Sven Goran Eriksson’s hiring by the FMF has been hailed as a dawn of a new era of Mexican dominance over CONCACAF. While this certainly may be the case, much evidence provides us with the possibility that this could be another step on the slippery slope of Mexico’s fall back to the pack in CONCACAF. The confederation seems to have caught up with Mexico lately, and its member nations no longer stand in fear of “El Tri.”
No question exists that Mexico has the best player pool in CONCACAF. Mexico, as has been the case since the mid 1980s, has the deepest player pool, most skilled players and most accomplished internationals of any CONCACAF member nation. Mexico has dominated the confederation winning four Gold Cups since 1993 and qualifying for every world cup the nation has been eligible for since missing hosting the World Cup in 1986. But Mexico has also had recent failures. Costa Rica ran away with the Hexagonal title in World Cup qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002, and that was followed up by an American triumph in the qualifying tournament for Germany 2006. More recently, Mexico has begun to lose as frequently to Central American nations as any time in its history. Panama defeated Mexico in the 2005 Gold Cup, Honduras in 2007 Gold Cup and Guatemala in a recent friendly as well as in the Olympic qualifying tournament.
Then their is the subject of the US National Team. Despite having far superior players, with better skill and technical ability, Mexico had repeatedly lost to the United States over the past ten years, most notably in the knock out stages of the 2002 World Cup. The US has contrary to belief of many American fans never had a more skilled team than Mexico (Well maybe the exception was in 1934 when the US beat Mexico in a qualifier held in Italy, and the ASL was at its height as one of the world’s best domestic leagues did the US have more skilled players but at no point since.) But what the Americans have had is a decided psychological edge over the Mexicans , an edge based on physical play and the ability of the best American player, Landon Donovan to almost individually dominate matches against the Mexicans.
Simply put, the Mexicans are soft and have been for many years now. Some of the very best Mexican coaches have tried and failed to stem the culture of falling short in Mexican Football. Manuel LaPuente, Enrique Meza, Javier Aguirre, and Ricardo LaVolpe have all failed despite being outstanding managers at just about every other stop in their careers. The flamboyant but unqualified Hugo Sanchez also failed but that was to be expected.
While Sven Goran Eriksson is an accomplished club manager, his stewardship of England’s National Team still creates serious questions. During Eriksson’s tenure, England’s player failed to tactically adjust to Eriksson’s preferred style of play, and also despite overwhelming talent England failed to get past the Quarterfinals of a major tournament. Much like Mexico, the Three Lions had a tendency to play down to opponents and psychologically allow some rival nations, as Mexico has with the USA, to psychologically affect them. Sven’s side with England was quite frankly, soft by the lofty standards of English footballing history.
Eriksson is no doubt a tactically flexible and sophisticated manager at the club level. But with England his tactics seemed to get simpler and easier to discern as his tenure wore on. With Mexico this is a grave danger as El Tri was handed easily the toughest group in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying and then must navigate through the Hexagonal. Honduras, Canada and Jamacia loom at the group stage and each of these sides has the quality to create danger for a Mexican side in transition.
Mexico has some outstanding young players: perhaps among the best in the world following a U-17 World Cup title in 2005. Gio Dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Andreas Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa are all among the elite youngsters in CONCACAF. But player management was with England a major weakness of Eriksson’s tenure. No recent Mexican manager has had such a gifted group of youngsters to integrate in the national side, but at the same time no recent Mexican manager has ever faced a CONCACAF confederation filled with teams of high quality.
CONCACAF’s improvement overall as a confederation could not have come at a worse time for Mexico. Despite the hiring of Eriksson, confidence is at an all time low it appears at the FMF. Continued losses to the US and Argentina as well as failures in just about every major tournament entered has many Mexican supporters in near panic mode. Help may be on the way in the form of Eriksson or this may simply be a desperate hire of a foriegn manager who knows little about Mexican football or CONCACAF.
Eriksson may bring about a renaissance in Mexican Football. He may also be to Mexico as Berti Vogts was to Scotland: a foreign manager with an established reputation who has no clue about the domestic game in the nation he is about to lead and who is set in his ways. For Mexico’s sake let’s hope the former happens.