Luis Bueno
Friday April 3rd, 2009

After Ricardo Lavolpe's exit from the Mexican national team following the 2006 World Cup, the ensuing Cup cycle kicked off with the immensely popular Hugo Sánchez in charge in what was supposed to be a successful and memorable time for himself and El Tricolor.

Instead, the move touched off a series of processes that have gone around in circles. Now in shambles, the Mexican national team is merely circling the drain.

On Thursday, the Mexican Football Federation hit the reset button again. The FMF sacked Sven-Göran Eriksson a day after a horrid 3-1 defeat in Honduras and paved the way for the return of Javier Aguirre. Mexican media reports have linked the one-time Tricolor coach with the position in charge of a wayward team that was once the giant of CONCACAF.

While Eriksson had his detractors, he was not the problem. Neither was the manager before him, Jesús "Chucho" Ramírez. And neither was Sánchez. Mexico's lack of continuity and its penchant for change has made it nearly impossible for the team to build anything.

A core group of veterans buoyed by a batch of talented youngsters developing and waiting in the wings? That group has changed for each manager since '06. A team-building process in which players learn to succeed and fail as a group, and use the knowledge to continue growing? Virtually unattainable when managers come and go and bring and take players with them. A set of short, attainable goals while keeping the large, overarching objective in mind? When your job is on the line, all you care about is the next result -- who cares what happens 10 games from now if you won't be around anyway?

Eriksson was just the latest victim of Mexico's current regime, which has been characterized by colossal failures, knee-jerk reactions and millions of wasted dollars on high-salaried coaches who never had a chance of success.

Mexico has suffered through failure after failure, on all levels, since '07. The team failed to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup that summer and was embarrassed on its way out of the Copa América. Meanwhile, the Under-17 national team failed to qualify for the '07 U-17 championships. In '08, the Under-23 national team crashed out of the Olympic qualifying tournament in spectacular fashion, a failure that ultimately cost Sánchez his job. Under Eriksson, the senior team slumped badly in qualifying and backed into the Hexagonal round while the Under-20 national team crashed out of U-20 World Cup qualifying last month.

Nevertheless, the federation expects a new manager to come in, work his magic and fix all that ails El Tri. But Mexico has several pending issues that may handcuff Eriksson's replacement:

Naturalized Mexicans. In a perfect world, nobody would care how a player earned his citizenship. But los naturalizados always cause a stir in Mexico. Calling on Leandro Augusto, Antonio "Sinha" Naelson, Matías Vuoso and Lucas Ayala earned Eriksson his share of criticism from all sides as the media, fans and players past and present spoke out against foreign-born talent. But aside from Ayala, the other three have proved valuable at some point or another over the last few years.

Oswaldo or Ochoa? After yet another comical howler, veteran Oswaldo Sánchez finally seemed put out to pasture as the young and capable Guillermo Ochoa earned his long overdue starting-keeper status. The honeymoon lasted one game, as Ochoa shut out Costa Rica in a qualifier on March 28. But on Wednesday, Ochoa was anything but solid as Honduran attackers made "Memo" look bad. Will the manager go with the more experienced Sánchez, with the task being victories and points in upcoming qualifiers, or will Ochoa be given another opportunity despite his youth and inexperience?

Superstar? What superstar? When Aguirre took over Mexico in '01, he had a pair of superstars. First, Jared Borgetti proved to be a fantastic scoring ace who collected goal after goal, while Cuauhtémoc Blanco eventually would return from injury and put Mexico on his back in stretches of games. With neither player a part of the national team anymore, who can fill the role of superstar-in-the-making?

Pável Pardo is the closest Mexico has to a game-changing player, but even though he has a lot of strong qualities that would benefit most any team, he's not exactly the kind of superstar El Tri needs to succeed. Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos were supposed to have been in fine form and helping out by now, but neither has done much with the senior team.

Nery Castillo hasn't been a regular part of El Tri since his grandiose Copa América performance, and with the way he behaved off the field (a news-conference tirade) and on (overaggressive play against Honduras), he may be more of a liability now than anything. Rafael Márquez and Carlos Salcido are red cards waiting to happen, at least in the Hexagonal anyway.

Ultimately, though, Eriksson's replacement will attempt to answer these questions for the sake of the national team. And while seemingly less challenging matches are forthcoming in June -- at El Salvador, home against Trinidad -- the process will begin anew for yet another manager, and the difficult questions will remain unchanged

As much as the new man will try to wipe the slate clean, the tarnished state of El Tri cannot be undone.

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