Jose Manuel de la Torre had barely completed five years as a head coach when, with the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying campaign looming, he was handed the Mexico reins ahead of candidates with considerably more experience. But, as well as the three domestic trophies he had conquered in a very short space of time, it was his modern approach to the game that earned him this much-coveted opportunity.
And the 46-year-old tactician has not disappointed those who appointed him to take charge of El Tri. Indeed, he has enjoyed the best start by a coach in the history of the Mexican senior side, overseeing victories in his first ten competitive matches.
“In general terms, the Mexican game is in a strong and healthy state," said Javier Aguirre, who led Mexico at Korea/Japan 2002 and South Africa 2010. "The senior team are also thriving under Chepo de la Torre, who’s doing great work with them. Overall, the outlook is very positive.”
There’ll always be competition for places, and it’s great when it's really difficult for the coach to pick the team.
Judging by the results secured so far, El Vasco Aguirre would appear to be correct in his optimistic assessment of De la Torre’s tenure. In the Mexican’s first tournament as national coach, the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, his charges captured the trophy in impressive style, racking up six wins and 22 goals in the process, while conceding just four.
Although it may not appear all that surprising at first glance, no previous Mexico coach has ever experienced a similar level of early success. Looking back at former incumbents’ records is therefore a valid method of measuring the performance of the Guadalajara-born supremo.
Of Mexico’s last five four-year FIFA World Cup cycles, just one, during which Ricardo La Volpe led the nation to Germany 2006, has begun and ended with the same coach in control. In the Argentinian’s first ten competitive encounters, he steered his players to eight victories and two draws.
Including friendlies, De la Torre has, from a total of 23 games, recorded 17 wins, four draws and two defeats, whereas La Volpe only managed to achieve ten wins, nine stalemates and four losses from the same number of encounters.
“Nobody wins by just strolling through games," explained Chepo, making it clear that he views concentration and day-to-day work as being crucial to attaining success. "You win through putting in a lot of effort, hard work and tireless running, by knowing how to handle yourself and by making sure that these factors give you the upper hand.”
De la Torre, who steered Guadalajara to the league title in his first year as a club coach and subsequently won two further titles with Toluca, typifies the new footballing mindset in Mexico. The country's national sides have now very much got a taste for victory and go into tournaments with the firm belief that they can emerge on top of the pile.
What, then, is his secret? According to the ex-international, it can be summed up by fostering a winning mentality and by putting the team ahead of the individual. “Our approach has remained the same across the board," he said. "That’s been very satisfying for everyone, from our youth teams right up to the senior side.”
“This sport is one in which 24 players take part but only 11 start, while the others must make their way to the bench or the stands," chipped in Javier Chicharito Hernandez, one of the stars of the current Mexico XI. "There’ll always be competition for places, and it’s great when it's really difficult for the coach to pick the team.”
Having guaranteed their ticket for the final six-team Hexagonal qualifying round after beating group rivals Costa Rica on 11 September at the Estadio Azteca, El Tri’s dream of appearing at Brazil 2014 remains very much alive.
“We’re preparing non-stop, because I know it’s not going to be easy. We’ve made a firm commitment to accomplishing our main objective, which is to qualify; that’s the target,” said De la Torre, who is well aware that any slip-up caused by overconfidence, brought on by the team’s impressive start, could do serious damage to Los Aztecas’ qualification chances.
But the excellent displays thus far have raised expectations among a Mexican faithful hungry for sporting success and recognition, and which has high hopes for De la Torre’s new-look side. And going by the results his players have chalked up under his command, he is certainly on the right track.
Mexican Football Association President Justino Compean is better placed than anyone to sum up De la Torre’s effect on his country’s national side: “Hopefully in 2014 we can enjoy a nice little surprise, like the one we got from Luis Fernando Tena [coach of the Olympic team] at London 2012, and the ones Chepo keeps giving us with the seniors. Let's hope we can all feel honoured to witness and play a part in Mexico taking the next step.”