SAN ANTONIO — Juan Carlos Osorio is a man with a plan.
The Mexico manager knows what he wants to see from his team. He knows what players he wants to see try new positions or excel with old ones. He knows when he will tweak things in tomorrow's game and what he expects to work.
There are times you catch him with a smile on his face, but when it comes to competition Osorio takes things very seriously. That's why he already has everything lined out for Wednesday's friendly match against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Alamodome. The contest will give him an opportunity to see if certain fringe players are ready to make the jump to the World Cup roster.
Osorio said Tuesday that he's looking to use a number of different looks in the friendly. Never one to waste an opportunity, the manager says his team will work on different formations and combinations including playing with a false nine which "could bring us great results."
It is just the first part his grand plan to take the Mexico national team somewhere it never has been before - to the quarterfinals of the World Cup on foreign soil - and then beyond. Unlikely as it might seem, San Antonio's Alamodome will serve as the launching pad for El Tri's Russia dreams. The path continues with a pair of March friendly matches and then the downhill run-up to the tournament with May and June friendly contests.
"In March, I hope that once again and under strictly footballing parameters, as has always been our procedure, we're able to pick the best 23 players at this time because this implies that we're going to have the same chance to work on three principles. We want to see how everyone on the field behaves," he said.
The plan goes through the summer, but it could be extended. The manager reportedly has been offered a deal to continue at the helm of the national team through the 2022 cycle but is yet to sign it. When asked about his future Tuesday, he didn't refute that he had the offer but made it clear that nothing is decided beyond the grand summit that is the World Cup.
"As far as I’m concerned, the Mexican national team nowadays has enough experienced players, Hugo (Ayala), Giovani (dos Santos) and others, but there are also spaces for young players, Orbelin (Pineda), Erick (Gutierrez), Hirving (Lozano), now Jonathan Gonzalez, Jesus Gallardo and some other payers that I would like to see how they will develop," said Osorio, mentioning the experienced players seated next to him at the news conference. "So as far as I’m concerned, up to today, I’m very pleased to be here. I’m extremely happy, proud and I would like to continue. But we all know what happens in modern football.
"We’re in the job not only for the performances but for the results. So hopefully we’ll have good results and then we’ll make a decision that will make everybody happy. The one thing that’s clear is I did not want to force the Mexican federation to be responsible for my next four years as far as my salary. I don’t work for the salary. I work for the glory, to achieve something with this team. As far as I’m concerned, if the results go hand-in-hand then it would be perfect to continue. On the other hand, if the results do not go our way, then I will be the first one and I will not need anybody to tell me that it’s time for me to go."
While a lovely sentiment, that also means Osorio is keeping his own future open. Have a superb World Cup and have a more enticing suitor come calling and you could be off to bigger and better things.
That the Mexican federation even would consider putting an extension on the table would've been unthinkable at this time last year. Mexico still was reeling from the 2016 Copa America Centenario and Osorio was pilloried by media members and fans. He's won some of them back over, but the players never stopped publicly backing him. That isn't changing now, months after El Tri easily secured World Cup qualification and then went undefeated in a pair of friendly contests against top European opposition.
That is the new spirit they have with the coach. He lays out the strengths of the other team, what Mexico has to do to win and why his plan is the best way to get that result.
"I think the numbers speak for themselves, about the way in the team plays and has fought in its matches," Gio dos Santos said. "We agree that it's a privileged generation and Osorio has come in to inject us with a different mentality, fighting against every team, playing at their level and today we feel more confident and that we can compete against anybody - and beat them."
It hasn't always worked out that way, and Osorio absolutely has seen plans go wrong from his own stubbornness (a 7-0 loss to Chile in the Copa America Centenario quarterfinals), injury (a 4-1 loss to Germany at the Confederations Cup) or a combination of both (the 2017 Gold Cup).
As Mexico gets set to start its biggest year in recent history and Osorio embarks upon the most important year of his professional life, he now believes his plan is fine-tuned and ready for Part 1 to take place. It may be forgotten by the summer, but every grand plan must have its beginning, humble as it may be.