The news that former Fire and Red Bulls head coach Juan Carlos Osorio is on the brink of being hired to direct the Mexican national team should be celebrated by U.S. fans.
Counting interim head coaches, Osorio will be the sixth man to lead Mexico since U.S. Soccer hired Jurgen Klinsmann in the summer of 2011, and represents yet another example of how strident, over-the-top scrutiny of a national team does more harm than good.
This isn’t a commentary on the qualifications or lack of same of Osorio, a native of Colombia who has coached in his native country as well as the United States (Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, Mexico (Puebla) and Brazil (Sao Paulo). His quirky habit of taking copious notes during games and shuffling through them often during post-game press conferences is not at issue here, nor are the bridges he burned to leave the Fire for New York, which cost the Red Bulls compensation in the form of draft picks and cash.
No, the hiring of Osorio is another example of how volatile and impossible is the job of coaching Mexico, a country insanely demanding of its national team and the men chosen to direct it. Some view this excruciating, constant pressure as an attribute, a harsh scrutiny that yields examination and inevitable upgrading.
Instead, I would postulate such over-the-top madness is a significant advantage for Mexico’s rivals. Whomever is chosen to lead El Tri, he is besieged constantly by critics of his selections, formations, tactics, choice of training drills, whatever.
Coaches of Mexican league clubs change over at a dizzying rate -- it’s not unheard of for a struggling team to change head coaches not once but twice during a 17-game Apertura or Clausura season -- and while most of the men named to lead El Tri have endured such scrutiny at the club level that doesn’t mean they’ve been conditioned to handle the big job.
The bombastic, flamboyant Miguel Herrera endured scathing criticism while leading Mexico to its Gold Cup title in late July, aided by bizarre officiating decisions in the knockout games leading up to the final. Mexico beat Jamaica comfortably, 3-1, so Herrera should have been set up for a few weeks of celebration and relaxation.
The next day, at Philadelphia International Airport, Herrera accosted and/or attacked one of his harshest critics, TV Azteca commentator Christian Martinoli. Usually, the Mexican soccer federation (FMF) cuts loose a coach because of poor results or unmet expectations, which tend to be extreme. Sure, Herrera’s temper and brashness had drawn him into spats and sparring matches many times before, yet never did his club days did he swoop upon a reporter and belt him in the neck, as he alleged to have done.
The FMF dismissed him a day later, and chose Tigres head coach Ricardo Ferretti to lead Mexico for the next four games, including the monumental Concacaf Cup showdown against the USA in the Rose Bowl Saturday. Anybody who thinks this upheaval just six weeks before an unprecedented battle against its biggest rival is beneficial to Mexico is living in a dream world. For whatever reason, Herrera reached his breaking point and now Mexico is once again cast into new territory.
Herrera was hired in October 2013, to guide Mexico through its intercontinental playoff against New Zealand to land a spot in the World Cup. Incredibly, he was the fourth man to lead Mexico during that calendar year, and kept his job through the World Cup and then the Gold Cup.
I’ve seen some heated conversations between national team head coaches and pesky journalists but not in my worst nightmares could I envision Bob Gansler, Bora Milutinovic, Steve Sampson, Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley or Jurgen Klinsmann throwing a punch at one in an airport. This has as much to do with their personalities as the job’s responsibilities, and so if the hysteria surrounding the U.S. national team job never approaches the extreme madness of leading Mexico, that’s fine by me. I’d much rather have Mexico's coach and his players crumble and shudder when they face the USA, which I believe has given the Americans a significant psychological boost in the past.
U.S. Soccer, rightly, takes criticism at times for moving too slowly, for making poor decisions on hiring national team coaches -- at all levels -- and not holding them accountable. But there's value in stability and continuity, which Mexico seldom enjoys with its national team. There can be too much pressure as well as not enough. Landon Donovan is among many who believe a loss on Saturday should terminate Klinsmann's tenure though U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati has declared no such move will be made.
The hiring of Osorio highlights the best and worst of the furor enveloping El Tri, which seldom meets the expectations placed upon it by its fanatical fans and what can only be described as a zealous horde of commentators and reporters. For every former player and coach and responsible journalist who ask pertinent questions and offer their opinions, there are dozens -- of not hundreds – more than ready to upload a screed of how bad things are and what must change.
Herrera’s record with Mexico was good but hardly spectacular -- 18 wins, seven losses, 11 ties -- so despite winning the Gold Cup he wasn’t deemed irreplaceable. His energetic antics on the sidelines endeared him to many fans and journalists but as it has been for every Mexico head coach, the hounds of hostility were always nipping at his heels.
It cost Herrera his job, and if a disjointed, confused Mexico loses to the USA on Saturday, the Americans will once again have capitalized on a fanatical zeal south of the border that sometimes goes too far.