In the bowels of Gerardo Martino’s Mexican National Team
Gerardo Martino He always wanted to do things his way. He never allowed himself to be imposed on anything. For better and for worse. If he fell, in the end, it was with his decisions, clinging to them, believing in them until the last moment, until the final whistle in Lusail on November 30, 2020.
Up to that point, up to the sad night of Lusail facing Saudi Arabia, a lot of water ran under the bridge. AS México reconstructs the process of ‘Tata’ Martino at the head of the Mexican team from its ins and outs based on the testimony of two consulted sources and own experiences. Payments added to his high salary (for events with commercial partners of the FMF to which he initially refused), absences, reprimands and a long history of concessions that allowed him to gain almost absolute control of the team and its environment, as even the lodgings and who accompanied whom on the flights. The decisions, including the controversial calls for the World Cup, were always made by Martino, and no one else.
And it is that Martino always did things his way. For him, the most important thing was that the footballers, above all, were good people. “Good boys”. For this reason, he never accepted excessive noise. He closed doors. He acted as a shield. He absorbed the pressure. He protected his own. A technician with a paternal nature who favored honesty and frontality. That is why he separated Javier Hernández and Miguel Layún, after the brunch from New York. He considered that they did not share his moral code. Both, however, tried to smooth things over. The winger even showed up one day at the FMF High Performance Center to apologize, face to face, with Martino. The Argentine took the gesture well and summoned him again (vs. Guatemala, in a friendly match in 2020), but he was not convinced by his performance. The tirade with “Chicharito” was, perhaps, the controversy that marked his process. Hernández and Martino chatted via video-conference at least once; the terms were friendly, but ‘Tata’ did not give in: ‘CH14′ failed to persuade him.
‘Tata’ lived on Avenida Santa Fe, in the financial center to the west of the national capital, near Parque La Mexicana. He never accepted a driver, he drove on his own from Santa Fe to the CAR, or in the opposite direction, the few times he was summoned to the FMF headquarters in Toluca. He preferred, by far, to go to the CAR. She didn’t give away anything. He did not even give in to commercial commitments outside of his contract. If any FMF sponsor, be it Banorte, Coca Cola or AT&T, required a motivational talk courtesy of the former Barcelona and Argentina coach, Martino stood up. “It’s not in my contract.” But commercial commitments are unavoidable, so the FMF chose to complete an additional payment for ‘Tata’ to agree. Despite being the highest paid coach in the history of ‘Tri’ (approximately 2.9 million dollars a year). When in mid-October 2022 he had to appear, yes or yes, at a Hublot event, to present the ‘official watch of the Mexican National Team’, he did so reluctantly. That appearance was contractually mandatory. Martino barely managed to hide his discontent. Barely.
Despite the grimaces, and the disdain for the media, since he was not in favor of unrestricted access to training and/or dressing rooms, Martino’s behavior, on and off the pitches and conference rooms, was impeccable. Not a disfigurement, not a scandal. A contrast with previous managements.
Gerardo Martino’s process began with the best feelings. It was 2019. The team flowed, won, raised trophies. The media scrutiny hardly struck a chord. The Gold Cup, obtained in Chicago (1-0 over the United States), confirmed the good progress. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. The first defeat came nine months after he took office; precisely, barely three days after the brunch that led to the scandal-Chicharito: Argentina endorsed a painful 0-4 that woke up, to the bad, to Martino of the placid dream. The honeymoon was over.
The pandemic has arrived. Everything changed. Martino returned to Argentina, his first grandchild was born, and he found it increasingly difficult to return to Mexico. The suspension of all activity diminished the team’s abilities. Football harmony was disrupted. And although the results still accompanied the few games that the FMF could find at that time, in the absolute silence of the stands, such as the meritorious victory against the Netherlands in Amsterdam (1-0), and the hard-fought tie against Algeria (2 -2) in The Hague, something no longer worked the same. For example, a button: Manuel Alfaro. Out of the spotlight, with hardly any media mentions, Alfaro, 36, operated behind the scenes not only in his responsibilities as a physical trainer (and a kind of “personal secretary” for Martino), but also in logistics. He was in charge of the search and confirmation of the concentration hotels. To each one, more expensive and remote. The process began in San Diego, where the Mexican National Team settled in the headquarters of the Chula Vista Olympic Complex, in March 2019. No frills, at the express request of Martino. Alfaro’s powers did not end there: he controlled the boarding passes and the seats of the players inside the planes, even; he manipulated them with marker to accommodate them to convenience.
And it is that Martino always wanted to do things his way. Alfaro was one of his caciques to obtain absolute control of the Mexican National Team. For this, he facilitated the creation of a closed group around him, a faithful gang that always closed ranks and supported each other in all circumstances.. A group, yes, eminently Argentine. Jorge Theiler, his technical assistant, was his “partner”. He maintained a cordial and even fruitful relationship with Gerardo Torrado, general sports director of the Mexican Football Federation, and Ignacio Hierro, sports director of National Teams; the only Mexicans she accepted in her day-to-day work dynamics. That, until the failures of the senior women’s team and the men’s Under 20 team, unrelated to Martino, caused the guillotine to fall on both figures. By then, the environment had already clouded. Soccer generated doubts (“many things need to be improved,” he said in May, while on a tour of the United States) and the crisis seemed to be constantly lurking. With Jaime Ordiales, Torrado’s substitute, there was never harmony.
The Mexican National Team announced a public training session at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on September 23, 2022. For 10 dollars, ‘Tricolor’ fans could enjoy an unprecedented session. A farewell prior to the World Cup in Qatar, since, for the first time in 30 years, there would not be a farewell match at the Azteca Stadium before embarking on the trip to the top event. 500 people enjoyed live a ‘cascarita’, a Chilean average goal from ‘Memo’ Ochoa, the improbable saves by Orbelín Pineda, the tricks of Héctor Herrera. And not a few witnessed the drama of Raúl Jiménez, unable to walk without pain less than two months before the World Cup. They were all there, even those who were not usually there, but one person was missing. Gerardo Martino refused in full to attend the session. A day later, the Argentine explained that he preferred to take advantage of the time to analyze his rivals in Qatar 2022, and that, while the practice lacked seriousness, in his opinion, it was not worth being present. The absence cost him a call to attention from Yon de Luisa. A similar postcard was repeated when she presented the preliminary list of summoned for the World Cup in Qatar, on October 26. Martino, expressionless, only appeared to name the players mentioned. The event did not last more than 15 minutes. Martino withdrew from the FMF headquarters in Toluca without offering another statement.
As the World Cup approached, Martino, who had previously paraded through the media without blemish, unceremoniously bolted. ‘Tata’ himself felt like a victim of a “campaign” against him. This was what he said at the end of the friendly match against Paraguay in Atlanta, at the end of August. “The country’s number 1 public enemy,” it was described. The battle spilled over into press conferences. He openly engaged, increasingly, with the assembled journalists. Many times provoked. “What usually happens is that you only analyze the result,” he scolded, after the defeat against Argentina in Lusail. “There was no tactical change today? Didn’t you see it?” He got upset, in the same appearance.
The disagreement even reached the training sessions of the Mexican National Team in Al-Khor, during the World Cup. Martino, who did not want the media to record any disdain, any muscular discomfort, any cold look, had to accept the FIFA regulations. ‘El Tri’ was obliged to open most of his sessions for the cameras and reporters; he only had the right to close one before each game. Despite this, in the brief open windows, the journalists were able to observe Martino’s long walks with his gaze fixed on the grass of the Al-Khor Stadium and the distance between him and Ordiales. The decision to keep the media presence to a minimum was his, and his alone. In fact, Mexico was one of the few teams in the entire World Cup that did not offer periodic meetings with journalists (or mixed zones, or press conferences) at their training center. Even Iran and Saudi Arabia, countries not exactly known for their freedom of expression, did so.
The controversial calls for Raúl Giménez, Andrés Guardado, Héctor Herrera and Rogelio Funes Mori were also his decision, and his alone. And it is that Martino always did things his way. No tactical determination or in the conformation of any payroll was due to any commercial pressure. It was always Martino. I send it from him. His Selection.
The FMF understands that it let Martino do what he wanted. He knows that the control he exercised was almost total. Therefore, the search for the next technical director is bound to change the dynamics. From now on, the resolutions will be agreed upon (with the installation of the National Teams Committee). It will not be a will that defines. The Mexican National Team will not belong to one person. The Mexican National Team will no longer obey exclusively those who do things their way.