Mexico coach Miguel Herrera is one person who would no doubt subscribe to the view that football always gives you a second chance. Having suffered as a player the disappointment of being omitted from El Tri's squad for USA 1994 at the very last minute, it just so happens that he is now the man doing the choosing.
Herrera was in charge at America when the Mexican Football Association gave him the brief of getting the national side back on track ahead of the two-legged play-off against New Zealand. The man they call El Piojo (“The Louse”) oversaw a comprehensive aggregate win. Coupled with his impressive record in domestic football, that timely triumph ensured he would finally get the chance to appear at the FIFA World Cup™, albeit in the dugout.
Reflecting on that turnaround in his fortunes, Carlos Vela’s decision to opt out of Brazil 2014 and his own unique take on football, he gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: You’ve been in the Mexico job for six months now. What are the best and the worst things about it?
For me it’s the biggest job you can have as a coach. It doesn’t get better than this, no question. The worst thing is that everyone criticises you, everyone thinks they know more than you and says that they’re better than you. But that’s all part and parcel of being in this job. There’s no place where you get more criticism than here.
It can’t be easy to handle, especially when you are as single-minded as you are.
Yes, I’m very direct and I get straight to the point. I don’t think things over and I just speak my mind, which is one of the reasons why I’ve always been in the eye of the hurricane wherever I’ve gone. Fortunately things have gone well for me on the pitch but I do need to think things through a bit more. I should take a nice deep breath and think about the answers I’m going to give and not just say the first thing that comes into my mind. Those are the kind of things you learn along the way.
As a player you just missed out on selection for the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA and yet here you are at the heart of the whole thing. Have you given any thought to that?
That’s right. I played the whole of the qualifying campaign and when the last squad was announced they said I was on the list… of players who were staying in Mexico. They didn’t take me (Miguel Mejia Baron was Mexico’s coach at the time). It hurt a lot. And now here I am, making it to the World Cup at the last minute and I’m delighted with everything I’ve achieved as a coach. But that’s it now. We’ve qualified and we need to go to the World Cup and get some results. And I’m not just thinking about this cycle either. I want to be in on the next one too.
Here I am, making it to the World Cup at the last minute and I’m delighted with everything I’ve achieved as a coach.
We’d like to talk about Carlos Vela’s decision not to play for El Tri. For people who don’t follow the team’s fortunes closely, how important a player is he for Mexico? In terms of his importance to the national side, who would you compare him to?
I couldn’t compare him in those terms. Someone recently compared him to [Lionel] Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but that’s not a very clever thing to say. We don’t have those types of players in Mexico yet. Carlos is a very good player and he’s in fantastic form right now, but he’s got his reasons for not wanting to go. Mexico aren’t going to be any weaker because he’s not there. In fact, they’re going to be even stronger, because the ones who’ll be there will be committed to the cause.
Given what happened to you in 1994, is it harder for you to understand his stance?
Very much so. I really suffered when I missed out on the World Cup. I worked my socks off trying to get there and when they made the final cut they left me out. I was stunned, and that’s how I felt when I was with him and he said 'no, no, no'. His mind’s not in it and he’d be no use to us because he’s not focused on the job, which means the best thing to do is call on someone else. He doesn’t want to go – that much is obvious.
Let’s talk about another player, Javier Hernandez. Are you concerned about the lack of opportunities he’s getting at Manchester United?
I am worried and I’d like him to be playing more. Unfortunately for us, though, he’s out of favour with the current coach (David Moyes). That’s the reality and we can’t cover it up. It’s there for everyone to see. They’ve had a lot of injuries and suspensions and he still doesn’t get a start. That said, he always responds every time he goes on, whether it’s for ten, 20 or even two minutes. He runs for every ball and gives everything he’s got. We know exactly what he’s like, how he trains and the way he battles for the ball whenever he gets the chance to go on. Obviously he’s in our thoughts and I told him that, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. It’s not that his form’s dropped off or anything. It’s just that other players are going to overtake him unless he gets regular games.
Why not choose Brazil as the place to make history, like Brazil once chose Mexico?
There’s a lot of talk in Mexico about the goalkeeping position. Do you know who you are taking to Brazil?
I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I’ve got six very good keepers: five in Mexico and Memo (Ochoa) in France. When I name the three, they’ll say that I got it just right, but when they talk about the other three, they’ll say: ‘Why? He’s made a mistake’. At the moment I’ve got four pushing for three places and there are another two whom I know very well. I have a good idea of what they can do. If one of the first four drops away, then those two will come into the reckoning. It’s the position I’m least worried about, though. We’ve got plenty of options in goal.
Let’s move on to your objectives in Brazil. We know you don’t like to talk about Mexico’s recent inability to reach the last eight and that you prefer to talk about the Final. Do you think you can entertain real hopes of getting that far?
Our record doesn’t exactly back up what we’re saying. What I’ve said is that if I don’t go to the World Cup thinking about winning it, then I might as well just go along as an extra, an outsider. And that’s not for Mexico. We’re entitled to be excited and to aim to become world champions. We’ve got a good infrastructure and good players so why shouldn’t we think that way? With our history, it’s natural that we should think about the quarter-finals, and if we get past that stage then people will be happy no matter what. That’s the standard that the national FA has set for me, though. We’re going to make the last eight and then we’ll see who can stop us. We’ve only done it once in our history [sic: Mexico made the quarters in 1970 and 1986] and we want to do it again. It would be amazing.
The tournament starts in fewer than 100 days. How special is it to have Brazil hosting it?
It feels intense to be just 100 days away from a World Cup. The time’s going to fly by, especially as we’re hoping for something sensational to happen. And being in the World Cup in Brazil is like travelling back in time: to the Maracana and 1950 and what was an epic tournament. They really celebrate football there and they’ve got some amazingly talented players too. It’s going to be sensational and it’s going to be a different story for Mexico, that’s for sure. Why not choose Brazil as the place to make history, like Brazil once chose Mexico?