Hector Herrera is an example for Mexican players to follow, with his goal in Porto's 4-1 victory over Lokomotiv Moscow Tuesday his seventh in the Champions League. But the midfielder feels more of his countrymen would succeed abroad were it not for mismanagement by owners and directors in Mexican soccer.
Herrera and Porto teammate Jesus "Tecatito" Corona both left Liga MX for Europe at relatively young ages. Many players, however, stay in Mexico thanks to the big contracts they earn or directors demanding huge fees for players with little experience outside of Mexico. For the Mexico national team to improve, Herrera said, those running the show in Mexican soccer need to change.
"I respect their decisions and the ways they negotiate. I think that if the directors or the people in charge of that weren't so egotistical ... if they tried to see the future of the player, of the Mexican national team, because it involves a lot of things, if they did that there would be triple the number of Mexicans in Europe," Herrera told El Pais . "Mexican soccer has really talented players and they could be in Europe."
Not talented enough, however, to achieve a historic result at the 2018 World Cup, where Mexico missed out on the opportunity to win its group and avoid a Round of 16 matchup against Brazil. El Tri fell in that contest, falling short of the quarterfinals for the seventh consecutive World Cup. For the 28-year-old, it came down to a difference in individual quality.
"We started really well. The expectations were really high. Game by game, we lowered our collective level and at the end you saw that in the results," Herrera said. "Against Sweden, it was a game in which they surprised us a lot. We didn't react.
"Against Brazil I think we were up to the opponents. We were really good, but after came the distractions that come with this kind of opponent. There's a thing that makes the difference: individuals. They have players who change matches."
Herrera could be one of those players for Mexico in the next cycle. With Rafa Marquez retired from the national team after taking part in his fifth World Cup, the captain's armband is likely to transfer to Andres Guardado. But Herrera has 70 caps and should be a leader for a team that includes rising stars like Hirving Lozano and Diego Lainez.
"Talking about that is an honor. To be able to be part of the national team, to defend your country's color. You can be a key player, whether you're captain or not, but it's not something that is going through my mind. I give my best to get to the national team, to dream, to grow, to make history with the things we're going to face together. Whether I'm the captain or not, we all have to do our part," he said. "We all have this mentality to want to be key players, protagonists. I don't think one player can be more than another. There are players who are more known, that's true, but everyone has to play their part.
"Imagine wearing the armband! Knowing who has worn it, it would be a double honor and double sacrifice. It would be the best thing that could happen to me as a player."
Herrera and Porto are now just a point away from locking up qualification to the knockout round of the Champions League. Mexico's next roster is expected to be announced Thursday, with Herrera likely to make his national team return for a pair of friendly matches against Argentina in November.