Tom Marshall: Chepo decision splits Mexico

Mexico's Gold Cup exit at the hands of Panama has triggered a firestorm of controversy about whether Chepo de la Torre should go, and whom his replacement might be.
When the president of a country weighs in on the future of the national team and its head coach, you begin to understand the weight the issue of Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre’s future as El Tri coach holds in Mexico right now.

It seems everybody – including president Enrique Pena Nieto - has given their opinion of El Tri crashing out of the Gold Cup with a 2-1 defeat to Panama on Wednesday and there have been some fierce reactions from important figures inside the game on whether Chepo should stay or go.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco was perhaps the most forthright in coming out against the players that featured in the Gold Cup, but after launching a volley of criticism, stopped short of calling for Chepo’s head.

“For me it's an embarrassment to lose against a team like Panama,” Blanco told reporters in Mexico City’s main airport on Thursday.

The former national team star added that the recent showing was worse than a disaster and has descended into “chaos” ("desmadre" in Mexican Spanish).

El Tri’s coach at the 2006 World Cup, Ricardo La Volpe labeled Mexico’s play “predictable” and said the team lacked variation, adding that Mexico should be ready to step up on the world stage, not be struggling in the CONCACAF region.

Figures like Manuel Lapuente and Victor Manuel Vucetich have said it would be foolish to fire De la Torre, but a poll in Cancha on Friday suggested that 52 percent of Mexico fans want Chepo’s reign as Mexico coach to be cut short, with 43 percent supporting his continuation.

The manager himself dismissed any idea that he would resign in the immediate wake of Wednesday’s game, but the rumor mill has started to grind about the very real possibility of Chepo getting his marching orders.

Various sources – including ESPN Deportes – suggest Chepo’s future will be decided in a special meeting of club owners and the federation on Monday.

The debate is over if the decision-makers can afford to give Chepo until the Sept. 6 qualifier against Honduras in the Estadio Azteca to turn things around, or whether it would be better to install a new coach – and perhaps a new director of national teams – as soon as possible with the friendly game against Ivory Coast still three weeks away.

Already options are being openly talked about in the Mexican press, with current assistant coach Luis Fernando Tena the obvious candidate to provide a balance of both continuity and an aspect of change.

Tena is well regarded with Mexico’s media, has the relevant experience within the domestic league, and his standout achievement was guiding El Tri to last summer’s Olympic gold medal in London – perhaps the best ever achievement by a Mexican national team.

The 55-year-old’s ability to motivate and work with the younger players is already proven.

Other options include Club America coach Miguel Herrera, but adapting to his system of three central defenders so quickly is high-risk and “el Piojo” is likely to ask for the chance not just to take control up until the next World Cup, but until 2018.

He appeared to rule himself out of the running on Friday.

“One day I will coach the national team, I’ve been ready for years, but now is not the moment,” said Herrera.

Then there is Tomas Boy, who is out of work, knows the players inside out and is a known motivator. The former Tigres player would certainly shake things up, but his antagonist style may not be to the liking of certain figures inside the Mexican federation and the fact he hasn’t won a domestic title goes against him.

The other domestic name mentioned has been the man offered the job before Chepo, Vucetich, but he is busy with Monterrey and has another Club World Cup on the horizon.

Outside of Mexico, Guus Hiddink has taken such jobs as the Australia and Turkey national team coach before and is available after resigning from Anzhi.

Marcelo Bielsa, who has been offered the job before, would likely want to oversee a long-term project, if he has any interest at all.

Then there is the available La Volpe, who just happens to have been extremely vocal in the Mexican media in recent weeks...

The intrigue has well and truly begun and it should make for an interesting few days, unless, of course, your name is Jose Manuel de la Torre.