Luis Bueno
Friday April 17th, 2009

Javier Aguirre was officially welcomed to his new job Thursday as he began his second stint with the Mexican national team. And while the hope -- perhaps expectation is a more adequate word -- is that Aguirre not only will turn around a struggling Tricolor side, but will have the team firing on all cylinders. Still, he started his era off trying to stress he's no Superman.

"I'm not going to emerge from a phone booth," Aguirre said during his introductory press conference. "I'm here to add something to the team, recover the team's identity and convince people that we can do things together."

In 2001, Aguirre took over during Mexico's sinking World Cup qualifying campaign. Now, he takes over again during a poor qualifying campaign. This time, though, he will have some time to prepare for what he called Mexico's D-Day, a June 6 encounter at El Salvador.

How can Aguirre begin his second go-round successfully? Some suggestions:

• Strip Rafael Márquez of the captaincy and hand the armband to Pável Pardo. Aguirre made it clear that only players who are honored and respectful of the jersey will be allowed to defend it. Márquez's karate-style defending leaves room for doubt about the player's ability with El Tri. Pardo, meanwhile, is the most respected player in Mexico, and his successful stint with Stuttgart proved his worth as a player. Aguirre dropped Pardo when he took over in '01 but should embrace the player this time around.

• Bring back Cuauhtémoc Blanco. And Braulio Luna. Aguirre welcomed back a respected veteran to the squad in '01 when he brought back aging but useful Alberto García Aspe. Blanco is in the same role now, clearly past his prime and in the twilight of his career, but he still can offer something to the squad and, if nothing else, offers a glimpse back to a time when Mexico didn't struggle in World Cup qualifying. Luna is a hard-nosed World Cup veteran, someone young players can learn quite a lot from.

• Lay low until June. There are quite a lot of issues with the Mexican national team now, from players' indiscipline to the foreigner debate to Nery Castillo's blow-up and players' ongoing quarrel with the Mexican media. If Aguirre doesn't put himself in the public light, he will allow things to play out quietly until June. The focus then will be on El Salvador and it will be easier to deflect such issues then.

In Mexican soccer, Chivas de Guadalajara represents many things. The club's red-and-white stripes are synonymous with success (a record 11 league championships), popularity (only Club América rivals it) and the republic of Mexico (only a smattering of foreign-born players have ever suited up for Guadalajara).

But continuity isn't one of the the club's redeeming qualities. Neither is stability. And respect? Toluca and Pachuca are often lauded as the best franchises in Mexican soccer today.

Chivas' situation went from troubled to ridiculous, difficult to absurd, challenging to preposterous. Club owner Jorge Vergara continued his meddling ways by removing yet another manager from yet another perceived difficult situation Wednesday when he sacked Omar Arellano and replaced him with Francisco "Paco" Ramírez. Earlier this year, Ramírez gained notoriety in the States for slapping U.S. national-team defender Frankie Hejduk following Mexico's 2-0 loss to the Americans in February.

In case you lost count, that's 11 managers now that have come and gone since Vergara took over in '02. A rundown: Daniel Guzmán was in charge when Vergara took over but was let go after the Apertura '02 season. Eduardo de la Torre followed and lasted barely more than one season. Hans Westerhof replaced de la Torre midway through the Apertura '03 season. After Westerhof took Chivas to the Clausura '04 final, Benjamín Galindo came in the following season. He lasted two full seasons, and was sacked three games into the Apertura '05. Juan Carlos Ortega briefly replaced him before Xabier Azkargorta finished the season as manager.

Westerhof returned to start the Clausura '06 but was replaced midway by Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, who finally led Chivas to a title. But even the Apertura '06 championship didn't secure his job as Vergara chased him midway through the Apertura '07 season, when Efraín Flores took over.

Interestingly, Guzmán and Chepo de la Torre each went on to win league titles after leaving Chivas, while Galindo also led another club to consecutive finals appearances.

Now, Vergara turns to Ramírez, who has never managed in the Mexican First Division before. His first task? Defeat Chivas' bitter rival, América, in the Mexican superclásico on Sunday. If Ramírez can't defeat Vergara's hated rivals, the latest Chivas era may not last much longer either.

I got a lot of responses to my column reacting to Mexico's firing of Sven-Göran Eriksson and the lowly state of the national team. Here's just a handful:

Who would want to manage Mexico with the short-sighted focus of the FMF? The FMF reacts like a fan instead a professional organization that should be looking at long-term success of Mexican football. -- Dave, Dayton, Ohio

El Tri has potential, but just isn't that good at this point. I thought there was progress at the senior level under Hugo Sánchez, but the generational transition is as you describe it. Can the Mexican Federation realize its role in this fiasco and finally provide some stability? -- Peter, Temecula, Calif.

The federation has tried to provide a bit of stability in Aguirre as it guaranteed his contract through 2010. Win or lose, Aguirre's the man. Even if Mexico's worst-case scenario happens -- lose to the U.S. at the Azteca in August -- Aguirre won't be sacked. He might be strung up publicly, but he can't be removed from his post. It's the federation that allowed things to get this far. Had it guaranteed Hugo Sánchez's contract or carried through with its hopes and plans for him when it first gave him the job, perhaps the team wouldn't be in the state it's in right now.

I agree with you that the change of managers is a problem. But Eriksson was horrible. He sucked at England; watching England play its games was always a horrible experience. They have such a great game in the Premier League and Eriksson was unable to get those players who play in that league to play that type of great football. Same thing with Mexico. I don't know what he was doing out there. The best football I saw Mexico play was after Márquez's red card and they started playing Mexican football -- quick passes, quick movement and one-on-one situations. It was good football. I hope Aguirre can bring Mexican football back to Mexico. -- Byron, Dallas

Perhaps the one thing Eriksson's failure with Mexico shows is how true the ever-present sentiment is when it comes to the Mexican managerial position. Players, media, seemingly everyone wants a to bring in a manager who knows Mexico and knows the Mexican players. Perhaps now when the post is open the talk of bringing in managers such as Luiz Felipe Scolari can end before it begins, as Big Phil likely would have been a flop as well.

The problem with Mexico isn't the coaching; I strongly believe it's the players. Time after time they lack chemistry, mistakes are a constant in the center of the field, no real offense. Look, I'm a real die-hard Mexican fan, but this whole thing just makes me sad to see the Mexico that I knew while growing up is now long gone. I would say the fundamental problem lies with players' clubs. Players need more attacking football above all else, need more creativity, fluency, especially more power and speed and the only place where you can get that is at the English Premier League. I wish Mexico could have a similar playing style. -- Leo, Redwood City, Calif.

I believe Mexico does have some true talent, but I do agree that there's a problem with the players. There is no superstar, and the young players who should be stepping up and fulfilling their potential (Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos) have not done so. Aguirre's task, of course, isn't to develop players for the future, but rather get results as soon as possible, so the development part won't likely be addressed in the short term.

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