As Mexico’s national team, under interim manager Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti, prepares to meet Uruguay in Houston and the U.S. men’s national team in Nashville, a sentiment of a new, fresh start clouds over El Tri. It’s not unknown territory. Back in August 2007, then-manager Hugo Sanchez released a roster with 30 names for friendlies against Panama and Brazil. The roster included names such as Giovani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Hector Moreno and Cesar Villaluz. For Gio and Vela, it was their first senior call-up, a major event for El Tri as both players had played a major part in Mexico winning the Under-17 World Cup in 2005. Eleven years since Sanchez announced that roster, El Tri finds itself building the foundation for a new generation of players, who will likely play a big role for the national team in the next two World Cups.
However, as this generational shift begins to form, Mexico’s national team is still figuring out who will be its new manager. It’s a crucial moment in the construction of a steady plan, which should have as ultimate goal creating a strong squad to confront the 2026 World Cup, of which will guarantee El Tri home-field advantage in both Mexico and the United States.
Of the 24 players who made the trip to the U.S., six are living their first senior call-up -- Diego Lainez (18-years-old), Roberto Alvarado (19), Gerardo Arteaga (19), Jesus Angulo (20), Erick Aguirre (21) and Victor Guzman (23).
For several of the new members, this summer’s Toulon Tournament, where El Tri’s U-21 lost to England 2-1 in the final, helped them win an opportunity to play for the senior side. Arteaga, Alvarado and Lainez were part of Mexico’s XI in the final; Alvarado scored Mexico’s only goal.
“Of all the teams present in the tournament, Mexico showcased the best style of football,” said French journalist, Jordan Bozonnet, who followed closely this year’s Toulon Tournament. “Almost all of Mexico’s players generated interest, especially the attackers.”
Lainez was named the tournament’s most valuable player, and his performances “surprised many scouts,” according to Bozonnet. Alvarado, who went on to score three goals in the tournament, has started the current 2018 Apertura in great form for Cruz Azul, notching two goals and three assists in eight matches.
In Mexican football, Jesus Ramirez, who coached the U-17 team in 2005 and U-20 team in 2007, is one of the main voices when it comes to youth development.
“I think that it’s great to have the youngsters play for the senior team. Their age shouldn’t be an impediment to play for the senior team, but I feel that their call-ups should be measured by how many youth processes they’ve completed,” Ramirez told SB Nation via phone. “Let’s put Diego Lainez’s case into perspective, he’s had a process with Club America since 2012 and made his first team debut in 2016. When it comes to youth national teams, in November, he has to play for Mexico in the U-20 CONCACAF Championships.
“So I like to talk about the maturity the players must have, even if they’re young. They must think, ‘I’m in the senior team, but I still have to play in a U-20 World Cup; I must continue my preparation.’ That’s where the manager in charge of the senior team must come in to offer wisdom, so he can lead the player and not only offer help to improve his game, but also enhance his mental strength. The player must keep his feet on the ground in order to lead a successful career.”
This is where Mexico’s coaching decision will be fundamental. Victor Manuel Vucetich, Mexico’s most successful club manager, told ESPN that “Tuca” is the best option for the job. “He has all the maturity to overcome any type of adversity. I feel it can be the grand finale to a successful career,” he highlighted.
Ferretti’s coaching career is one that has been ongoing for 28 straight years. A life involved in the Mexican game. However, there’s no proof to suggest that he really wants the full-time job.
El Tri has to avoid the mistakes it committed between 2006 and 2010. “I lived that process [2006-10],” recounted Ramirez. “At the time, Hugo Sanchez started it, then I came in to coach friendlies and the first World Cup qualifiers. Then came in Sven-Goran Eriksson. He left, and at the end, Javier Aguirre coached the team in South Africa.
“In this case, four managers were selected, and all of us had different ways of working, different ways of seeing the game. If we have a style, if we have a common way of working, we can’t afford to be bringing in people of different backgrounds to coach the national team.
“After our past experiences, it’s important to know what we want, how we want it, which is our style, and what is the model that best fits Mexico. Once we figure that out, then we can select the right people for the job.”
But as the manager search continues, Mexico’s new generation must take advantage of these upcoming friendlies. Guillermo Ochoa, Jonathan dos Santos, Raul Jimenez and Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, all of whom have experience playing in European leagues, should provide advice to the young members, especially those who will get their first minutes with the senior side.
When viewing all the names on this list, it’s a step in the right direction to see Liga MX-based young players with a high number of league minutes played. At 19, Jonathan Gonzalez already has 3,197; at 22, Orbelin Pineda has 10,742; at 21, Aguirre has 5,786; at 20, Edson Alvarez has 4,515; at 19, Alvarado has 2,942; at 19, Arteaga has 2,803; at 18, Lainez has 1,475.
But without figuring out and defining the national team’s style, this generation will be put in a tough scenario ahead of the 2022 and 2026 World Cups. “Mexico’s style is molded based on who the manager in charge is. Right now, we’re in a key moment to define our identity because we don’t have it.
“During the World Cup, I spent a lot of time with Diego Forlan, and he described me how Uruguay has a clear idea of what they want to play and how they want to play. It’s a model they’ve developed, like a business.
“In Mexico, we have to learn how to do it because we always work in relation to the manager in charge,” Ramirez said.