A dependable right-back who spent most of his 15-year playing career with America and Atlante, two of Mexico’s biggest clubs, Raul Gutierrez also had the honour of representing his country at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ and the FIFA Confederations Cup Saudi Arabia 1995. Known as El Potro (The Colt) during his playing days, Gutierrez has since moved into coaching, and is now in charge of the Tricolor U-17 team, the hosts of next year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Breaking off from his preparations, Gutierrez spoke exclusively to the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011 Local Organising Committee about the challenges of developing young players and his hopes for the tournament

LOC: Raul, the tournament is eight months away. How are the team shaping up?
Raul Gutierrez
: They’re doing fine and I’m sure they’ll do their very best. That’s what we’re working towards, and a lot of effort has gone into putting this team together. I’ve been here for a little over a year and a half, working intensively with what was the U-15 team and is now the U-17 side. The idea is to keep the development process going by organising a lot of tours and internationals so that they get the exposure they’re going to need for a tournament like this.

What does it mean to Mexico to be hosting this FIFA World Cup?
Hosting a World Cup is a great way for a country to advertise itself. Mexico has always had strong links with football and the game here is really going to benefit from organising an event of this scale.

What kind of qualities do you look for in young players?
I’m looking for players who can read a game, detect situations and, with our support, perform to the best of their ability to influence them. At club level you have the time to do more in-depth work but the timeframes are so much shorter here. That’s why I look for players who can solve problems on their own.

Do you think your players listen to you more because you played the game professionally?
They’re different things. When you’ve played the game yourself you have your own take on things. But when you work with youngsters a whole lot of other aspects come into it. As well as a coach, you have to be an advisor, a psychologist and a teacher too. Football’s a priority, of course it is, but kids of this age are developing in every sense and if you don’t give them the correct guide, it can have a negative impact on their football.

What kind of things do you need to make young players aware of at this stage of their career?
First, you have to make them see the importance of teamwork: we’ve achieved good results because we’ve all pulled together. Then they need to realise what they can achieve. Just because you’ve been called up doesn’t mean to say you’re the star of the team. Representing your country is something that benefits your life in general, not just in terms of winning things but because of everything that comes with playing for the national team. If they can make the most of it, they can go on to become star players. Mexican footballers need to know what their strengths are and work on their weaknesses.

Mexico became world champions at Peru 2005. What impact has that had on the youth game here?
That generation came out of nowhere really. What we’re looking to do now is have a production line of successful national teams and, over the next eight to ten years, catch up with the superpowers. To do that we need to get used to being in the spotlight. That’ll help us to improve and achieve things like we did in 2005.

Many people point to Spain as the example to follow. Do you agree with that?
There’s no doubt Spain are role models. The players they bring on aren’t the strongest or the fastest but they’re so incredibly sharp. You should always look to follow good examples and systems and develop them, but without losing your own identity. We’re not that far away in footballing terms. Mexican players have a lot to offer and they’re getting more and more professional in the way they go about things. Our job is to help them develop their strengths and, as I said before, work with them on their weak points.

What are the keys to maintaining this development?
The structures we have in place are solid and we have a definite goal as well. We want the players to do well at international level and with a clearly defined style of play too. I think that part of our identity is really coming on. We just have to project it more, that’s all. The Mexican FA have high hopes of this plan and nothing’s being left to chance.

And what about results? What is Mexico’s goal at next year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup finals?
We should be looking to win every competition we enter, and that’s something that needs to become part of the psyche of our players. That’s the only way can winning become a habit for us. All the work we’re doing is designed to bring the team to a peak for 2011. We want to compete and we want to be the champions.