Mexico and Porto star Layun targets making World Cup history with El Tri
BRUSSELS -- Mexico and Porto full-back Miguel Layun used to get blamed for a lot. When things were going wrong at Club America in 2012, for example, the hashtag "Everything is Layun's fault" (#todoesculpadelayun) trended relentlessly in Mexico.
Five years on, a lot has changed: Layun has won a Liga MX title with America, played at a World Cup, featured for Watford in the Premier League, represented Porto in the Champions League and is a fixture in Juan Carlos Osorio's Mexican national team set up as it prepares for Russia 2018.
ESPN FC spoke to the 29-year-old at El Tri's hotel in Brussels -- where Mexico plays Belgium on Friday -- to discuss a range of topics, including the sacrifices he took to move to Europe, why Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio is respected by the players and his future at club level.
Tom Marshall: How important is it for the Mexican national team to play games in Europe against the likes of Belgium and Poland?
Miguel Layun: It brings us much closer to what the World Cup will be like. They are very competitive national teams. They have players in the best leagues, the best teams and that competition will test us. That's what we want in order to arrive at the World Cup at the highest level.
TM: 26 of the 28 players in Belgium's squad play for clubs outside of the country. Do you think it is important Mexico continues to export players to improve the national team?
ML: I think that it is very important for Mexico football. In the same way that it's important to compete with quality national teams, it is also important to participate and be challenged in our clubs.
TM: From afar it seemed like you always had a fixed goal of playing in Europe, even after your first stint in Italy didn't work out as you would've hoped?
ML: Yes. Above all I consider myself a very determined person with my objectives and goals and dreams and I'm very demanding of myself. It is impossible for me to settle for something. If I achieve success I'm thinking of the next challenge. I like to try to explore my limits. When I started playing I wanted to play in the (Mexican) first division and then in the longer term play in Europe because I wanted to compete with the best to see if I had what it takes. I had my first experience in Italy (with Atalanta) that wasn't positive. Actually, it's the opposite. It wasn't seen as being positive, but it was. After that I knew I wanted to return.
TM: What kind of sacrifices did you have to make to move over to Europe the second time?
ML: To start with, in terms of the economics, I did have the possibility of staying at America. They talked about renewing my contract because they wanted me to stay. The offer I had at the time in Europe from Watford wasn't economically attractive. In the end my objective, as I explained to the America owners, who I'll always be grateful to, wasn't economic. I wanted to better myself and thought that the economic part would come later. It wasn't a priority. Then the decision to go to the second division was a little difficult because I didn't really know the (English) Championship. When I arrived I was fascinated because the competition is incredible. The only way to really get better is when you have the ability to open yourself up to learn new things.
TM: Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio gets a lot of criticism from the domestic press, but has had consistent backing from El Tri's players. What makes you believe in him?
ML: He believes in what he does and in his methodology. When someone believes in themselves it is a lot easier to transmit (ideas). With us he has had a strong connection. He's been able to demand and transmit what he wants and that's what I think has convinced us. In every moment he's shown us his great ability to learn. Those are the people that for me have the ability to achieve great things.
TM: Can Mexico make history in Russia?
ML: That's always the objective, although I think it is sometimes difficult to express it in words because every World Cup the same thing is talked about and every World Cup ends the same way. What I can say is with certainty is that if people could see what really goes on in the inside, people would understand there have been a lot of changes to try to reach the objective, which is to make history.
TM: It's seems to have been a little difficult to get regular playing time at Porto this season. What's the situation with Sergio Conceicao?
ML: I've always been conscious that the technical and tactical decisions are completely down to the coach, not me, and I believe the quality of players that there are in the team is quite even. For example, Alex (Telles), who I'm basically competing against for the left-back spot, is a player with a lot of talent, but I also believe and know that I can compete with him and that I have the talent. However, if he gets picked there is no problem. It's the same on the other side with Ricardo (Pereira) and with Maxi (Pereira).
TM: Could you leave Porto in the January transfer window?
ML: I think that in the end it will depend on the objectives of the club when they talk about new signings. We'll see what they put forward. What you always want in such a short career is to be able to enjoy it and do as well as possible. If I am picked or if tomorrow it's time for me to leave, I'll also enjoy that stage. I think it depends a lot on what the club is looking to do and wants.
TM: Did Monterrey come with an offer last summer? Were any other clubs interested?
ML: Yes, there was contact with (Monterrey sporting president) Duilio (Davino). I was very grateful for the attempts to take me to Monterrey. I knew it'd be complicated because Porto weren't interested in selling. I had offers on the table that were higher than Monterrey's. Lyon was one that was in the picture, then Sevilla came in as well and Porto didn't open the doors. So I was it as even more unlikely that they'd accept a transfer (from Monterrey) for a little bit less than what other clubs had presented.
TM: The "Yo X Mexico" initiative alongside Javier Hernandez to help those affected by the September earthquakes in Mexico was widely applauded. Do you think players have a responsibility to help in such situations?
ML: I don't see it as a responsibility because if it becomes a responsibility it loses the feeling that drove you to do it. Helping each other is important as human beings. Knowing that in these types of situations all of us are vulnerable, that it is something that no-one can control. The richest person in the world won't be able to save themselves from a natural disaster. In the end I believe that it is that connection with the human side that we can't lose in the world. I honestly get sad every day on seeing news about more attacks, assaults and unpleasant situations for humanity and see that, in my perception, we're losing little by little that human side. We focus sometimes on so many silly things that we lose that connection with other people and hopefully what we did (with Yo X Mexico) won't only help those affected by the earthquake, but that it really connected and touched other people to think that they too can do something within their possibilities.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.