Some crises provide genuine opportunities for renewal, which is exactly how veteran Colombian coach Jorge Luis Pinto is looking at his ongoing assignment with Honduras. Los Catrachos’ underwhelming showing at the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup revealed their shortcomings and the scale of the task he faces in turning their fortunes around.
Now ten months into his tenure, the 62-year-old Pinto shared his thoughts and plans in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “Transitions from one generation to the next are always painful, but it’s allowed me to look for a fresh style for Honduras,” he said, getting straight to the point and identifying his main challenge.
Honduras enjoyed unprecedented success in the period between 2009 and 2014, qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ twice in a row for the first time in the country’s history and doing so directly, without having to go through the intercontinental play-offs. Though talented, the generation that achieved that feat went to Brazil 2014 as the second-oldest squad in the competition, with an average age of 28.56. And after La H went tumbling out in the group phase, the time had come for a generational handover.
Pinto knew as much when he signed the contract that made him national team coach, making that handover his number one priority: “We analysed the team’s recent past and realised that was the course we needed to take. We had no option," he said. “That’s just the way things are, and the idea is for the team to gradually pick up the concepts they need so that there’s no vacuum and no shortfall in terms of experience.”
That process of change is already under way. Of the 23 players called up by Pinto for the friendlies against Ecuador and Venezuela a few days ago, only seven are survivors from the squad that contested last year’s world finals.
“There’s a new generation of talented young players coming through,” commented Pinto. “Some of them already have experience of playing abroad and have had a taste of international football, which is really important in my eyes. It’s something we can work with.”
A results business
The transition is proving anything but easy, however, as recent results show. Since their elimination at Brazil 2014, Honduras have lost 11 of the 20 matches they have played, winning only five and drawing the remaining four. In the process, they finished a lowly fifth in last year’s Copa Centroamericana 2014 and were knocked out in the group phase of the recent Gold Cup after losing to USA and Haiti and drawing with Panama.
Despite that unsatisfactory run of form, the coach sees reasons to be optimistic. “Some games have been learning experiences and have been demanding for us, especially the ones with Brazil and Mexico,” he explained. “To my mind, the results in the Gold Cup don’t reflect how we played. We performed well, but we made some schoolboy errors. It hasn’t been easy, but my feeling is that, one way or another, we’re doing fine.”
A coach of great experience and the man who took Costa Rica to the quarter-finals in Brazil last year, Pinto is aware that it will take time for his message to get through and for the new Honduras to take shape. Nevertheless, his objective is clear and he knows that it can only be achieved through hard work: “I want this team to do more with the ball, to play a faster game than they used to.”
A 3-0 defeat of Venezuela suggested that the wily Pinto might be on the right track. He certainly believes so: “The talent is there. All we need to do is work on it, because these players can go far.”