Mexico coach Martino's first six months in charge: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
DALLAS -- Gerardo "Tata" Martino was announced as Mexico's head coach on Jan. 7. The first six months of his reign have felt much longer, perhaps because so much has happened in such a short span of time. News that a former Barcelona and Argentina manager would be coming in to take over El Tri was a significant boost for a national team that had been thwarted at the round-of-16 stage of the World Cup for a remarkable seventh consecutive time.
Here's a breakdown of the good, the bad and the ugly of Martino's stint in charge so far as he prepares for his first competitive games this summer at the Gold Cup.
This section is easy. On the pitch, Mexico has been very good under Martino. El Tri has defeated three South American sides (Chile, Paraguay and Venezuela) in friendlies, scored 10 goals and shown a clear understanding of Martino's playing style within a 4-3-3 formation.
Martino has looked the part. There is an authority about him, no wavering and no sense that he isn't comfortable and in control.
"I'm very thankful and happy with Gerardo Martino, he's one of the reasons I've improved my form," Rodolfo Pizarro said on TDN after the same victory. "He's given us youngsters an opportunity and we have to take advantage." Remember, this was a national team described by goalkeeper and leader Guillermo Ochoa as lacking "a path" and "a direction" late last year in Argentina.
While tougher examinations will come, Martino has taken on the challenge and instilled an identity and vision for the future, at least on the playing side.
It has to be the absent players. Porto winger Jesus "Tecatito" Corona is in the form of his life but has been cast aside after a mixup in March led Martino to conclude that the 26-year-old hadn't shown the necessary commitment to El Tri. It wasn't resolved ahead of the Gold Cup, depriving Mexico one of its best players.
"I've not spoken to Corona since the last call-up for the friendlies against Paraguay and Chile," Martino said in April. "He was a player that was a possible call-up, but in the analysis that we carried out, we took the decision to not call him."
Other players dropping out in droves from the summer action has led to questions about the overall level of commitment to this national team, although Martino has said not all the absentees should be painted in the same way. Hector Herrera was given permission to miss the friendly games in March and the Gold Cup, while Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is soon to become a father in Europe and also sought Martino's permission. Carlos Vela, meanwhile, simply didn't want to turn up. Other absentees such as Miguel Layun and Hirving "Chucky" Lozano are more cut-and-dried decisions due to injury.
All of the above can and has been portrayed by Martino as a chance for others to step up, but that betrays the reality that the Argentine wanted them in camp and that El Tri is better with them.
"I don't believe that it's common, it's not something that I've experience in Paraguay nor Argentina," said Martino on having players asked not to be called up to El Tri.
It may not be directly Martino's fault or even his immediate concern, but there is a palpable friction surrounding this national team, a pushing and pulling of influences within a federation in flux. The issue of players' bonuses has spilled over from 2018 and is linked more to earning respect and being listened to, rather than the actual money, as Hernandez hinted at in a recent interview with Fox.
Then there is the press. Martino may still be in a honeymoon period, but Hernandez described the relationship with the Mexican media as being "like a fight" and that certain reporters "need to get out a story because if they don't, they'll get fired." On the other side of the fence, there is little access or mixing with players, reinforcing the barrier. Unless the divide is resolved or eased, it isn't likely to work in Martino's favor further down the line.
More directly related to Martino are the changes within the federation. Since the FMF wooed Martino last year, Dennis te Kloese has left for LA Galaxy and Guillermo Cantu will step aside at the end of the Gold Cup. Gerardo Torrado, an as-yet untested figure when it comes to team management, will be taking on a vital role. His capacity to run the sporting side of an organization as big as the FMF in his first important job outside of playing is unknown.
"We are in a process of renovation," Torrado said in a news conference on Thursday. "We're looking to guarantee the best in all areas and in every age group."
Martino hinted Wednesday evening that if the conditions aren't right he would leave a job, as shown when he departed Argentina in 2016. Simply put, it´s not be ideal that so early in his reign there has been so much change inside the FMF.
"My expectation [with Argentina] was to be there four years and manage the World Cup in Russia, but it is also true that when the conditions aren't correct, I don't have any type of doubt in leaving, as good as the job may be; starting something else fresh doesn't bother me," said Martino, when asked about Argentina.
It's clearly premature to suggest this will happen with Mexico, but it's certainly something the FMF needs to be wary of as it undergoes its renovation.