Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre steadfastly refused to walk from his post as Mexico’s manager after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Panama, which sent El Tri out of the Gold Cup at the semifinal stage and poured cold water on hopes of a United States - Mexico showdown on Sunday in Chicago.
“I have a contract for a [World Cup] process, the people who hired me have that decision,” stated Chepo in the postmatch press conference when asked about whether he would continue as El Tri’s manager.
It was the first time that the Mexico coach has implied that there is a decision to be made about his future and comes off the back of a six-month period in which none of Mexico’s goals have been accomplished.
World Cup qualifying remains in the balance, the Confederations Cup performance against top teams didn’t bode well - 12 months before the real event - and now the Gold Cup has ended without ever really getting going for Mexico.
This isn’t one or two matches that haven’t gone right, but the gradual sapping of the confidence of those in and around the squad, not least the fans, who once again turned up in droves to support El Tri in the United States this Gold Cup.
The Confederations Cup was supposed to offer an opportunity for a different, more creative and outgoing Mexico to put the dismal World Cup qualifying campaign behind it. When that failed, it was hoped the fresh faces at the Gold Cup would be so desperate to win a place in the full national team that there would be a good showing with a number of players putting pressure on the more established names when the vital Sept. 5 qualifier against Honduras comes around.
Wednesday’s defeat against Panama was just the confirmation that the poor 2013 shows no sign of coming to an end. Los Canaleros fully deserved their victory, their second over Mexico in just three weeks.
The FMF and Liga MX club owners will have to mull over the pros and cons of sticking with De la Torre.
On the pro side is the continuity of the “process” that everyone in the Mexican federation is so keen to talk about. It could be difficult to bring someone in at short notice to really get the team playing. Then there is the Olympic gold medal that Chepo’s assistant Luis Fernando Tena won in 2012 and the quality of soccer and results that Mexico produced in 2011 and 2012.
Would it be the typical short-termism of the Mexican federation and a quick-fire reaction to appease braying reporters that have never got on with Chepo?
Perhaps, but with the weight of negativity that surrounds the team, a change is the safest bet.
There have been consistent flaws in De la Torre’s teams all year, a conservatism that betrays the natural, attacking philosophy of Mexican soccer and results that have been well below-par. There’s only so many times a national team coach can sit in a press conference and tell the country that his team will learn and get better. At a certain point, you have to see improvement on the field.
But more than anything, the lack of confidence the players seem to have when they put on the Mexico shirt and the lack of leadership within the team comes down to the manager.
That was highlighted perfectly against Panama when a nervousness seemed to overcome Mexico’s defense and no dominant character took the game by the scruff of the neck and drove El Tri when the chips were down.
The bare minimum that has been asked of Chepo is to reach the World Cup and the assumption that Mexico will still qualify without much problem betrays the very real possibility – considering recent form – that players will once again struggle for confidence under the bright lights of the Estadio Azteca against Honduras. Just four days later comes the away game against an in-form United States, which Mexico would go into as heavy underdogs.
It’s sad to say, but the writing seems to be on the wall for Chepo and a new infusion of energy and positivism around El Tri would come as welcome relief after a summer of disappointment.
Those who say there is no guarantee of improvement are right, but it is also difficult to believe things could go much further downhill.
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