Tom Marshall: Rafa is back as Vucetich works mind games

Newly-appointed Mexico coach Victor Manuel Vucetich is making a statement with the recall of Rafael Marquez to the Mexico squad.
It was a shrewd decision by the Mexican federation (FMF) and Victor Manuel Vucetich to call the extra training session for domestic-based players from this Sunday until Wednesday in Mexico City.

Yes, many of the 25 names on the list released Thursday won’t be in the final 23-man squad that confronts Panama and Costa Rica next month with a World Cup place at stake. But the competition it creates will be keenly felt and Vucetich will be able to take the pulse of exactly where his Liga MX players are at.

Calling back the in-form Rafa Marquez sends the signal that Vucetich is flexible and willing to have an open mind, while ditching Francisco “Maza” Rodriguez highlights that long-established players are not guaranteed an automatic place and will have to keep working if they are to get in the final list.

It’s not just that, however. Vucetich has stressed that only players that are playing consistently to a high level will get in and hammered home the point in his media rounds on Thursday ahead of the squad announcement.

“Our job is to choose the best, those that can give optimum performance,” Vucetich told TVC Deportes. “We’re not talking about 90 percent, no, we’re talking 100 percent.”

The new coach was also keen to deliver a message to the foreign-based players that obviously aren’t able to attend the training sessions. The essence of his statement was that just because they play in Europe doesn’t give them any rights over the Mexico-based players.

“The base (of the future call-up) will be players that are in-form, those in rhythm, not (necessarily) those that play in Europe,” said Vucetich in the same interview. “What use is it if they are in Europe but aren’t in rhythm and don’t play?”

Big name players like Javier Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Jonathan Dos Santos will have taken note. None of them are in form at present and will need to prove themselves with their domestic teams ahead of the full squad announcement.

But the majority of media attention over the list of players that will train between Monday and Wednesday next week falls upon Marquez.

There is perhaps no such divisive figure in CONCACAF than the former New York Red Bulls player, who failed so spectacularly in MLS, but is still the most decorated player the region has ever produced.

In fairness to him, since joining Leon ahead of the Clausura 2013, Marquez has been a model of professionalism, taking over the captain’s armband and leading the sternest defense this Apertura championship. His call-up is fully deserved on form alone and brings unequaled experience, but like all the players, he will have to show himself in what is likely to be a tough competition at center back. One of Marquez, Jonny Magallon or Hugo Ayala is sure to miss out when Mexico’s best defender Hector Moreno joins from Espanyol.

The other name that stands out in Vucetich’s list is that of Tigres’ Lucas Lobos. His family life has been more than difficult recently with one of his children suffering from a serious medical condition, but what Lobos can bring on the field is not in any doubt for regular watchers of Mexican soccer. Consistently one of the best performers in the Liga MX over recent years, Lobos is a model pro and his involvement puts additional pressure on Marco Fabian, Christian Gimenez and Angel Reyna.

The competition for places in El Tri is very definitely on and should be fascinating.