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Martino's gone, but can anyone fix Mexico before the 2026 World Cup?

17:00 GMT+3 01/12/2022
Martino Lozano Mexico GFX
El Tri will pin its failures in Qatar on the departing head coach, but the problems run much deeper than that

So ends the era of Tata Martino. It ended on Wednesday night around midnight at Lusail Stadium. And it ended as expected: with Martino showered by boos from a Mexico fanbase that turned on him long ago. He announced his departure soon after.

Going forward, that fanbase will endlessly debate the next step. They'll discuss Martino's potential replacement, whether that's Miguel Herrera, Guillermo Almada, Antonio Mohamed or one of the countless other candidates that will be linked to the job.

But the fact is that Mexico's national team is in need of fixing. Martino couldn't do it alone; can anyone?

Mexico's quest for that fifth game, 'El Quinto Partido', came to a disastrous end on Wednesday. Despite a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia, El Tri hadn't done enough to overtake Poland, who held onto second spot thanks to goal difference as Group C went right down to the wire.

However, Mexico's failure didn't occur on that balmy night in Qatar. It didn't even come during the two games prior, both of which saw El Tri squander chances to add points.

No, Mexico's failures have been going on for some time. This wasn't a one-off; it was the latest symptom of an ongoing problem.

Martino was no doubt part of that problem. Despite the fanfare that came with his hiring, it was clear that the fanbase had turned on the ex-Barcelona boss. And, in many ways, they had reason to.

Of course, El Tri fans are often too harsh on their national team, a program that is not among the elite no matter how much they believe it should be. But there were real reasons to criticize Martino, whose tactics never seemed to work in big games and whose roster selections left many enraged on the road to Qatar.

Forget the fact that Carlos Vela and Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez were left at home, although few Mexico fans will. But you add in Santiago Gimenez and Diego Lainez's absences, two players that could have been part of the national team's future, and you see why frustration would build with Martino.

And then there's the loss to Argentina, Martino's home country. He was criticized for his tactics, which saw him park the bus in a big way against Lionel Messi, the man he used to coach for club and country. But most of all he was criticized for his attitude, with many fans believing Martino was nowhere near as heartbroken as they were.

As mentioned, though, Martino was just one problem. It all lies deeper than that.

Mexico's team, as it stands, is not good enough and, most importantly, not young enough. While young U.S. men's national team and Canada squads lifted their countries into the World Cup, Mexico showed up in Qatar with up to eight players over 30 expected to play key roles. That includes all three strikers - Raul Jimenez, Rogelio Funes Mori and Henry Martin - none of whom performed particularly well in Qatar.

"At least when I played we passed this phase," said Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who called for Marcelo Bielsa to be named as Martino's replacement. "I think they lacked a little more courage and desire in the last play, but that's football."

It all points to a deeper problem: Mexican soccer just isn't allowing its talent to reach the same level of a Chicharito or Vela.

The players that are headed to Europe are few and far between. Long gone are the days where Chicharito, Vela, Andres Guardado, Miguel Layun, Hector Moreno and Hector Herrera were playing in top leagues. These days, of the World Cup call-ups, only Guardado, Jimenez, Hirving Lozano, Edson Alvarez and Erick Gutierrez are playing at the top European level, with only two of those players on the right side of 30.

There were five players under the age of 24 on Mexico's World Cup squad. Three of them combined to play 17 total minutes.

The point is that Mexico isn't exporting talent in the way they used to because Mexican players have become far too valuable to Liga MX teams. As a result, only the elite, players like Jimenez and Lozano, are being sold for their market values with the solid-to-good players being held in Liga MX due to the lack of major transfer fees.

That, in many ways, has held El Tri back. Liga MX players have always been a solid foundation of the squad, but never have there been so many in the XI. And never have there been so many on the wrong side of 30 playing key roles for the national team.

That's a problem that will, ultimately, fall to Yon de Luisa, the federation president, and Mikel Arriola, the Liga MX chief, to solve.

And the World Cup in Qatar is not the only failure of the federation in recent years. Both the men's and women's failed to qualify for the Paris Olympics, while the women also failed to qualify for the World Cup. You can also add in the men's teams failures in the Gold Cup and Nations League for good measure.

Both executives have made the federation and national team loads of money and expanded their reach, but both have a lot of work to do to change the direction of the national team program.

That starts with a coach, and though Martino was a problem sure, those two will have many more big decisions to make.

Mexico's national team is falling behind, not just their local rivals but the rest of the world. Their experience in Qatar showed how far they'd fallen, with El Tri failing to advance from the group for the first time in eight tournaments.

They'll look to right the ship on home soil in 2026, which will come faster than many will expect. We're only three-and-a-half years out from that World Cup, with El Tri suddenly needing to rebuild a national team program on the fly before what should be - and still could be - a defining moment in the country's history.

The clock is ticking, and 2026 will be here before you know it. What will El Tri look like by the time it rolls around?