If you haven't seen Tata Martino lately, you haven't been looking.
It's been easier to find Martino than to spot Waldo in the last few weeks. Each weekend, the new Mexico manager has taken in at least one Liga MX game in person. Often, like he did this past weekend, he's been to multiple contests.
The new El Tri boss is on a tour of Liga MX stadiums, meeting with team owners, sporting directors and coaches as he embarks upon what Mexico fans are hoping is a long, successful journey. The journey can't start until Martino has established relationships with the many figures who make up the Mexican sportocracy.
So he's traveled to Guadalajara to visit Chivas and Atlas. He went to Torreon and toured Santos Laguna's facilities. He's been to Toluca and already knows his way around the Estadio Azteca after taking in a pair of games there. Sunday he was at Pumas, watching as they drew with Monterrey.
His predecessor, Juan Carlos Osorio, did the same and often was spotted at league matches. While fans never took to Osorio, that the Colombian coach kept his job after an embarrassing 7-0 drubbing by Chile in the 2016 Copa America Centenario showed how he had earned the trust of Mexico's directors and even club team owners. It's a nice plus to win over the outsiders. It's an absolute must to earn trust from the insiders.
Martino has made that his priority. The visits to players playing in Europe will come later. So too will a glimpse at the enormous fan base in the United States, when he speaks at a news conference and mingles with fans in Los Angeles on Thursday. But those things are given. Fans will show up in the U.S. And, on the field, Martino is going to call up the red-hot Raul Jimenez. He's going to call up Hirving Lozano, the best Mexican player at the moment, and Erick Gutierrez and Diego Lainez and all the others.
What's less certain is how he'll take to the wild world of Mexican soccer, where club owners and directors have an outsized influence on what happens at the national team level. So far, he's chatted with Chivas director Jose Luis Higuera, spoken to Santos owner Alejandro Irarragorri and met with other power brokers in his various stops. Tuesday he was back in the federation headquarters taking care of more business.
Those relationships could be key when Martino starts really getting to work. In a few weeks, he'll name his first Mexico roster, the only time before Gold Cup warm-ups he'll be able to call in a squad. Again, the Europe-based players are pretty much locks. That only accounts for a little over half the roster, though. The other half will need to be filled by domestic-based players. Martino has some familiarity with Liga MX, but he's getting a close look at many of these players for the first time.
Going to watch these games isn't simply about glad-handing and making connections. While that's an important part, he also is accumulating valuable information about the players who may make up part of his Gold Cup team. He has decisions to make about which veteran players to take or which young Liga MX players to take a chance on.
This is a coach who is concerned about the details. So far, with his tour of Liga MX, he's getting the details right. It would've been easy to overlook the small things, but Martino is showing he understands what he's getting himself into.
The on-field results will determine how Martino goes down in Mexico national team history, but the off-field moments are ones that can cause coaches to pull their hair out. He's off to a good start with the logistics, now it's time to do what he loves most and actually coach.