez in the long term, with three names grabbing most of the attention: Atletico Madrid coach Javier Aguirre, Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari, and former Argentina coach Jose Pekerman, currently with Toluca.
Speculation aside, Aguirre has already made it clear he has no intention of returning home just yet, leaving Pekerman and Scolari as the current frontrunners. The Brazilian's contract with Portugal comes to an end after UEFA EURO 2008, while the Toluca board have said Pekerman will be free to leave if he gets the nod.
In the meantime, 'Chucho' is relishing the chance to take the reins and hopes to convince the country's football bosses of his long-term credentials. "This is a tremendous opportunity for me and a huge responsibility. There's a whole country behind the national team, a lot of people who are hungry for success, and I just hope we can give it to them. The chance to take charge for these games is a dream for me and it's something I'll continue to work towards."
As another new era dawns in Mexican football, time will tell if Ramirez is able to convert his obvious passion into results. Whatever the case may be and whoever Sanchez's permanent replacement is, the country's footballing supremos are clearly determined to see El Tricolor finally take their place in the world elite.