- Gerardo Martino is the new head coach of Mexico
- He takes the reins of a national team for the third time
- Copa America 2019 and Qatar 2022 the main challenges
Following the departure of Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio last July, the Mexican federation took almost six months before deciding on a new national team coach to head up their 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™ project.
After settling on their ideal profile, officials travelled far and wide to interview around two dozen potential candidates. At the end of that exhaustive process, the chosen one was Gerardo Tata Martino. A week on from his appointment, we examine some of the biggest challenges awaiting the new head of El Tri.
Choosing between youth and experience
In the recent history of Mexican football, 2005 remains a key landmark, witnessing as it did the emergence of a golden generation of youngsters who won that year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup. Along the way, they showcased expansive, attacking football that swept aside all-comers, including Brazil, who they routed 3-0 in the final.
Since then, players like Giovani Dos Santos, Hector Moreno and Carlos Vela gradually established themselves in the senior team alongside the likes of Javier Chicharito Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa.
However, with the passage of time, that group of players are now entering the final stages of their professional careers. The survivors of Peru 2005 will be 33 by the time Qatar 2022 kicks off, with Chicharito, Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer, 34, current skipper Guardado will be 36, with Ochoa, the man who kept goal for El Tri at the last two World Cups, aged 37.
There is no doubt that, if Martino wishes to triumph, he will have to oversee a rebuilding process and bring through more youngsters. Diego Lainez (18), Edson Alvarez (21) and Hirving Lozano (23) are just some of the up-and-coming stars vying for places, and El Tata will have to look at all his options to unearth even more.
Martino in brief
- Born on 20 November 1962 in Rosario, Argentina
- Has won league titles in Paraguay (Libertad and Cerro Porteno), Argentina (Newell's Old Boys) and the USA (Atlanta United), and a Spanish Super Cup with Barcelona
- Coached Paraguay between 2007 and 2011, leading the team to the quarter-finals of South Africa 2010
- Was Argentina coach from 2014-16
- His sides have contested the final of the Copa America three times, finishing runners-up on each occasion (2011 with Paraguay and in 2015 and 2016 with Argentina)
Handling the pressure
As you would expect in a football-mad country like Mexico, the thirst for success is ever-present, not least when it comes to El Tri, who play in a veritable pressure-cooker atmosphere. Their legions of fans are desperate for them to make history and will enthusiastically get behind them, but they can also be harsh critics when things are not going well.
Fortunately for Martino, he has the kind of thick skin needed to deal with those very situations, having previously managed star-studded national teams and clubs where the media glare was intense and never-ending.
So, as he embarks on what is hopefully a four-year project, El Tata will have to draw on his mental fortitude to deal with difficult moments when they arise and get things back on track.
Developing a clear style
During the era of Osorio, the national team featured a vast array of different personnel and formations. The Colombian coach liked to analyse each opponent and then decide on his line-up and tactics based on that, even if it meant ringing wholesale changes from one game to the next.
Throughout his career, Martino has tended towards a favourite starting XI with a clearly defined style of play, which he only changes when forced to do so. He is an advocate of attacking football and the use of the high press to win back possession and launch fast plays built around slick, short passing.
With the 2019 Gold Cup (15 June to 7 July) the most immediate challenge on the horizon, Martino will have to fast track things to make the most of that opportunity to begin shaping and unveiling his team.
"The amount of time [national team] coaches have with their players is short, but I’ve never hid behind that defence," he said during his official presentation. "In the upcoming six months, we’ll only get together once. I can’t tell you how long it will take to have a team that are up to the tasks we’ll be facing, but I hope it’s the shortest time possible. We aspire to have a team that can really compete."