Osorio sticks to principles as Herrera argues in favor of 'Chicharito' and Co.
The stage is already set. On Nov. 11 in Columbus, Ohio and then four days later in Panama City, Juan Carlos Osorio will go on trial as the Hexagonal stage of World Cup qualifying kicks off for Mexico against the United States and Panama.
The 7-0 defeat to Chile back in June scattered seeds of doubts about the Colombian's future at the helm of the Mexico national team and the games against the Stars & Stripes and Los Canaleros are the first really meaningful matches since that dark afternoon in Santa Clara, California.
Knives are being sharpened. Former El Tri coach Miguel Herrera sits atop the Liga MX with Club Tijuana and remains popular. Unsurprisingly, "Piojo" has not been shy to voice his opinion on current El Tri affairs, telling ESPN this week that he'll "always have the door open for the national team" and even describing the job as "one step above" managing in Europe.
For Osorio, it is his rotation policy that critics have really honed in on. In just short of one year in charge of the national team, the former Atletico Nacional coach has called in 60 players.
Pumas' Jesus Gallardo -- brought into the squad to face New Zealand (Saturday in Nashville) and Panama (Tuesday in Chicago) over the coming days -- has become something of a poster boy this week for the perceived notion that earning a national team call-up has been cheapened. Gallardo, 22, has started just 13 Liga MX matches for Pumas, for example, while 30-year-old Luis Robles has made a career for the Liga MX's less-heralded teams, without ever bothering a national team manager before Osorio's call-up last week.
Herrera, ousted after swinging a punch at a TV commentator the day after winning the 2015 Gold Cup, can't understand why key Europe-based players like Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Hector Herrera, Jesus Corona and Miguel Layun were left out of the squad for these friendlies ahead of the qualifiers next month.
"It was a good opportunity to start working with the people who were going to play the Hexagonal," stated Herrera. "It was time to ground the ideas (for the Hexagonal games) and then suddenly this list comes out."
On the surface, it is a fair point. But then, what would Osorio learn about players that have been around this national team and played together for years, especially when the matches are against teams ranked 62 (Panama) and 88 (New Zealand) by FIFA? Osorio needs to foster competition and depth over the longer term for players to emerge to challenge automatic starters like Andres Guardado, Herrera, Hernandez and Layun.
The manager hasn't come out to defend his position. He's kept extremely quiet, and will only speak in Friday's press conference ahead of the game against New Zealand.
When Osorio does speak, his argument will probably be that the Europe-based core would benefit more from resting than making yet another long journey to the United States. While it is true that South American stars have made the trip over the Atlantic from Europe this international break, they'll be playing in games that offer a high level of competition and are vital qualifiers. And no team is involved in Gold Cups, Confederation Cups and Copa Americas each summer like Mexico.
What is ridiculous is to suggest that studious former Manchester City strength and conditioning coach Osorio is not picking players or planning things like not calling the Europe-based players off the cuff, as the general tone of coverage seems to suggest. This is a person who rented a house overlooking Liverpool's training ground so that he could spend his mornings watching Gerard Houllier's squad. He has a degree in Science and Football from John Moores University.
Osorio is a meticulous and dedicated worker. He and his coaching staff will have watched hours of footage of each player that has been called up. Younger players will be having their development tracked weekly and training sessions will have been planned well in advance. To believe otherwise is to willfully ignore Osorio's history and rhetoric.
Yet it would be equally foolish to ignore the issues surrounding El Tri with Osorio in charge. There are more interesting questions to be asked about Osorio's reign than why Chicharito and Co. aren't in this latest call-up. For example: Is the depth there for the rotation policy to work, especially now that Liga MX has so many foreign players? Do the national team players buy into Osorio's methods? Is rotation as necessary at international level as it is with clubs? Is Mexico doomed to mediocrity regardless of the manager because of its lack of exports to Europe? Does Osorio have the authority to actually act and make changes? Is the way the federation is run -- and not the coach -- the real problem for El Tri?
As much pressure as there clearly is at present, the Colombian can do very little about some of these key questions. Osorio was hired for the work he has done and the philosophy that underlines it. As such, he is playing the long game. It is the only way he can operate without betraying his principles, although the history of the Mexico national team tells you that the guiding principles of the federation are rarely so firm when it comes to hiring and firing coaches.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.