There was a moment during Mexico’s win over South Korea, around five minutes from full time, which might have bypassed casual observers of El Tri. With the scoreline at 2-0 and their team cruising into the last 16 of the World Cup, the thousands of Mexican fans inside the stadium started chanting “El profese Osorio” in praise of their manager. The significance of this was not lost on those familiar with the country’s footballing landscape.
Just a handful of games previously, the Mexican support had been steadfast in its belief that Juan Carlos Osorio should be sacked. They made that clear in their numbers, even booing the team as they headed to Russia with a 1-0 win over Scotland in their send-off game at the Estadio Azteca. Things were even worse when El Tri lost 2-0 to Denmark in their final World Cup warm-up game.
Some claim the animosity between Osorio and his own fans can be traced back to a 7-0 thumping at the hands of Chile all the way back in June 2016. At the time, this defeat was considered a nadir for Mexican football. Osorio was made a target, which was perhaps natural after such a humiliation. What wasn’t natural was the way he continued to be public enemy number one even as El Tri improved and made huge strides forward.
This, general speaking, was down to his Osorio’s nationality. He is a Colombian and in the view of many Mexican football fans, his employment as the national team coach is a slight on the sport in the country. Think back to all the hand-wringing there was over the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson as England manager, then add the fervour and zeal of Mexican football and you get a notion of what Osorio has faced.
What is peculiar is that Osorio isn’t the first foreign coach employed by El Tri. In fact, Eriksson himself was Mexico manager as recently as 2009. Over history, there have been no fewer than 11 foreign managers of the Mexican national side. An Englishman called Alfred Crowle even took charge for a spell in the 1930s. And yet the opposition Osorio has come up against has been particularly strong.
Success at this World Cup could rid El Tri of its taboos in a way that hasn’t been done until now. There is plenty to be cherished about Mexican football, but it suffers from insularity. As a general rule, Mexican football fans are suspicious of outsiders, as fans in many countries are. The problem is that those countries tend to be left behind as new methods and ideologies are spread around the global game. Look at England for a prime example.
Mexican fans speak of the “quinto partido,” meaning “the fifth match.” It refers to the country’s quest to make it past the last 16 of a World Cup and into the quarter finals – the fifth game of the tournament. If Osorio can help El Tri conquer their mental demons this summer all previous criticisms will be dropped, and on the basis of their start at this World Cup this might well be possible.
But if this does materialise and Mexico make a run to the quarter finals of this World Cup, they must evaluate just how significant Osorio’s role as an outsider was in taking El Tri to the next level. Mexico is right to preserve its identity as one of the most colourful footballing cultures in the world, but it’s reasonable to suggest a reluctance to look outside their own borders had held them back in recent years. Many believed Osorio was the worst thing to ever happen to Mexican football. Instead, he could be one of the best.
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