Bold and confrontational, but at the same time frantically charismatic, Miguel Herrera won the hearts of many around the world during his tenure as head coach of the Mexican National Team. His side played well and his social media stunts and sideline air-punching antics were a joy to behold.
He was emotional and intense — the kind of coach players and pundits dare to call a “warrior.” And it almost seemed like fate could only have him go down the way he eventually did: swinging.
On Tuesday, the Mexican Football Federation announced their decision to sack Herrera after he allegedly punched Mexican journalist Christian Martinoli in the TSA line at Philadelphia International Airport.
“After listening to all my colleagues who are part of this federation, and reasoning I have made the decision to take Miguel Herrera out of the national team,” Decio de Maria, the president of the federation, told reporters.
“Everyone has had an opinion but as I said, our values have to be kept and no one can be above the type of situation we saw on Monday at the Philadelphia airport.”
Hours after the announcement, Herrera had his say. In a statement published that same day, the coach admitted his actions were wrong, while at the same time claiming that he and his family had been victims of “criticisms, offenses and mockeries.”
But the incident and the consequent dismissal are sure to overshadow what was, otherwise, one of the most successful tenures for a Mexican National Team manager in recent years.
Herrera arrived in 2013 to find a national side in shambles. That year, a run of poor results had driven the federation’s leaders to dismiss then head coach José Manuel de la Torre, but finding a suitable replacement was proving impossible. They replaced De la Torre with Luis Fernando Tena, but he was only in charge for one game before being sacked and his replacement, Victor Manuel Vucetich, was dismissed after only two matches.
At that point, Herrera took charge of a Mexican team with no identity – and made it his immediate priority to develop one. His first challenge came with his first set of matches, the World Cup Qualifiers Two-Leg Playoff against New Zealand, and he rose up to it in style. His Mexican side managed to turn in a brilliant 9-3 aggregate win that served, not only to pacify the critics, but also to convince many of them that things could actually change for the better.
Herrera made it clear from the beginning: his project was a revolution. The Mexican side had been having trouble finding replacements for an aging generation, but Herrera was able to swiftly incorporate a number of replacements with an uncanny smoothness. In a matter of weeks, he changed the likes of Carlos Salcido and Christian Giménez for much-less experienced players like Paul Aguilar and Juan Carlos Medina. And it worked.
These last two, Aguilar and Medina, were part of a larger set of Club America players that Herrera decided to use as the basis for his team. Miguel Layún, Francisco Rodríguez, Raul Jiménez… all of them were men Herrera knew and had managed for a long time at the Mexican club. And, though he was heavily criticized for favoring these players, his relationship with them ended up being invaluable. The team showed great synergy and fluidity, and the results began to prove him right.
By the time Mexico debuted in the 2014 World Cup, “El Tri” had gone from being the ridicule of the CONCACAF region, to a team respected by all of its rivals in the world’s most important sports competition. Herrera said that his goal was to win the tournament, and the team’s group-stage performances – victories against Croatia and Cameroon, and a draw against the powerful host, Brazil – made those words resonate. With Herrera, the Mexican people began to believe in their team again.
Things weren’t so great for Mexico after the World Cup. In spite of the team’s victory at this summer’s Gold Cup, many in the press were not satisfied with the team’s lackluster performances. There was the widespread notion that, had it not been for a series of controversial referee calls, Mexico wouldn’t even have made it to the final.
Still, Herrera’s hand was visible even then. Even if the team hadn’t delivered, it was clear that they had once again become a huge source of expectation.
“It saddens me deeply to leave the position of Head Coach of the National Team for this unfortunate cause, given that the sporting results were mostly positive within the objectives outlined,” Herrera said in his statement.
“I will take the opportunity to enjoy my great family and rest for a while, then I will come back being the same one,” he added.
The Mexican federation has announced that they still don’t have names in line to replace Herrera. However, Jorge Sampaoli, Pedro Caixinha and Gustavo Matosas have already been linked with the job by the Mexican press.