MEXICO CITY – The Mexican national soccer team has officially kicked off the Gerardo Martino era, which fans hope will mark a change in the squad’s fortunes and lead to World Cup glory.
The Argentine coach, better known as “Tata,” put his 24-man team, drawn from the Liga MX, through its paces on Monday, the first of three planned practice days.
The team practiced for about 90 minutes and players paid close attention to every word uttered by the coach, who plans on working with the team in “micro-cycles” for two or three days at a time.
The 56-year-old Argentine coach worked with his assistants to explain the purpose of every drill to his players.
Before practice, players spoke with the coaching staff and later met with Mexican National Soccer Federation (FMF) president Yon de Luisa.
The last players to arrive at the training complex in Mexico City were Gibran Lajud and Jesus Angulo, of Tijuana, and Jonathan Orozco and Jesus Vazquez, of Santos Laguna, whose teams played each other on Sunday; and Javier Aquino, of the Tigres UANL.
The Mexican national soccer team will train behind closed doors on Tuesday in two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Following the afternoon practice, the Monterrey, Pachuca and Tijuana players will return to their respective teams to prepare for Friday matches in the seventh round of the Liga MX tournament.
Martino, who was hired in December and is reportedly being paid $2.2 million a year, was brought in by the FMF to turn Mexico’s fortunes around in World Cup competition.
The Argentine coach replaced Colombian Juan Carlos Osorio, who led Mexico for the last four years, reaching the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Argentine coach takes over a Mexican national team whose fans are feeling frustrated after failing to advance beyond the round of 16 at seven straight World Cups and dreaming of making a run into the quarterfinals in Qatar.
Martino took the Mexican squad’s helm at a high point in his career, having just led Atlanta United FC to the Major League Soccer (MLS) title.
The coach is aiming to win the Copa Oro next summer, using that continental competition to position for a deep run at the 2022 World Cup, which starts on Nov. 21, a day after Martino hits 60.
Martino, the 2018 MLS Coach of the Year, is known for being demanding but also for cultivating good relationships with his players, taking them under his wing and serving as a father figure.
Martino has tasted success in international competitions, leading Argentina to the Copa America final in 2015 and 2016, and Paraguay to the final in the same tournament in 2011.
The Argentine coach, in fact, led Paraguay to the World Cup quarterfinals in South Africa in 2010.
Martino won the 2013 Supercopa with Barcelona in Spain and reached two Copa Libertadores semifinals, leading Newell’s Old Boys, in 2013, and Paraguay’s Libertad, in 2016, to the semis of South America’s premier club tournament.
Under Martino, Newell’s Old Boys won the 2013 Copa Libertadores and Libertad took home three Paraguayan league titles.
Martino will make his international debut at Mexico’s helm in friendlies against Chile on March 22 and Paraguay on March 26 in the United States.
The March 26 contest will pit the former Paraguayan national team coach against Osorio, who now coaches the South American squad.