How Tigres and Tuca Ferretti's long-term approach is changing Liga MX
MEXICO CITY - It will likely be some fall afternoon in 2018 when Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti breaks the all-time Liga MX record for most matches coached. Two years beyond that, when his current deal is up at Tigres, he'll have been at the helm of the Monterrey-based team for an entire decade.
If the level of certainty in the above is jarring, especially considering the volatile nature of Mexican soccer, it shouldn't. The 62-year-old coach has managed continuously in Mexico since the day of his retirement as a player in 1991. In those 26 years of management, Ferretti has never been fired. Only twice has he spent less than a year at his post, once in Morelia and then, ironically, with Tigres in 2006.
In the midst of his seventh year at the helm of Tigres, Ferretti has racked up impressive results: three Liga MX titles, one Copa MX championship, a pair of Campeón de Campeones trophies and a Copa Libertadores final. The silverware is impressive but the longevity is practically unheard of in Mexico.
At Tuca's introductory presser with Tigres in 2010, the team espoused the usual spiel regarding their desire to helm a long-term, successful project. At the time, only one manager had reached seven years at his post during the current short tournament era: Raul Arias, who did so with Necaxa from 1998 to 2005. Of the 18 current Liga MX bosses, only three have been at their current post for more than two years. The need for immediate results in a league featuring two full seasons in a calendar year has given owners a quick trigger when replacing coaches.
What then, makes Ferretti and Tigres such a notable outlier?
"Tuca has always been successful at bringing stability everywhere he's gone," said ESPN FC analyst Herculez Gomez, who played under the coach in 2014. "These famous processes are never fulfilled in Mexico but he's a great example of what can be done if you trust them."
Logically, stability is often a byproduct of results and by 2011, Tuca led Tigres to their first league title since 1982. With their vision validated, the team's board got to work on its long-term goal: turning a strong regional presence in northern Mexico into a continental behemoth.
In recent years, as part of their quest to win the Copa Libertadores or the CONCACAF Champions League, Tigres has rocked the local market with the signings of internationals Eduardo Vargas, Nahuel Guzman, Enner Valencia and, of course, Andre-Pierre Gignac. But Ferretti's experience, character and legendary short fuse have allowed him to remain as the authority amid such star power.
"[He] can be difficult at times; he lets his temper get the best of him. But you respect him. He's a coach unlike many because this is a guy who can also bring the best out of you," said Gomez. "Better players make for better teams."
Gignac seems to agree.
"I've learned from each coach: [Didier] Deschamps taught me the winning mentality and [Marcelo] Bielsa the tactical side. Tuca fine-tuned everything and added discipline," the French striker told Life and Style magazine in April.
In year seven of Ferretti's tenure, the process in Monterrey is unencumbered. Tigres has competed for three titles since last December. The team is reportedly in talks to sign another top player, Chile international Gary Medel, just days after holding midfielder Guido Pizarro left for Sevilla.
"The fact they're willing to open their pockets to sign players like Gignac, [Rafael] Sobis and Vargas? That's amazing. Fans appreciate the effort," said Gomez.
Moving forward, the remaining objectives are clear: multiple league championships, potentially positioning Tigres among the Liga MX elite, and cementing the elusive goal of winning the CONCACAF Champions League in order to challenge for the FIFA Club World Cup in the near future.
"We will not stop. We'll fix certain things and hopefully, next time we'll be there," said Ferretti after losing the 2017 final to Pachuca.
Tigres' success has not gone unnoticed. Other teams have unveiled similar plans built around the objective of long tenures with strong managers looking to achieve major accomplishments. Pachuca has built its recent achievements around a young team and a young coach, Diego Alonso. Signing Japan international Keisuke Honda is an attempt to mirror the fervor Tigres received when Gignac was first brought in.
Chivas, long mocked for disposing of coaches at owner Jorge Vergara's whim, has looked to Matias Almeyda for their long-term project, with already tangible results at the Copa MX and the Liga MX in the past two years. Across town from Ferretti, rivals CF Monterrey have already committed to over two years with current coach Antonio Mohamed though the Argentine has yet to win the league. It is likely the team will give him every opportunity to unseat their foes at the top.
Altogether, the Tuca blueprint has proven to be a model others in Mexico will continue to look to, perhaps gradually replacing the no-patience, short-term modus operandi more commonly seen around the league.
In Monterrey, Tigres fans are reveling at the possibility of further endeavors under Ferretti and a seemingly bottomless transfer budget. Gomez, still fondly remembered for his time at the team, agrees.
"The team is huge, the fan base is growing as well. To have this project going is really important to the city and to Mexican soccer."
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.