Dominant on the regional scene and impressive on the home front, Club de Futbol Monterrey have taken over from Pachuca as CONCACAF’s habitual representatives at the FIFA Club World Cup. 

One of the secrets of Los Rayados’ recent success, with four titles secured in a two-year spell, was the arrival of Victor Manuel Vucetich on the bench. That triumphant run was interrupted at Japan 2011, where Monterrey’s attempt to cap a glorious period in their history came unstuck against quarter-final opponents Kashiwa Reysol. 

The Mexicans are back in Japan this year, courtesy of their successful CONCACAF Champions League defence. Looking ahead to their return mission in the Far East, the man they call Vuce spoke exclusively to about that early exit 12 months ago and their hopes of setting the record straight this time. 

Staying strong
“We didn’t get through and that was a failure for us,” said Vucetich, casting his mind back to his side’s first FIFA Club World Cup outing. “We didn’t really lose because we only went down on penalties, but we could have beaten Kashiwa and we had a lot of chances to do so. We then came up against the African champions and at least we managed to win that game.”

Monterrey’s response to their early return home was a defiant one. Maintaining their high standards in Mexico and CONCACAF, they battled their way through to the finals of the 2012 Clausura and the regional Champions League, where Santos Laguna would be waiting for them on both occasions. 

The duel for the regional title went their way, securing them a return passage to the FIFA Club World Cup, though Vucetich would suffer the first final defeat of his 24-year coaching career when Santos edged his side to the league title a few weeks later.

Barcelona are a cut above. The fact they’re not here means everyone has a better chance.

Monterrey coach Vucetich

“Life goes on,” said the King Midas of Mexican football, who had won 12 finals out of 12 up to that point. “The only difference is that we’ve won one less title. That’s all. I’m still the same person and our objectives are still the same. Losing is part and parcel of life.”

A second chance
Contemplating their repeat trip to Japan, Vucetich believes the lessons learned from last year will stand his side in good stead. “The players are more seasoned, more experienced now,” said the coach, who hails from Tamaulipas, in north-western Mexico. “There’s more experience because we know exactly what it means and how we have to approach games, to play them our way.”

Monterrey’s preparations for Japan 2012 were helped by their qualification for the eight-team play-offs in this year’s Apertura, a task that proved beyond them 12 months ago.

Explaining last December’s disappointing FIFA Club World Cup showing, Vucetich said: “We didn’t make the final phase of the 2011 Apertura and that meant we played very little football going into the 2011 Club World Cup. We went a month without a game and it affected us. All we had was training, and our football suffered because of that lack of competition.”

Better prepared on this occasion, Vucetich said his team has good reason to believe they can do well: “We’ve got a clear idea of what we’re going to do. We need to study our opponents, though, and know how counteract their strengths. We’ve got some very interesting players and they’re going to be springing a big surprise very soon.”

There is another factor that is giving the coach additional grounds for optimism: the absence of Barcelona, which prompted him to say: “Barcelona are a cut above. The fact they’re not here means everyone has a better chance.”

Given their experience in the competition and the three years much of the squad have spent together, Vucetich believes his well-drilled Rayados head into the tournament with the potential to win it. “We’ve got a point to prove and our expectations are higher than they were in 2011,” he said. “Make no mistake: Monterrey can be champions.”