Javier Aguirre has cleared the path for Cuauhtemoc Blanco to return to El Tricolor, and the national team is reaping the rewards, writes Goal.com's Joel Aceves.By Joel Aceves
In Javier Aguirre’s first stint with the Tricolor he had the task of rebuilding a squad that had been shattered to pieces this time around el Vasco inherited a national team divided in half.
The lines had been divided the moment Aguirre left for Spain and Antonio Lavolpe took over the Tricolor. If Blanco had been the hero during Aguirre’s first run; under Lavolpe he was now the antagonist. And so it was that before the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup was set to be played that Blanco was kicked off the team. Lavolpe claimed that Blanco asked not to be called up so that he could rest. Jorge Campos, an assistant coach at the time, confirmed the Argentine’s words and when Blanco cried foul club America teammate Pavel Pardo came out in Lavolpe’s defense. The damage had been done and Blanco was being left out of the Tricolor and most importantly out of participating in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Hugo Sanchez, who had feuded with Lavolpe during the Argentine’s tenure with the Tricolor, was now in charge of the national team. Sanchez inclusion of Blanco was not well met by many of the players that had become influential during Lavolpes tenure. Rafael Marquez, Pavel Pardo, and Oswaldo Sanchez who had all played under Lavolpe during his stint with Atlas remained faithful to the Argentine and did their best to keep Blanco out of the Tricolor. Hugo’s main mistake, as national team coach, could have very well been calling all four players for the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup. In order to try and ease the tension Hugo claimed that his Gold Cup squad consisted of Marquez and 22 more players.
Marquez, however, was not easily won over by the Real Madrid icon. With Mexico set to face Guadeloupe in the semifinals the Tricolor captain decided to bash Sanchez.
“When Ricardo (La Volpe) was at the helm, perhaps, we had something better, but now we are trying to understand what the coach wants from us; of knowing the idea of how we want to play,” Marquez told reporters at the time.
Marquez parting words could not have been clearer: “Perhaps, Mexico has gone stale. This change in coach has somewhat complicated things.”
Still, Marquez remained for the ensuing Copa America while Pardo decided that he would rather return to German club Stuttgart; which he had recently signed with. Mexico’s on-field performance improved and the Tricolor finished in a respectable third place but Sanchez future had already been decided. Hence, with the failure of Mexico’s U-23 squad to qualify to the Beijing Olympics Hugo was sacked. With Sven-Goran Ericson now at the helm the troubles for Cuauhtémoc once again started to the point that the volatile striker decided to retire from the national team in the World Cup qualifying match against Canada played in Chiapas Mexico. Blanco, who was brought in the 90th minute, went on to claim that he was surprised to have received the captain’s armband from Marquez and considered it a nice gesture.
With Blanco once again out of the picture the Tricolor began to suffer and the Swede coach struggled to find an answer to Mexico’s goal scoring problems. Pressure on Mexico’s upstarts Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela, to take over Blanco’s role as savior, began to mount. Even an out of form and out of his mind Nery Castillo tried to carry the team in his shoulders. Poor Nery went as far as to snatch the ball away from captain Pardo’s hands, while Mexico was down three goals at San Pedro Sula, to score a penalty kick goal that gave little to no hope of the Tricolor leaving the Olimpico Metropolitano stadium with anything less than a defeat. And as fate would have it Sven would soon be on the next plane back to England.
Aguirre, after a seven year run coaching La Liga clubs Osasuna and Atletico de Madrid, was now back in Mexico. Between Hugo Sanchez, interim coach Jesus “Chucho” Ramirez, and Sven-Goran there had been over one-hundred players called into the national team. El Vasco’s task would now be to sort out the mess created by the Mexican Football Federation’s merry go round coaching carousel. Thus, Aguirre’s first call up was surprising to say the least. El Vasco not only decided to leave out first choice keeper Oswaldo Sanchez but thought it would be a wise move to bring Blanco back from retirement. Aguirre’s changes would prove to be ideal.
The first because Oswaldo had become stubborn and would not allow Guillermo Ochoa a fair chance to challenge for the posts. Oswaldo had gone as far as to say that he would rather retire than be in the bench. The veteran goalkeeper had enough influence in the locker room that his threats were respected by the previous coaching staff. Aguirre, on the other hand, had no problem leaving out the demanding keeper and to prove his point brought in Oscar “Conejo” Perez. With Perez in the posts there would be no pressure on Ochoa to produce immediate results.
Aguirre also benched Giovani and Vela taking away the pressure from the youngsters who had been undisputed starters under Sven. All three young players, however, would get their chance to shine in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Another player sidelined with the return of Aguirre was Pardo. The veteran midfielder would only get called up for the qualifier against El Salvador, in San Salvador, and leave the match at half-time. With two of the most influential, and damaging, figures now out of the Tricolor Aguirre had laid down his law. And his message was well received by the likes of Carlos Salcido and Ricardo Osorio; players whose level of play had been subpar and have since stepped it up.
If anything has been clear from Mexico’s resurgence under Aguirre it has been the team’s overall attitude. Players no longer believe that they are indispensible to the national team. There is even more respect shown to the regional rivals. Despite the last two games being against the Hexagonal’s weakest teams, El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago, the Tricolor players have stated that qualification is not secure and that they have two finals left to play. More than a tactical shake up Aguirre’s main influence has been on a motivational level.
The Tricolor has indeed regained a sense of unity which has been spearheaded by Blanco. The same Blanco who scored the match winning penalty kick against Honduras that left Mexico in third place and one step close to South Africa. Blanco celebrated his goal by pretending to smoke a cigar. More than a celebration Blanco’s gesture was a clear message to the chain smoking Lavolpe that he has indeed gotten the last laugh.
Joel Aceves covers Mexican football for Goal.com.
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