Requiem for Sven-Goran Eriksson...and Mexico?
Following a brief and somber introduction by Mexican Soccer Federation president Justino Compeán, Sven-Goran Eriksson addressed the media as Mexico's National Team manager for the last time.
Eternally unsettled in his chair (a fitting metaphor for his time as El Tri's boss), Eriksson fielded questions from reporters looking to extract as much information as they could regarding the team's newest failure.
The somber tone remained throughout the first few questions, with the ambiance resembling a funeral parlor in which guests interacted with the propped up corpse.
Eriksson, the dead man at his own wake, ended up fielding a myriad of questions, some logical, some—in true Mexican fashion—were characteristically inappropriate.
One such question was asking the Swede what he thought of the allegations that former Atlético de Madrid manager Javier Aguirre had been called by Mexico's president, Felipe Calderón with a plea to take the team over—while Eriksson was still in charge.
A class act from start to finish, Eriksson shied away from controversy, certainly hardened by his years in front of the relentless English media, and he dodged such questions with ease.
In his otherwise cliché apology-laced discourse, Eriksson did give reporters a somewhat juicy tidbit, saying that in his 13 games at the helm of the national team, "Mexican football was never a mystery to me."
Well, it certainly seemed that way.
The Swede was never able to establish an effective style of play, and he constantly stuck with players who gave him few if any returns on the pitch (Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Leandro Augusto).
Despite never vocalizing it himself, Eriksson must have been appalled by the shoddy officiating by CONCACAF referees and the blatant mismanagement of the national team by his superiors (National Team Director Guillermo Cantú was recently fired, and Compeán as well as Secretary General Decio de María are rumored to be next).
The foolish pampering and aggrandizement by the media and the fans of the Mexican footballer, historically a player with a first-rate skill set and a third-rate mentality, is another tidbit that surely turned Eriksson off.
Early on in his tenure, the former Manchester City manager had to deal with one of his players, Chicago Fire icon Cuauhtémoc Blanco, incurring in what was deemed as a severe act of indiscipline. Blanco was banned by Eriksson, and the incident was hastily presented as Blanco abruptly retiring from El Tri.
Eriksson complied with the cover-up.
Now, only eight months later after his appointment, in which he compiled a mediocre 6-1-6 record, Sven is gone.
Mexico's lackluster second round of World Cup qualifying, in which they scraped by on goal differential, and tough losses to the United States and Honduras that dropped El Tri to fourth in a six team qualifying field, sealed the European manager's fate.
Citing Eriksson's lack of knowledge about the confederation, and the Mexican idiosyncrasy as a whole, National Team Director Néstor de la Torre has now subconsciously listed his prerequisites for candidates aspiring to take the reins of the team.
Despite mentions of Toluca boss José Manuel de la Torre, former interim National Team manager Jesús Ramírez and even ex-Valencia boss Ronald Koeman, there was never any doubt about who would succeed Eriksson.
The former Atlético Madrid and Osasuna manager is no stranger to rescuing Mexico's football program from disaster; he managed Mexico from 2001 to 2002, taking over a team that was but a loss away in the qualifying round from missing the World Cup.
Aguirre presented himself to his players in August of 2001, locking them up in their training facility with no press or even federation executives present. The former Pachuca manager lashed out at the players for several minutes, firing off a tirade full of expletives designed to inspire his men.
Eventually, Aguirre lead Mexico to Korea/Japan, beating Croatia, Ecuador and drawing with powerhouse Italy in the group stage, before bowing out in the Round of 16 against the United States.
After resigning his post and embarking on a successful managerial career in Europe, Aguirre was approached by Mexico as early as 2008 to take his old job back. After Hugo Sánchez's firing, Aguirre politely declined the offer, stating his desire to manage in the Champions League with Atlético.
He was fired less than a year later.
Now, Aguirre serves as pallbearer for Eriksson's coffin, helping to bury past flops, misdirections, and terrible management, just as he did eight years ago.
Despite all the metaphors for death, there is a certain expectation that Eriksson's career will be reborn, his time in Mexico a tiny footnote of failure in an encyclopedia of success and silverware.
Aguirre, on the other hand, dives into the edge of hell, looking to work his magic a second time and, surely by succeeding, once again attract the attention of Europe's top leagues for a managerial job.
Eriksson will surely bounce back. What about Mexico?
Last time around, Aguirre inherited a squad of near-unknowns, almost all of them playing in the Mexican league. This time, he takes over a team studded with players in European leagues, players expecting that by showing up and flashing their PSV, Arsenal, or Deportivo crests, they will strike fear in the opposition.
CONCACAF's level as a whole has risen, and teams that Mexico were expected to thrash as late as a decade ago now pose serious threats to the regional giants. Surprising performances by Cuba, Honduras, Guadeloupe, and Costa Rica in the 2007 Gold Cup should have put Mexico on notice.
Alas, with Eriksson's firing and Aguirre's appointment, Mexico's federation attempts to put this past period of failure behind them, stating that the stench of defeat has been apparently buried.
The eulogy is soon to be delivered. Is it for Sven-Goran Eriksson? Or for Mexico?
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