Mexico’s decisive 4-1 victory over Ivory Coast in New Jersey on Wednesday night could mark a turning point for El Tri after a troubled seven months this calendar year. The Mexican National Team is not new to prolonged slumps in World Cup qualifying. In 2009, under Sven-Goran Eriksson, El Tri took three points from its first three matches and were decisively beaten by Honduras and the United States. This led to Sven’s sacking and it took a while for his replacement Javier Aguirre, who had previously managed Mexico in the 2002 World Cup cycle, to get Mexico rolling again.
This go-round, Mexico’s problem has not been conceding goals in mass like it was early in the 2010 cycle (that pattern had begun in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying) but an inability to score goals especially at home. Chepo de la Torre has not yet lost his job but following the poor Gold Cup performance admittedly with a “C” team, the Presidents of Mexico’s leading clubs who make up the leadership of the Federation of Mexican Football (FMF) have sent a clear message to Chepo about player selection.
The naturalization of foreign born players has been a topic of discussion for a large period of time in Mexico. In 2005, El Tri manager Ricardo La Volpe, himself Argentine, helped to naturalize several players who had spent a number of years playing in Mexico’s top division, one of the best leagues outside Europe in the world. The backlash against Guillermo Franco and Sinha, the first two naturalized players to suit up for Mexico in this era, was remarkable.
We can leave discussions of Mexican society for another time, but the bottom line was that the backlash forced the FMF to walk back to fielding only Mexican born and raised players. When Sven became Mexico manager, he reversed this policy and, at one time, selected eight non-Mexican born players for a qualifier. Following Eriksson’s sacking, Aguirre still fielded a few non-Mexican born players.
Chepo de la Torre has avoided playing as many foreign born players as possible but in recent weeks his hand has been forced by the FMF. Chaco Giménez, the Argentine born Cruz Azul playmaker who under Enrique Meza at Pachuca excelled becoming perhaps the most influential club footballer in the CONCACAF region for a period of time, followed Meza to Cruz Azul and has remained there ever since. The FMF has forced Giménez, a playmaker Mexico seems to be lacking, on Chepo. Similarly, Damián Ariel Álvarez, also Argentine born and late of Pachuca but currently with Tigres, has been recalled to the squad. Álvarez was naturalized in 2012 but capped just once in a “B” team friendly.
The FMF has kept Chepo in the job but forced him to open up his selection process. Mexico is probably going to qualify for the World Cup regardless but at this point it can be theorized that Chepo’s position has been undermined.