MONTERREY, Mexico — Longevity is a rarity for Liga MX coaches.
When the ball begins rolling Thursday in the first leg of the final, Tigres coach Tuca Ferretti will be celebrating his seventh year, 200th day of his third stint in charge at Tigres. In the other technical area, Antonio Mohamed is nearing his third year as manager of Rayados - a mark that hardly challenge's Tuca's for the league lead but puts him third.
That a manager who has been with a club for just three years is the third-longest standing is a clear indication of just how cutthroat the job can be for managers in Mexico. One bad tournament will lead to calls for your job. Sometimes, managers say, 'Forget about the pressure,' and move on to another project rather than staying and dealing with the tough environment.
Ferretti and Mohamed have faced pressure, too. There was the 2016 Clausura when Tigres fans frustrated by their club falling to win the CONCACAF Champions League final and nearly missing out on the playoffs only for Monterrey to send them out of the first round. Tigres returned the favor earlier this year, ending Monterrey's Clausura at the quarterfinal round with an emphatic 6-1 aggregate victory. That included a 2-0 win in the Estadio BBVA Bancomer that still stands as Monterrey's last home defeat.
Those aren't the only situations where the pundits around oversized tables or fans in the bars have chatted about the possibility that one of the managers is on their way out. Even after superb seasons, players were asked Wednesday if a loss in this series, with passions high ahead of the first final between the city's clubs, could result in firings.
"It's not our decision, but Tuca's importance to the club can't be gauged by this game, no matter what happens," Tigres center back Juninho said. "The directors make the final decision but we're hoping to have Tuca for a long time. He's the most skilled manager in all of Mexico."
The managers don't look to be going anywhere soon. Ferretti recently announced he's signed an extension to stay with Tigres several more years. Mohamed renewed his deal in the spring - during the aforementioned difficult period for the club.
What the directors of the Monterrey clubs seem to have figured out that still is escaping teams is that sticking with their guy is a good gambit. National team managers talk about projects and needing time to develop a style of play. That happens more quickly at the club level where coaches work with players daily, but there still has to be some room for adjustment and growth. Ferretti has a long track record while the younger Mohamed can point to the trophies won at each of his previous stops in Liga MX. That buys cachet, sure. Even so, these clubs have been more faithful to their coaches than most, even though there have been lows as well as highs.
That they live and work in the same city and both have their clubs in the final after getting support from ownership are the only obvious similarities between the two coaches. Mohamed is 16 years Ferretti's junior and it shows with his sharp dressing on the touchline, while Ferretti dons whatever pullover has the club logo on it. Ferretti is a gentlemen among gentlemen, taking questions from females first in news conferences and offering life advice along with his tactical thoughts. He's also a miscreant among miscreants, pulling off oft-hilarious tricks like hiding behind a bench after getting sent off or going off on a post-match rant after a bad match, knowing it will draw the headlines.
Their on-field style also is much different, though to their credit they've both found something that has worked for their team. Neither club is playing a representation of what the managers were known for as recently as two tournaments ago, with both adapting to the players they have and changes in the game at large. Mohamed has reigned in the attacking style that won him a title with Club Tijuana but nearly had his defenders keeling over from exhaustion as fullbacks essentially played as wingers and center backs played as do-it-all defenders. His teams now are more likely to stay planted before bursting forward for a counterattack or allowing the star trident up top to work. Tigres were known as a defensive team that will knock the ball around and keep possession but may not do anything with it. Andre-Pierre Gignac began to chip away at that when he arrived in 2015. More attacking firepower arrived after the Frenchman, and now Tigres are even conceding possession to their opponents on occasion.
They've done what's good for their clubs and their clubs have rewarded that with job security. It's good for the teams, good for Liga MX and good for TV. Thanks in no small part to the clubs in La Sultana del Norte exhibiting patience too rarely seen in Liga MX, we have an incredibly compelling final.