Tom Marshall: Hugol fits for Pumas as club hits rock bottom

The university club has fallen stagnant since its Clausura win in 2011, and the Mexican legend could be the man to turn things around.
After watching a hollow shell of a team fall 1-0 to lowly Chivas on Sunday in Estadio Omnilife, it is difficult to believe that Pumas lifted a title as recently as the 2011 Clausura.

In that tournament – just 30 months ago – Pumas finished with 35 points in second place and waltzed through the playoffs, overcoming Monterrey, Chivas and Morelia on their way to title number seven in the university club’s relatively short history.

In the seasons since, Pumas have finished ninth, 13th, 10th, seventh and are currently propped up only by the dire Atlante. UNAM has scored just six in 16 games and with only 10 points, the Apertura 2013 will go down as the club’s worst since the biannual tournament system began in 1996.

One of the obvious problems has been the team's forwards failing to put the ball into the back of the net.

“The team has options and opportunities and it doesn’t receive many goals,” lamented coach Jose Luis Trejo in the press conference after Sunday’s match.

It isn’t difficult to sympathize with Trejo, who only took over in early September.

The major recent foreign imports upfront – Ariel Nahuelpan and Robin Ramirez – have just two goals in 23 appearances between them this season. Luis Garcia, Javier Cortes and Martin Bravo have only four between them in a total of 41 games.

But there are deeper problems at Pumas.

The base of the team – the Palacios twins, Dario Veron, Efrain Velarde, Cortes and Martin Bravo – is still the same as the one that won the last championship, but it has aged and become stale.

Coupled with that, youngsters like Jose Antonio Garcia, Carlos Orrantia and Jose Carlos Van Rankin haven’t developed fast enough, perhaps because Pumas – as a club with one of the most respected youth systems in Mexico – have promoted them too quickly.

What is clear is things need to change at the Mexico City club and the winter will likely bring a clear-out of players. Trejo’s job is also under threat as Pumas search for the formula to get back fighting for titles.

The reoccurring name to become Pumas coach in the near future is Hugo Sanchez, who was raised in the club and led them to back-to-back titles in the 2004 Apertura and Clausura seasons.

He would certainly bring back some of that missing attitude with his frank statements to the press, and fans inside the CU have sung his name on occasions this season, perhaps reminiscing about the glory days.

Sanchez too needs a lift in his management career after his time with Pachuca didn’t work out, and it is unlikely a European club will come calling at present, certainly not Real Madrid, which Sanchez maintains an ambition to coach.

It may be a gamble from both Pumas and Sanchez, but it also could be a perfect match. At a minimum, it would give the club a much-needed lift.