Is Cruz Azul's Pedro Caixinha being slept on as a candidate for the Mexico national team job?
Are we overlooking a certain Liga MX-based manager when it comes to the Mexico national team coach's job?
The name Pedro Caixinha was mentioned all over the media back in 2015 before Juan Carlos Osorio was confirmed as El Tri's permanent coach. The Portuguese manager appeared keen back then, even if this time around he appears to be more nuanced in his enthusiasm.
"I think that in Mexico there is a great tradition of [picking] the coach that is in fashion, that is winning or has won," stated Caixinha in a June press conference.
Caixinha went on to say he is happy at Cruz Azul and that at 47 years old prefers club football and that he wouldn't be campaigning for the job. But a strong offer to coach in a much higher-profile position and the chance to manage at a World Cup surely wouldn't be easy to turn down for the Portuguese coach.
Let's rewind a little. If you look at a general outline for the Mexican national team manager's position, it'd probably be something like this:
• Knowledge of the Mexican game and Mexican players
• Global perspective
• Modern coaching methodology
• Spanish-speaking (and ideally with knowledge of English)
• Ability to deal with and manage the media circus
• Attacking philosophy
• Some experience in bringing through younger players
Caixinha checks many, if not all, of the boxes for a job that may not be as coveted as some in Mexico like to think.
Cruz Azul's start to the 2018 Apertura -- the club is joint-top of the league and undefeated after our games -- has drawn attention again to Caixinha and rightly so. La Maquina showed so much spirit on Sunday under adverse circumstances to come back from 1-0 down with 10 players to tie Tijuana at 1-1 and remain unbeaten.
But, as Caixinha has stated, the selection of the Mexico manager can't be based on a few good results at the start of this Apertura. It goes beyond that.
Compare Caixinha to Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti, many people's preferred choice for the position. The Portuguese manager has a master's degree' in training methodology, adheres to tactical periodization and boasts a UEFA Pro license, while the Brazilian has a wealth of experience domestically, but little outside of Mexico.
Caixinha had Cruz Azul's preseason planned out into four phases and 35-40 training sessions, none of which will have been repeated, while some teams still start out with building up stamina by running on the beach.
Caixinha out-foxed Ferretti in Week 3 of the Apertura in Cruz Azul's 1-0 victory against Tigres, playing with three central midfielders instead of the usual two. The result was Tigres dominating possession -- almost 70 percent -- but failing to manage a single shot on target.
"I think if it was here [in Monterrey] and we did what they did (and sit back), they'd throw me out of the stadium," said Ferretti after the game.
It's a common sentiment in Mexico. It's almost as though culturally fans and clubs demand open games in which their team goes forward, regardless of the opposition. The reality, however, was that Caixinha was pragmatic in setting up a team to win the match.
Former bullfighter Caixinha has been an outlier since he came to Mexico at the end of 2012. His style is much more vertical than is common in Liga MX, he isn't afraid to use things like long throws and rapid counters starting from the goalkeeper. And in line with a trend we saw in the World Cup, in Liga MX so far this Apertura, leaders Cruz Azul (41.8 percent) and Pumas (42.6 percent) are 17th and 16th in the possession table, while Chivas (54 percent) and Pachuca (57.6 percent) are 17th and 18th in the league and fourth and second in terms of possession.
Santos Laguna won the 2015 Clausura title under Caixinha in striking fashion. No team had less possession per game (40.4 percent) than Caxinha's team that season, or a higher percent of long passes (20.3 percent). In the first leg of the final against Queretaro, Santos Laguna won 5-0 against Victor Manuel Vucetich's Queretaro with 37.9 percent of possession.
It's almost like while other Liga MX teams attempt to have the ball as a matter of course and because fans demand it, Caixinha has come in and picked holes in that philosophy.
The prospect of a Mexico national team playing on the counter against stronger opposition is one that won't sit comfortably with many, even if it isn't dissimilar to what Osorio's team did against Germany at the recent World Cup.
That perhaps explains in part why certain rival managers didn't take to him and why he hasn't been in the conversation for the Mexico job, although Caixinha's strong personality may be the overriding reason.
Caixinha has a tough streak and can be hard on players meaning sometimes it doesn't work out, like at Rangers in Scotland when his reign seemed doomed from Day 1. The Portuguese also has an explosive temper. He famously clashed with Miguel Herrera back in 2013, once read out a list of refereeing decisions that had benefited Club America and caused friction ahead of La Maquina's recent win over Tigres by suggesting the northern club wasn't a "grande."
"I've seen many times that when suddenly two of three things go well you [the media] build them like messiahs, as if they are 'Pep' Guardiola," said Ferretti in reference to Caixinha, who took over at Cruz Azul in Dec. 2017.
But with Matias Almeyda's candidature seemingly not advancing, Ferretti ruling himself out and Herrera not yet having recovered from his 2015 firing, Caixinha's name should enter the picture, even if it would be cruel on a much-improved Cruz Azul.