Herrera was confirmed to stay on as Mexico’s World Cup manager on Monday (Images: Reuters)
Mexico boss Miguel Herrera earned a chance to take El Tri to Brazil by dispatching New Zealand next month. His instant success prompted FMF executives and Liga MX owners to remove his interim tag on Monday and trust him with the mighty task of leading his country into the World Cup.
Herrera must guide Mexico through a convoluted and tricky path between the draw in Bahia on Friday and the first match at an undisclosed location next June. The long and arduous road will determine whether this proud country extends its record of success (five consecutive appearances in the round of 16) or succumbs to the frailties exposed by the Hexagonal.
There is no time to waste to ensure the former scenario ultimately prevails. Herrera will draw up his list of priorities once he completes his Liguilla duties. It should read something like this:
1. Reach an accord with Carlos Vela: The exiled Real Sociedad star functions as an alluring distraction from the matters at hand. Herrera needs his ability to supply additional thrust in the final third. He must figure out a way to tempt Vela back into the fold without sacrificing the boundaries established during his interim tenure. If he cannot coax Vela back to national team duty, then he must draw a firm line under the situation to avoid the recurring sideshows as the preparations commence in earnest.
2. Form the European-based foundation: Vela’s status dovetails neatly with the uncertainty permeating through the rest of the stars flourishing abroad. Herrera omitted every last one of them from the excursion against New Zealand. He cannot afford such a draconian stand ahead of the trip to Brazil, but he must also weigh the benefits, the drawbacks and the realities of their individual situations as well. The inclusions of Giovani dos Santos (creativity), Javier Hernández (precision) and Héctor Moreno (solidity) appear somewhat compulsory given the talent pool. Herrera can adopt a more pragmatic approach to the likes of Javier Aquino, Jesús Corona, Andrés Guardado, Héctor Herrera, Guillermo Ochoa and Diego Reyes as he assesses his options and contemplates how to build a cohesive unit.
Chicharito Hernandez figures to be a big part of El Tri’s World Cup plans
3. Identify the vital holdovers: The number of foreign-based players included naturally restricts the places available to players selected for the two-legged triumph over New Zealand. A few of those players – Miguel Layún, Carlos Peña and Oribe Peralta feature on that list at the moment – will keep their places. Several others will drop down the pecking order or out of the reckoning entirely. Herrera cannot afford to allow sentiment to take hold here: he must retain only the players capable of transitioning to a higher, World Cup-bound standard.
4. Reinforce the fundamental principles: Herrera can help his own cause by retaining a few of the players from the successful playoff voyage to espouse his ideas over the next few months. The departing Club América manager cultivated a specific approach within his 5-3-2 setup and installed it for the national team prior to the two matches against the All Whites. The presence of several América stalwarts made the process a bit easier. The increased familiarity among the potential squad options permits Herrera to lean on those players for support as he attempts to integrate his foreign-based players into the defined roles suited to their talents.
5. Put those ideas into practice: The last prong could prove the most troublesome given the dearth of FIFA dates between now and the start of the World Cup next June. Herrera must wring every last bit of usefulness out of the scheduled friendly for domestic-based players against South Korea in San Antonio on Jan. 29 and then schedule other rigorous tests along the way to examine his options. The magnitude of the task ahead ensures he cannot afford to waste any opportunity to mold this side in his own image.