Jorge Luis Pinto is clearly a man on a mission. No sooner was he reappointed Costa Rica coach last month than he set about the process of getting La Tricolor back among the elite of CONCACAF football. With a structured plan of action and clearly defined initiatives, the veteran strategist is convinced he can put a smile back on the faces of the Tico faithful.
While under no illusions about the magnitude of the challenge, Pinto believes that, with the talent at his disposal and a lot of hard work, anything is possible – as he explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Pinto begins by telling us how good it feels to be back in Costa Rica, where he enjoyed considerable success with club side Alajuelense in 2002-03 and a brief stint as national team coach in 2004-05. “I’m just thrilled. I hope to be able to organise and structure this team for our principal goal: the qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. That’s a big responsibility, and I feel honoured to have been given the chance to steer us on that course.”
Despite being in the job just a matter of weeks, during which time his charges went down 1-0 to Brazil in a friendly, the 58-year-old already has a clear idea of the steps needed to get his side back among the region’s elite. “We have to build a team. At the moment we have three different generations in the mix: the experienced players, the newcomers that participated in the Copa America, and then the U-20 hopefuls that performed so well at their World Cup [in Colombia this year]. I don’t know which group will dominate, but we need to combine all three to progress,” he said.
While understandably reluctant to talk about his predecessors in the job, Pinto did offer up an explanation for Costa Rica’s recent travails. “There has been a lot of variation in the make-up of the squads, and that has prevented continuity. And while it’s true this strategy enabled many youngsters to be blooded, there haven’t been enough people playing regularly.”
In this context, the coach has put a plan in place for the coming months. “We’re already preparing to work with the home-based players. In December we’ll expand that to include our oversees ones. This will allow us to get to know all those we’ll use during the course of the Brazil qualifiers and decide on our squad.”
Paving the way
The Tico boss was also forthcoming about tactics, an aspect of coaching he excels in. “You have to know your group then structure it in tactical terms. My idea is to put together a line of four defenders, with a system of zonal marking and strong emphasis on pressing. Across the middle, sometimes I’ll use four and sometimes five. That said, I do like to play a deep-lying centre forward, so hopefully we find the ideal person,” he said.
A strong candidate for the role is Bryan Ruiz, the team’s figurehead who is currently starring with English club Fulham. Pinto, for one, is sure that the frontman’s contribution will be invaluable: “I want him to play a significant role. He’s an excellent player of international standing, and it’s vital he puts every bit of his talent at the disposal of the national team.”
Under contract for the next three years, the coach was happy to look ahead to what his side can expect in the region’s qualifying competition for Brazil 2014. “Obviously it won’t be easy, as there are a lot of quality teams in the zone. That said, Costa Rica can compete with any of them, even Mexico and the USA. It would be absurd to think otherwise. We can vie with and beat the best; of that I’m totally convinced.”
In addition to his first spell in charge of the Ticos, Pinto’s international experience also includes a stint at the helm of his native Colombia, assignments he is certain will be of value in his new role. “They have to be of benefit. I have experience in this role and of everything related to Costa Rican football. Coaching Colombia has also been useful, obviously. I’ve had significant experience in World Cup qualifiers, and without doubt that will help now,” he insisted.
The coach concludes our interview with a promise to the Tico fans who have welcomed him back. “Costa Rican people have a good disposition, and they already know me. I want to assure them that I’ll do my job well, and with honesty, competency and commitment. Above all, I’m aware of the huge responsibility I have to shoulder, and I won’t disappoint.”