Can Club America rekindle old magic, win another title with Miguel Herrera?
MEXICO CITY -- It was the perfect time for Miguel Herrera to come back. A second chance at glory for the prodigal son, whose own story of ambition, success and fall from grace mirrored the team he left behind.
In 2013, "Piojo" Herrera famously led Club America to its first league title in eight years. The story made the rounds worldwide, capped by viral moments such as goalkeeper Moises Munoz desperately plunging forward to score, sending the final into overtime, and a rain-drenched Herrera exploding into an emotional celebration as the dramatic penalty kicks went his team's way.
Herrera's new-found success and fame launched him to the Mexican national team, where he led the team to the World Cup following a harrowing qualification period that claimed three El Tri managers. Following a promising campaign in Brazil and a controversial Gold Cup win in 2015, he infamously punched a journalist in an airport and was unceremoniously fired after video of the incident emerged. In his prolonged absence, Club America notched another league title and twice represented CONCACAF in the FIFA Club World Cup by way of back-to-back Champions League titles. However, no manager since has achieved the amount of popularity and approval Herrera was able to cultivate during his tenure.
After a disappointing first half in 2017, Club America relieved Ricardo La Volpe of his managerial duties and, perhaps most interestingly, team president Ricardo Pelaez, the man who initially brought Herrera to the club five years ago. Herrera's signing, following a strong tenure in Tijuana, holds hope that the team can rekindle glory days. Also, he will need to reply to rivals Chivas, who tied Club America atop Liga MX's Mount Olympus with 12 league titles last May.
"If you analyze the history of the club, no manager who has ever won a league title has later come back and won again," said Club America's official historian, Hector Hernandez, via phone interview with ESPN FC. "So it'll be a challenge for Herrera."
Herrera embodies what americanistas view as the ideal style for the team: stylish, visually pleasing and with plenty of goals to celebrate. "For the team, it's always preferable to win 4-3 than 1-0," explained Hernandez.
Those hallmarks will be a special challenge for Club America going into the 2017 Clausura given that their squad ranked in the bottom-half of the league for goals scored last season. The lack of aggressiveness provoked jeers for La Volpe's defensive style, a complete reversal from the man credited with endowing Herrera and others with Lavolpismo, a philosophy filled with flair influencing Mexican soccer for the past 30 years.
"We have to be attractive [to fans], we have to generate spectacle," said Herrera to Mexican newspaper Milenio in June. "This team has to focus on going out and generating entertainment."
Unless mid-season reinforcements come in, he will have to do so with basically the same offensive outfit La Volpe struggled with last season. The club brought in players mostly of a defensive characteristic during the summer, including Guido Rodriguez and Carlos Vargas, Herrera's former protégés at Xolos.
"La Volpe alienated people by telling the truth. He explained he had to play that way, and he was a minute away from winning the league [vs. Tigres, in 2016]." said Hernandez. "But it's clear another player is needed. Someone needs to come in and organize the offense and set up the strikers."
The team has already underwhelmed in a pair of preseason matches: a 2-0 loss against Morelia was followed by an identical line against Querétaro, with the latter officially branded as the Supercopa MX, a match usually contested by the Copa MX winners of the previous year. Though they hadn't won the title, it was shoved in due to Chivas (the champions of the Apertura 2017 title) also winning the league, thus playing in the Campeón de Campeones, contested by the previous year's league champions. In a cruel bit of irony, the Aguilas were given the chance to compete for a title vacated by its biggest rival.
America's lack of offensive cohesion in either match was made all the more grave because Herrera had taken multiple leaves of absence during the off-season for his side gig: commentating Mexican national team matches.
Herrera's closeness to the national team is no coincidence. It's also no secret he's looking to replicate his first tenure with America with near-exact precision. His desire to return to El Tri (or any national team, if his posturing for the U.S. job in 2016 can be taken seriously) is evident.
Thus, his timetable is set. Should America win another title under Herrera by the summer of 2018, assuming Mexico's managerial job is vacant once more; Piojo will be in prime position to take over. His competition will likely include Chivas manager Matias Almeyda, Monterrey's Antonio Mohamed and a few wild cards.
The team, however, might not be so keen on letting him go so easily. "I don't think America will let him go," said Hernandez. "He's under contract long-term and being paid a lot of money. There's a chance he doesn't move." However, if America and their manager fail to issue a successful sequel, the win-win dream scenario becomes moot, replaced with severe questioning from prodding media and fans with high expectations.
Regardless of whether the story ends in redemption or ridicule, fans and critics alike will be getting a few new GIFs or YouTube clips out of the deal. Their context, however, remains to be seen.
Eric Gomez is an editor for ESPN's One Nación. You can follow him on Twitter: @EricGomez86.