Juan Carlos Osorio spoke to a murder's row of great managers.
Always looking for advice from those who have experienced success in the game he loves, the Mexico manager sought out input from a number of managers who have been here before. This is, after all, the 56-year-old's first time taking a national team to the World Cup and his previous major tournaments haven't exactly gone as planned for El Tri.
After speaking with Argentine legend and former Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa, ex-Mexico coach Javier Aguirre, World Cup wizard Guus Hiddink, former Barcelona and Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal and current Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez, the current Mexico boss decided he wanted to give it to everyone straight. No dashed hopes, no unrealistic expectations. Here are the 23 players who are going to Russia. The rest of you, keep training hard and maybe 2022 will be in the cards.
Real life intervened. Osorio said still delivered the news personally to each player, as he hoped,but he ended up naming a 28-man squad to cover for five injury concerns. One of those concerns turned into a full-blown absence with Nestor Araujo heading home to Santos Laguna on Wednesday after his knee injury suffered in March produced lingering effects that will keep him out of the World Cup.
Araujo's injury is a good example of the complications caused by the various injuries Mexico is facing. Without Araujo, it seems logical that Hugo Ayala earns a place in the squad. He does similar things to Araujo with El Tri and largely fits the same profile. It goes deeper, though. Araujo generally plays as a left center back with Santos despite being a right-footed player. Osorio tried him out on the left in January's friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Araujo replacing left-footed Oswaldo Alanis at the half.
The manager may have been planning to have Araujo as both a first-choice center back on the right side or in a three-man back line but also as back-up in case Hector Moreno goes down with an injury. If he wasn't already planning to take Alanis in his 23-man squad, the new Getafe signing could see his value boosted thanks to Araujo's absence.
These are the kind of considerations Osorio is making. It's not a secret, either. While there's been a minor freak out about a player like Erick Gutierrez making the roster, Osorio explained that the Pachuca midfielder was included because of his ability to play in a similar role to the one Andres Guardado usually plays - an interior midfielder who is comfortable on the left side and can come forward into the attack.
Araujo's absence is bad news, but there also will be players who get fit in time for Mexico and alleviate some of Osorio's worries. For one, Carlos Salcedo already is back on the field and in form after his shoulder injury in the same March friendly that saw Araujo get injured.
On May 14, Osorio said his concerns were Araujo, Diego Reyes, Guardado, Jonathan dos Santos and Giovani dos Santos. Jona returned to the LA Galaxy lineup Monday and went a full 90 minutes, though Gio didn't travel for the match in Montreal. Guardado had a procedure that was successful with Mexican officials optimistic about his recovery. Reyes' status is up in the air. Hector Moreno took a knock that also had coaches worried for a while.
It has put Mexico in a holding pattern, and made Osorio's life complicated not only in the face of the biggest tournament of his life but also figuring out what to do during the friendly matches. He will want to all but literally bubble wrap his injured players to make sure there's not another late complication. That could mean giving time to a player who is not going to Russia, making it difficult for them not to begin the dreaming process Osorio wanted to ward against and tasting disappointment. He also could give minutes to the injured players to make sure they're match fit and ready to go, though it seems like a risky strategy.
Injuries happen to every team, and Mexico is hardly alone in losing a key player to injury ahead of the tournament. Having company doesn't make things any less miserable, though. The Araujo news was tough to swallow and creates a domino effect for Mexico. The players on Osorio's list of injury concerns and Mexico's medical staff will be working hard to make sure there aren't more moments to suffer through and more excruciating decisions for the coach to make.