That's progress for Mexico, with fans and the press taking the matches in the context they should be taken in. The games were a chance for young players who are hoping to be part of the next World Cup cycle to introduce themselves and get a taste of international sporting competition. Unlike matches under previous manager Juan Carlos Osorio, there has been nearly no criticism from the press about team selections, tactics or even individual performances.
The Mexican sporting press is not a monolith. It does wield plenty of influence, especially the broadcasters whose wants and desires are a factor in the direction of the team, going beyond simply shaping the ideas of a passionate fan base. Like all press corps, it is made up of distinct members, each with their own perspectives and opinions. And there are lots of different opinions. Yet, with El Tri looking for a manager to lead the through the next cycle, the majority have coalesced into a unified community hoping that the next manager of the Mexico national team is the current one - interim manager Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti.
That may seem odd to an outsider. Ferretti isn't a known name outside Mexico, and after Osorio's tenure - seen from abroad as a success - there was an expectation that a similar coach would be the next step for Mexico.
What is it about Ferretti that has won over so many members of the press? Goal spoke with a number of respected journalists who cover the team, and all were in favor of Tuca continuing to lead the team. During those conversations, we saw three themes emerge:
The most frequent theme journalists touched upon was how well Ferretti, who has been involved with Mexican soccer for several decades, understands the Mexican setup and is familiar with not only the player pool but also the various administrators who have sway in the national team setup.
"I think he’s one of the few managers who knows Mexican football well - in all senses - and knows how to manage the process," said Zaritzi Sosa, who covers Mexico and Club America for Record.
"The Mexican federation is run in a different way than any other in the world. It’s a unique federation. There are 16 owners who have a vote, they give their opinion. So, to really take over the Mexican national team you have to adapt to Mexican soccer," said Ruben Rodriguez, an insider for Fox Deportes. "There are strange circumstances. The league hardly supports the Mexican player - if at all.
"So, to be the manager of the Mexican national team, you’ve got to know the structure of Mexican soccer. Tuca knows it well. He’s a respected manager, they know him, he knows them and he knows what Mexican soccer is. This is the most important thing."
Of course, Ferretti being intertwined with Mexican club soccer also is the biggest obstacle to him taking over the national team. With three years left on his Tigres contract, the Mexican federation would need to pay a buyout clause reported to be $8 million in total.
"Today there's only one way: pay the $8 million release that reportedly was written in the contract he recently signed with Tigres," said Heliodoro Hinojosa, who covers Mexico for Milenio in addition to covering Tigres from his home base in Monterrey. "Ricardo wants a change, and change costs money. That's why $8 million isn't anything to have a 'before' and an 'after' in the national team," he continued, appealing for new FMF president Yon de Luisa to pay the clause and begin the Tuca era.
Many hope that De Luisa will be more open to focusing on the sporting side of the national team rather than kowtow to economic interests. Indeed, Ferretti himself said after Tuesday's game in Nashville that El Tri needs to play fewer games in the United States, instead challenging themselves by playing away matches in tough atmospheres like South America. The press sees Ferretti, with his influence, as being one of the few people who could convince the directors to take fewer dollars while seeking out more victories.
"He’d be the only way, with his character, for the Mexican national team to once again put the work on the football field above all the sideshows that exist, with recording commercials and being, like we say in Mexico, being divas. A lot of times that’s how Mexican players are," said MedioTiempo's Enrique Martinez said.
Forming a generation
Members of the press say Ferretti can be the right person to bring together a new generation with players like Hector Moreno, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Miguel Layun and Andres Guardado potentially having played their final World Cup in 2018 and Rafa Marquez and Oribe Peralta officially out of the picture.
"Unlike other managers in the past, the manager now has to put together this national team. A lot of guys who were in Russia aren’t going to be here anymore," Rodriguez said. "You’re going to have to take 60 percent new players. That’s where Tuca has one of his biggest virtues, he’s really good with young players, helping them, teaching them. I think that’s why he can be the guy."
Ferretti isn't known for player development at Tigres, with several young players having to seek out loan moves to get playing time, but according to Martinez that's because right now he doesn't need to brig players through. Previous stops in Ferretti's managerial career indicate why he and others believe Ferretti can help players like Diego Lainez, Roberto Alvarado and Jesus Angulo become key elements of the national team.
"The thing is that at Tigres he doesn’t need to put young players in the team," Martinez said. "With Tigres, if he wants to buy a player like Gignac, the directors go out and by him. He has no need thanks to Tigres’ economic power. Tigres is a team that buys players, it’s not a team that develops players like he did at Pumas, at Chivas when he gave a lot of young players their debuts. I think he could do this work, to get the young guys ready for a long process."
Lack of other candidates
"If it’s not Tuca, I simply don’t see anyone in Mexico," Martinez said. "I don’t see any other manager with his character, who brings up young players to a good place."
Osorio came from a bit off the radar, and if Ferretti's contract situation at Tigres can't be worked out Mexico may need to find someone similar. Rodriguez cautioned, however, against chasing a 'name' known in international football like Jorge Sampaoli or Andre Villas-Boas who have had success in several countries but don't understand the local setup. "I think we’re doing it wrong if we go for a big showy manager. I think it would be a mistake to go with a big-time manager instead of someone who perfectly knows the structure of Mexican soccer," he said.
Meanwhile, the idiosyncrasies in the Mexican system and the power broadcasters, sponsors and directors wield may be the very thing keeping an internationally renowned manager away from Mexico anyway. Osorio turned down a contract extension and ended up with Paraguay, seen in Mexico as a step down from El Tri but a spot where he'll likely be able to work with more freedom and far less criticism than he did while he was in Mexico.
"I think there are a lot of outside options that would fit with the Tricolor, but the Tricolor wouldn’t fit with them, managers who might have international experience but the project and the ‘quirks’ the FMF has they can scare off a lot of people," Sosa said.
"Ferretti knows the habits, the bad and good tendencies, the players, the owners, (general secretary) Guillermo Cantu, (sporting director Gerardo) Torrado, Dennis (Te Kloese, director of national teams) and Yon de Luisa - and knowledge matters," Hinojosa said.
"It'd be foolish to try to go for someone else. That's why I don't have any doubt that Ricardo is and will be the ideal manager in this magic world of the demanding and polarizing Mexican national team."