He had just taken over the reigns at Club America – which was in need of reconstruction after a 17th place finish in the Apertura 2011 – after leaving lowly Atlante, where Herrera had been for the previous 12 months.
Before that, “El Piojo” had managed Estudiantes Tecos without much fanfare and had endured a short, unsuccessful spell with Veracruz. His only real accomplishment as a coach prior to joining America was one Liga MX runner-up during his time with Monterrey.
But Herrera slotted in perfectly and instantly at Club America, taking the club into two playoff semifinals, winning the Clausura 2013, and guiding Las Aguilas to the semifinals again this season after finishing the regular season in first position.
And all that at a club at which the pressure for instant success should not be underestimated.
Herrera waltzed in, settled for a six-month contract by saying his work would act as his resume, and got down to implementing his 5-3-2 tactical layout, his attacking pressing game and achieving a balance in a side that had been dire during the Apertura 2011.
Having a player with the sheer quality of Christian Benitez didn’t hurt, but it was Herrera’s more subtle buys like Moises Munoz and Rubens Sambueza, coupled with the way he developed youngsters Raul Jimenez and Diego Reyes and got the best out of players like Paul Aguilar, Miguel Layun and Juan Carlos Medina that really turned heads.
America’s superb 2013 coincided with Mexico suffering under former Chivas coach Jose Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre and the fact so few America players were called into his squads seemed to put the difference between the two into stark contrast, with Herrera and his players coming out of it very favorably.
Luis Fernando Tena came and went after just one game as national team coach, followed by Victor Manuel Vucetich, who was odds-on to take over until Brazil 2014, providing the team got past New Zealand. But then the former Monterrey coach was unceremoniously shunted aside.
The only realistic option left was Herrera.
OFFICIAL: Miguel Herrera named manager of the Mexican national team.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) December 2, 2013
Tomas Boy hasn’t won a domestic title and has the tendency to upset people, Ricardo La Volpe hasn’t done much since leaving El Tri in 2006, and foreign coaches wouldn’t have had enough time to get to grips with a national team set up that is a political minefield.
Ideally, the new Mexico coach would have more international experience than Herrera, but the fact he is a virtual unknown outside of CONCACAF is also appealing in its own way.
Just take Herrera’s press conferences. The mood shifts from the openly comical to antagonistic to sarcastic and then to deadly serious in the space of minutes.
On the field, few of the top international teams currently play with his system of three central defenders and one or two holding midfielders, which should provide plenty of intrigue next summer for those who enjoy that sort of thing, while Herrera’s touchline antics will likely see him gain notoriety all over the planet.
At this point, with all the water that has passed under the bridge in 2013, no coaching appointment was going to be ideal, but Herrera’s does offer the best Mexico has at present and should be fascinating to watch next summer.