Pedro Caixinha didn't work out at Rangers. Fans of the storied Scottish club never took to him, mostly because he never got the results the club needed. The allure of a return to Liga MX, where Caixinha won the league and cup crowns with Santos Laguna, was understandable. The job he took, with a Cruz Azul organization that hasn't won a title in more than a decade, was a bit more puzzling.
However, the Portuguese manager's risky decision is paying off. With a win over rival America this weekend, La Maquina can go back to the top of the table. Yet, as fans in the capital eagerly await the Clasico Joven, the coach himself is taking a more long-term philosophy.
"With what the fans are hoping for, the man on the street, my answer is the same. We have to beat everyone. That's our mentality," he said in a news conference Friday. "But what's it worth to me to beat America if after that you don't win anything else?
"If you don't win, it's OK. You have to know how to live life in moderation, with this balance. I'm now more experienced having lived through these things and finding that balance."
It's possible the 47-year-old learned those lessons during his time in Glasgow, which saw him win just over half of the matches he managed in, crash out of the Europa League after losing to a team from Luxembourg and last less time than any other manager in the club's 146-year history.
His stint with Cruz Azul so far has showed that we weren't all wrong about his managerial abilities, that the titles with Santos weren't just dumb luck. After returning to the Liguilla in the last campaign, the club has been on top or near the top of the table for most of this tournament. The manager can take some of the credit, but a fair amount of praise also goes to sporting director Ricardo Pelaez. The former America director has led a reboot of the club that saw it bring in players with a proven track record of success in Liga MX like center back Pablo Aguilar and winger Elias Hernandez plus 20-year-old atacker Roberto Alvarado. While some are directing the credit toward Pelaez and away from Caixinha, the manager's rivals are defending him.
"Ricardo is a great director because he supports the manager's projects, but I can't say that it's Ricardo. It's Pedro who is doing a great job, supported by a great squad that Ricardo has brought in. They've made up an important partnership and are doing things well," Club America manager Miguel Herrera said Friday. "The important thing is to know that the 11 players going out on the field for America will do the best possible to defeat the 11 from Cruz Azul."
Especially if the 11 from Cruz Azul can get the victory and take the inside track for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, Caixinha's club now sits in a position where a trophy is a real possibility and perhaps even two are within reach. The club arrived into the Copa MX final by beating Leon in a penalty shootout this week. Cruz Azul won the Copa MX in 2013 and another win in a tournament far from the importance of the league wouldn't erase the frustration of more than a decade without winning the league. It is, however, part of the mentality the manager is looking to reinstall at the formerly great institution.
"At this club, you can only go out to win all competitions. It's going to take time for the club, but the focus is to be the most successful in Mexico and that's way we have to win trophies," the coach said.
While the manager is playing down the meeting with a rival that is hardly even a crosstown rival after Cruz Azul left the Estadio Azul to play in the Estadio Azteca this season, his players are a bit more realistic about its importance. Caixinha is right. If Cruz Azul beats America then loses out, it won't do them any good. However, it also could be a chance for Cruz Azul to get things going in the right direction.
"I think next Saturday will be a good test," veteran goalkeeper Jesus Corona said. "We're capable of winning the double, and we're working to get there. Every one of us is thinking in getting it. We'd like to return to the top of the table. We're working to be the best. We want to stay as leaders to the tournament, and we have to show that."
It would show that Cruz Azul is back as a legitimate title challenger in Liga MX for the first time in a long time. It also would prove to many doubters that Caixinha still has skill, still has ability and maybe even could get back to Europe in the not so distant future to try his luck with a top team again.