After a long spell out of the national team which had many questioning if he'd ever play for El Tri again, the Leon defender is now a vital part of the squad heading to Brazil.
El Tri coach Miguel Herrera was on form ahead of Wednesday’s friendly in San Antonio against Korea Republic, opining on a number of national team topics, including Rafa Marquez, Guillermo Ochoa and the need for players to adapt to his system.
The most headline-grabbing statement from Herrera concerned Rafa Marquez, who is inked in to play at his fourth World Cup.
“For me, the only player that has a certain place at the moment is Rafa Marquez … because he is going to be captain,” said Herrera on Monday in Mexico City.
Herrera’s words mark a remarkable upturn in fortune for the Leon captain over the last couple of years.
After suffering injuries and poor form at New York Red Bulls, Marquez lost his place in the national team and didn’t feature at all between May 2012 and October 2013, when Victor Manuel Vucetich called on his experience with El Tri’s World Cup fate hanging by a thread.
Marquez has been in excellent form, leading La Fiera to the Liga MX title last season, but it is a bold decision from Herrera to elevate the 34-year-old’s importance above the other players.
All eyes will now be on Marquez in Liga MX action, with any mistake analyzed over and over again.
There were also positive comments from Herrera about goalkeeper Ochoa, who has had a miserable time recently with Ajaccio, with just one Ligue 1 win all season.
The Mexico coach was keen to stress that Ochoa is still in the goalkeeping mix for Brazil.
“Maybe mentally he’s down because his team is fighting relegation, but that doesn’t mean to say that he’s suffering poor form,” Herrera said.
The former America coach will head to Europe after Wednesday’s match against Korea Republic and speak to Mexico’s European contingent, including Ochoa, but also with Real Sociedad’s Carlos Vela.
The saga regarding Vela took a further twist on Monday, with Herrera stating he had spoken to a number of players about how they would receive a player that had turned down the opportunity to play for El Tri in the team’s time of need last year.
“The response was that he is welcome if he comes with desire and dedication,” came the answer, according to Herrera, eliminating at least one of the barriers to a potential call-up.
But the Mexico manager also touched on another issue that is key to the process moving towards Brazil: The players must fit Herrera’s 5-3-2 system.
“I’m looking for the players to adapt to my ideas,” stated Herrera.
It leaves the door open for players like Rodolfo Pizarro, Enrique Perez and Isaac Brizuela – none of whom were expected to be included in the squad – to stake a claim for a spot in Brazil.
“(They) don’t have to already understand my idea, but the idea I have in my head must hit home,” said Herrera. “After seeing a Brizuela or a Pizarro play, you realize that these kids have a lot of talent, dynamism, can dribble, have good vision, are good on the ball and take onboard the idea of any coach.”
On Wednesday, the countdown to Brazil and the battle for places really begins.
It may be a friendly in name, but with only six games until Mexico faces Cameroon in the World Cup opener on June 13, all the players will be keenly aware that opportunities to shine in front of Herrera are limited, especially with the Europe-based players not in attendance.