World Soccer: You took Mexico from the fifth to the second place in the Concacaf qualifiers, what was the recipe for that success?
Javier Aguirre: You have to remember that, in 2001, I already took charge of the Mexican National team in a strikingly similar situation. In both cases the team was in a very delicate position and we were able to restore the balance and get on the right path. Of course, the first experience helped me on the second one.
Did you ever doubt? Was there a moment in which you thought you weren’t going to make it?
Ironically the first match in El Salvador was the hardest. We were very enthusiastic, we were playing a good match and I never expected the defeat. The match was quiet, we were controlling it without much trouble and at the 88th the referee decided to whistle a penalty for them and we lost 2-1. The paradox is that it was exactly there where this national team was actually born, amongst those faces full of pain in the dressing room. With that defeat we were further away from qualifying, we had lost 3 out of 4 matches and that’s where I saw the team emerge. Those were hard times but I never doubted that the World Cup was within our reach. We didn’t lose again in the qualifiers.
Can you describe the players in your squad?
There is a generation of veterans that was superb in their prime, led by Cuauhtemoc Blanco, and alongside him Rafael Marquez, Gerardo Torrado, Braulio Luna, Óscar Perez, players that I brought back to the National fold, which are between 30 and 35 years old, or even more. And then there is the fantastic young generation that won the Under-17 World Cup title in 2005. The four best known players of it are Hector Moreno, Efrain Juarez, Giovani dos Santos and Carlos Vela but there are other names such as Enrique Esqueda or Adrian Aldrete that could make the team. Pablo Barrera belongs to that same generation and Andres Guardado is a couple of years older. They could very well play in any of the big world leagues without any inferiority complex. But we still lack some players of the generation in between, 27 to 28 year olds that could keep the pace during a match. I’m going to look for them but let’s make clear that I care about the quality of my players not their age. As they say “I see talent, not the birth certificate”
For the first time in its history, Mexico has a dozen players plying their trade in Europe’s strongest leagues. But some of them are not first team regulars, do you think that might hamper the team’s chances?
They might not be in the pitch on Sundays, but they train with the best all week long. I’ve seen them in training, and my people follow them closely. And they train with great intensity, they never stop. If they aren’t playing is because they coaches decide so, and also because they are playing at the highest level, which is something that was lacking in Mexican football. If my priority was that they had playing time then it would be better if they were in second division or in less powerful leagues, but these training sessions are worth much more. It makes them perform at the top level and they can regain rhythm in the friendlies before the World Cup. I would be worried if they were injured, but that’s not the case. Recently, my assistant, Mario Carrillo went to see Ricardo Osorio, who is currently on the bench of Stuttgart, and his report was glowing: he is in optimum condition, in physical and footballing terms.
In the past, other Mexican managers had the possibility of having their players well before the start of the World Cup, but now that’s impossible.
It will obviously be a completely different process because in the past 20 of 23 players were in the Mexican League and now there are 9 or 10 in Europe. So I will call a whole local based squad before the European Leagues finished and then they will be joined by the players based abroad. Inevitably I will have to discard some of them, it’s a necessary evil.
Would that be a handicap for you compared to previous World Cup experiences?
Every National team manager would love to have all his players available long before the World Cup, but these are the consequences of high-level football. Neither Spain nor France nor Germany or Brazil will have more time than us. I’m fortunate that the Mexican FA allow me to have the local based players a month before the ending of the European leagues, even if they had to sacrifice the local league. That will definitely help. And let’s make clear that the fact a player is based in Europe won’t not guarantee anything to him, if those in the local league are better, I won’t care, I will choose the best 23, whoever they are.
Talking about the team’s friendly matches before the World Cup. You have pretty hefty opposition with almost no days to rest? Don’t you fear you will be overloaded by the time the World Cup starts?
There will be two players for each position and I will be able to try them all against the best teams in the world. I don’t worry, on the contrary, I love having such high-level rivals. We will arrive to South Africa with a splendid preparation.
Especially as you will play against high profile rivals…
You know that the hosts have always qualified to the second round since the World Cup are played, and you can’t argue about the quality of teams like France or Uruguay, which have been world champions in the past and have players in the best leagues in the world, so we will obviously have a hard task in South Africa.
This said, what is your aim in the tournament?
Mexico have finished between the 10th and 15th place in the last 4 World Cups. We want to make history this time and that obviously means improving from those finishes as much as possible.