Sanchez Sacked: The Post-Mortem
After savaging his predecessor Ricardo LaVolpe in the Mexican press, Hugo Sanchez has suffered the same fate as LaVolpe and unlike his more capable predecessor he did not make through a world cup cycle. Mexico’s fortunes seem to have dipped recently despite having an immense amount of young talent: young talent I personally feel is comparable to any nation on the planet save perhaps Argentina. Mexico’s inability to defeat the United States is stunning when you consider not a single American with the exception of Landon Donovan is more talented than the Mexican playing the very same position for El Tri. (But as I have said with England, where I believe Donovan would be the only American to actually make a 23 man squad for the Three Lions, he is more talented than any current Mexican player just as Donovan is more talented than any current English player) But the United States is if anything well organized as a national side with a clear philosophy, something Mexico recently has lacked.
Hugo Sanchez was a legend of world football: the only Mexican player to ever reach such heights. He is also one of only three players to have played in the two most recent US first divisions the NASL and MLS. (Can you guess the other two?) However, his tenure as Mexican coach was highlighted by, a friendly loss to the US in Phoenix, a loss to Honduras at the 2007 Gold Cup, losing to the United States yet again in the Gold Cup final when Benny Feilhaber struck a volley from outside the box, and a disastrous Olympic Qualifying campaign. It was that failure that ultimately took Sanchez’s job status from “questionable” to “day to day.”
Mexico’s Golden Generation of players is upon us. Gio Dos Santos, Andres Guardado, Guillermo Ochoa, Julio Dominguez, Carlos Vela and Nery Castillio. As I stated above I would take this set of young players over just about any set of a comparable age on the planet. But despite the depth of talent, Mexico seems to have lost its edge over CONCACAF opponents. El Tri is routinely being beaten by a less talented American side, often times in ugly fashion, and with the recent emergence of Honduras as a legitimate power in the region, Mexico has more than just the United States and Costa Rica to fend off for regional supremacy. Honduras showed its quality by beating Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup and then defeating the United States to win the 2008 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament (after losing to the US in group play). Mexico for the first time in recent memory doesn’t sport the regions most feared veteran players: those would be David Suazo of Honduras and Landon Donovan of the United States. Thanks largely to Sanchez’s vocal opposition to LaVolpe, any attempt to overhaul Mexico’s style and integrate some of the tactics and techniques that have made Argentina so successful were thrown on the back burner. In addition, Sanchez encouraged Mexican Footballers to leave the domestic league even though unlike MLS, the Mexican League provides both the financial security and quality player development any national team would want for its players. Sanchez’s legacy as Mexico’s greatest footballer will not be tarnished but no doubt exists that his managerial career will not be fondly remembered by most associated with the national team.
Mexican Football has reached a crossroads. With a talent pool which is the envy of footballing world, the federation must make a decision whether or not to pursue a foreign manager and simply ignore the critics like Sanchez. I always found Sanchez’s nationalism to be contradictory: he didn’t want a foreign manager or any foreign born players associated with the national team program but at the same time found Mexico’s own domestic league which is arguably the best in this hemisphere inadequate for his players. So essentially Hugo Sanchez wasn’t a Mexican nationalist: he was simply a critic, a contrarian and that as the United States found with Bruce Arena late in his tenure is not a good leadership trait.