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Tom Marshall: Ochoa decision highlights that all is not well in Mexico camp

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Tom Marshall: Ochoa decision highlights that all is not well in Mexico camp
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Tom Marshall: Ochoa decision highlights that all is not well in Mexico camp

The absence of Guillermo Ochoa’s name from the Europe-based players in the Mexico squad for next month’s vital World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and the United States was a shock in and of itself.

But when Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre then did the media rounds – itself strange for the Mexico coach – accusing Ochoa of not wanting the call-up because he wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot, the plot not only thickened but also took on a much heavier tone.

Ochoa has yet to give his side of the situation and therefore it would perhaps be premature to comment on the various rights and wrongs of him not deciding to answer the call to represent his country.

Certainly, it is a big decision personally considering a potential World Cup appearance is at stake next summer – assuming El Tri qualifies – and he can’t have taken it lightly. There must’ve been some sleepless nights and some deep unhappiness about his decisions and his situation within the Mexico squad.

More than anything, it was hefty blow to De la Torre’s authority as Mexico coach at a time when his future at the helm of the national team is still murky, with the Mexican federation (FMF) basically giving him an ultimatum to win and perform in upcoming games to make sure of his place on the bench at the World Cup.

From that point of view, Ochoa’s decision is a hammer-blow to Chepo, once again putting his man-management skills under the microscope. Perhaps that explained Chepo’s media appearances, trying to nip the issue in the bud as quickly as possible.

“If Memo tells me he wants to be the No. 1 and that if he isn’t he prefers not to come because he’d have a bad attitude that would affect the group, I’ll listen, but I can’t offer a (guaranteed) starting spot to anybody,” said De la Torre.

That can’t hide the fact Mexico is weaker without Ochoa in the squad, even if he was only going to be the reserve to Cruz Azul’s Jesus Corona.

Anyone who saw his heroic performance for Ajaccio against PSG last weekend and his solid display against Nice on Sunday can testify to that. The argument for Ochoa being the No. 1 ‘keeper at national team level has progressively strengthened over the past 12 months and that is no reflection on Corona, just the fact Ochoa has been spectacular for Ajaccio.

The pressure is now piled on Corona and, by extension, his coach for these two big games.

Ochoa’s decision now makes it two of Mexico’s four highest-profile players refusing to be called into the squad, the other one being the best player eligible to represent Mexico anywhere in the world right now - Real Sociedad’s Carlos Vela.

Vela’s situation maybe has deeper roots than that of Ochoa, but it’s more bad publicity for Chepo’s project. It has been a year in which the wheels have slowly started to come off, with the manager's continuity dependent on that fragile vote of confidence at the end of last month.

The biggest issue is that no national team can afford to have its best, in-form players on the outside looking in. Mexico needs both Ochoa and Vela and El Tri is denied them.

It is more proof that there is plenty going on behind the scenes in the Mexico camp and it’s safe to assume it isn’t all rosy.

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