Following another round-of-16 exit, the Mexico manager has taken his first steps toward the World Cup in 2018.
No more Rafa Marquez and no more Carlos Salcido.
Those are the two immediate changes in Mexico manager Miguel Herrera’s first tentative steps toward Russia 2018.
“El Piojo” has already told Marquez he won’t be required moving forward, thanking him for his service to El Tri. Herrera is planning on doing the same with Salcido.
Speaking in a news conference in Mexico City last week, Herrera gave a frank vision of what is to come for Mexico, explaining that he currently has a valid contract with the federation until December, but that there is an oral agreement that it will be extended between now and then.
The central theme appears to be building a side around Mexico’s 2005 U-17 World Cup winners (Hector Moreno, Giovani dos Santos), the Olympic 2012 gold medalists (Dos Santos, Hector Herrera, Javier Aquino) and the successful 2011 U-17 team (perhaps Carlos Fierro, Arturo Gonzalez). Herrera described each group as being “very successful litters.”
The first pressing concern is how to replace the regal Marquez, who stamped his authority on the team at World Cup 2014, playing at the heart of the three-player back line and captaining the side.
Diego Reyes, Hiram Mier, Osvaldo Alanis, Hugo Ayala and Pachuca duo Miguel Herrera and Hugo Rodriguez were mentioned as possibilities by the coach, as well as the currently injured Hector Moreno.
In other areas of the pitch, Herrera named Jurgen Damm, Rodolfo Pizarro, Jose Abella and Jonathan dos Santos as players he will be keeping a firm eye on.
In a shift from when Herrera first took over, there will likely be a greater emphasis on Europe-based players, implying he’d like to see more Mexicans featuring on the other side of the Atlantic.MORE: Biggest summer transfers | Soccer's beautiful fans
“It could be important that more players are in Europe,” he said. “We saw that they are on a different level.”
The futures of World Cup squad members Raul Jimenez, Marco Fabian and Alan Pulido will all be encouraged by those words, with all three hoping to move to Europe before the current transfer window closes.
One player that could come out of international exile is Carlos Vela, with Herrera indicating that “everything starts from zero” after Brazil 2014.
Herrera also made clear that Vela would only be given one more chance under him.
“The first (player) that says no won’t be called up again,” stated Herrera. “No one is indispensable.”
Naturalized players will also be considered, with Herrera explaining that the fact some Liga MX teams have up to nine foreign-born players in their squads isn’t a problem because the Mexican citizens among them are eligible for the national team.
The former Atlante coach highlighted the success world champion Germany has had with using players from different backgrounds in creating a winning side.
In terms of preparation, the Mexico national team certainly won’t be wanting for games, even if qualifying for World Cup 2018 isn’t scheduled to begin for El Tri until 2016.
Before then, Mexico has two Copa Americas, the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the Gold Cup, and a host of friendlies.
The priority for Herrera in the summer of 2015 is very likely to be the Gold Cup, with an Under-23 or reserve team sent to Chile for the Copa America and the Europe-based players featuring in the CONCACAF tournament.
“That’s the idea, not because of CONCACAF, but because we want to go to the Confederations Cup (in 2017) and the United States already has half a ticket,” said the 46-year-old. “We are obliged to win that tournament.”
There’s enough time, competitive games and momentum for Herrera to achieve something special at Russia 2018 in what is set to be Mexico’s best chance to go further than the round of 16.
But talking a good game as Mexico manager rarely counts for much.
If Herrera is still at the helm of the team at Russia 2018, he’d be the first Mexico coach to guide El Tri at consecutive World Cups in an uninterrupted stint in charge.
Now that really would be historic.