Mexico managers Tata Martino and Juan Carlos Osorio are more similar than you think
CHARLOTTE -- There's a tendency to get carried away with new coaches, like a new car or new clothes. There's an initial excitement, but as time goes by, they lose their shine and sparkle. Gerardo "Tata" Martino still has that fresh kind of feel with the Mexican national team. To use the old cliche: He's still in the honeymoon stage.
After six games and six wins and with Mexico preparing for what should be another comfortable victory against Martinique on Sunday, everything appears rosy. Martino can even be caught swearing on TV and it gets swept under the carpet! This is a manager who only named 29 players to the preliminary Gold Cup squad, which -- due to injuries -- almost led to Mexico entering the tournament with fewer than the stipulated 23 players.
This contrasts sharply with the lingering perception of former coach Juan Carlos Osorio. The Colombian started equally well with El Tri -- his team only conceded once in his first 10 games in charge, all victories. The brakes slammed on with that 7-0 Copa America loss to Chile in 2016, but Osorio steered Mexico to Russia 2018 with ease and then masterminded one of the team's most famous ever victories against Germany.
The time to judge Martino will be a few years down the line. Let's not forget that in the six wins so far, Mexico has played teams ranked 16th, 36th, 33rd, 60th, 175th and 78th in the world.
That's not to say Martino hasn't done well. There has been an authority and excitement about Mexico's performances, a level of comfort in the 4-3-3 system, and the coach has looked absolutely secure in his position, as you'd expect from someone who has previously managed Barcelona and Argentina.
But there has also been continuity from the Osorio regime in certain aspects on the field. Sure, aerial ability hasn't been prioritized as much under Martino, there haven't been shifts in formation from game to game, and the full-backs have both been encouraged to push forward, but it's not as though evidence of Osorio's time in charge cannot be seen.
Here are five similarities between what we saw under Osorio and what we've seen so far under Martino.
The Bielsa connection
Martino's link to Marcelo Bielsa is much more direct than that of Osorio, the 56-year-old having played under him and captained a championship-winning side at Newell's Old Boys, but both have poured praise on "El Loco" and elements of each's style can be traced to the Leeds boss.
Both talk about being the protagonist, playing in the opposition's half, a focus on playing down the wings -- and the commitment to those ideas is essential, sometimes even more important than the actual result.
However, the way each operates with the media is distinct from Bielsa. The former Marseille coach famously doesn't give exclusive interviews, contrasting with Osorio, who wanted to talk and get his ideas across. Martino seems to be willing to fulfill only the minimum media commitments.
Gallardo as a left-back
What a player Monterrey's Jesus Gallardo has turned into. Even when rumors linked the player to Atletico Madrid, it didn't feel ridiculous. His lung-busting capacity to get up and down the wing, his pace, crossing, scoring ability and improved defending suggest he would fit comfortably in a good European league.
But let's not forget that Osorio was ridiculed for playing the then-Pumas winger Gallardo as a left-back. A couple of years on and Gallardo appears to be making the spot his own for years to come.
No room for Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez
Osorio called Santos Laguna midfielder Vazquez into his first Mexico squad and then never called him again. Martino did the same in March and the 31-year-old is not involved this summer.
Like Osorio, Martino seems to prefer a more physical and aerially competitive player like Edson Alvarez or Diego Reyes to a player like Vazquez. That said, the Argentine has admitted that Andres Guardado, Jonathan dos Santos or Erick Gutierrez could all play in that position, depending on the opposition.
Edson Alvarez's importance
"We think that Edson is a very technical player with a good aerial game," Osorio said in February 2017. "It seems that he has that pause, that extra second to make a good decision, whether he plays in a back three, back four and/or we think that he can be very effective in midfield ... he is indeed one of the Mexican players with a great present and a very prominent future.
Eyebrows were raised when a 19-year-old Alvarez was handed his debut against Iceland and then was named to the Gold Cup squad that summer, in addition to joining up with the Confederations Cup squad as a non-registered player. But it was all good experience for what has followed, with Alvarez now a vital member of the national team.
"I think that there are a number of players [that could play in Europe], but if I had to throw out one name, I think it would be Edson," Martino said last March.
This likely transcends both Osorio and Martino and strikes at something that has been embedded in the Mexican game for generations: Mexico's technical players tend to like to have the ball.
Osorio's average possession over his spell in charge was 60.4%, and Martino's team has had 59.9% over the six matches so far.