On 14 October, Mexico brought their long search for a new coach to an end with the appointment of the Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio, a development that caused no little surprise among Tri fans.
After all, Osorio was far from one of the leading contenders for the job and was a virtual unknown in Mexico, where his only previous coaching experience came in a brief spell with Puebla in 2012.
When you consider his record, however, the choice seems a perfectly sound one. The winner of four Colombian titles with Atletico Nacional of Medellin, whom he also steered to a runners-up slot in last year’s Copa Sudamericana, the 54-year-old is as experienced and well-travelled as they come, having also coached in Brazil, USA and England, where he spent five years as an assistant coach at Manchester City.
A student of the game and a meticulous planner, Osorio spoke to FIFA.com about his new challenge and his vision of the game.
FIFA.com: Your appointment caught a few people by surprise in Mexico, where you’re not particularly well known. What kind of coach would you describe yourself as?
Juan Carlos Osorio: In terms of my vision of the game, I identify myself with coaches who like to take the initiative in games, who have an attacking mindset and want to take the opposition on. I believe in controlling games by controlling possession, though I also know that attack and defence are inextricably linked. That’s why we always work on things like how to defend in attack, which involves pressing opposing players as soon as you lose possession. I like my defenders to pinpoint the players that might be about to receive the ball when possession is lost.
What tactics do you use to put that theory into practice on the pitch?
I like wide players. My teams generally play with three forwards: two out wide slightly and one down the middle. Then you’ve got three defenders and four midfielders either in a diamond or spread out across the pitch. One variation is to have four defenders and three midfielders, with two wide men up front and an out-and-out striker down the middle.
Who are your coaching role models?
I’ve got quite a few. In my book there are different types of coaches, First, you’ve got the strategists, the attack-minded coaches like Pep Guardiola, and the defensive ones like Jose Mourinho. Of the old coaches I loved Alex Ferguson, who always won with an attacking game. To my mind he always played 4-2-4 and not the 4-4-2 people said he used.
Then come the tacticians, the strategic innovators, a category that Guardiola can also come into, or Louis van Gaal, to name an attack-minded coach. As for defensive ones you’ve got Mourinho or Diego Simeone. What I most enjoy – or enjoyed before I took on this job – is actual coaching. I see training sessions as a series of real game-play situations that you work on and repeat consciously so that players do them subconsciously, an area in which I think Marcelo Bielsa, Van Gaal and Jorge Sampaoli really excel.
If I had to choose one? As a national team coach that would be unfair because there’s a lot of them. At club level, I’d go for Ferguson for his ability to rotate and select the best players for each game.
It is a big challenge and an opportunity to take charge of a team with bags of talent and a similar style to the Colombia team, one I know well.
How are you handling the transition from club to national team coaching?
That was my biggest dilemma when the call came from Mexico. Was it worth making that change at the age of 54? It really appealed to me, though. It is a big challenge and an opportunity to take charge of a team with bags of talent and a similar style to the Colombia team, one I know well. It goes without saying that I know I’ll need to make an adjustment in coaching a national side. I won’t have my players with me every day and I’ll have to go and watch a lot of games and a lot of players and also anticipate the situations that might come up on the pitch. I know it won’t be easy but it does excite me.
You had a short stint with Puebla and obviously you’ve kept a close eye on the Mexican league. What’s your view on the country’s football in general?
Mexican players are skilful, very combative and tactically disciplined. The country’s also doing something very important and not all that common on the continent, running U-20, U-17 and U-15 tournaments as well as a professional league, which is why it’s no coincidence that it’s a leading power at youth level. The aim now is to achieve the same at senior level. I do feel, though, that this is a gifted generation and that the potential is there for the national team to kick on. I hope we’re able to do it.
What kind of person are you off the pitch?
I dedicate a lot of my time to football, sometimes as much as 80 percent. Aside from that, I like to be with my family. I’m pretty flexible as a parent. The only thing I expect from my children is that they study and do sport, and I give them the responsibility to lead their own lives. I do pretty much the same with my players! When all’s said and done, though, I know I’m the one who’ll be held to account and that it’s down to me whether my children and my players achieve the success they aim for. If they do, then it’ll be down to them. If they don’t, then the problem is mine.
How can you ensure they’ll be responsible enough to be successful?
I like to have players who want to be winners. That’s something I learned from Alex Ferguson. They have to understand that the most important thing is football, the game in itself, and not fame, partying or money. I want players who are honoured to play for the national team. You can’t change mindsets at this level, so all you can do is try to get to know them, chat to them and identify the players who have that dream.
Your debut match is a big one, a 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier against El Salvador. What are your expectations of that game and the CONCACAF qualifiers in general?
It’s going to be tough, but then everyone knows that. Technology has ensured that the gap between national teams is closing all the time and it’s no coincidence that Mexico have struggled in the last few qualifiers. If we’re going to prevent that from happening again, we need to understand what type of game our opponents play and how, before deciding on the gameplan we’re going to adopt for each game. Once we’ve done that, we’ll try to select the right players and give ourselves the best possible chance of winning.