Mexico will be fine without the manager in the technical area but will give the coach plenty to think about as he serves the ban
Hopefully Mexico players have enjoyed working with Luis Pompilio Paez.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s assistant prepared the team for the Gold Cup and now will lead it at the tournament after Osorio was handed a six-game suspension by FIFA for using “insulting words towards the match officials while displaying an aggressive attitude towards them” in the third-place game of the Confederations Cup.
The suspension seems a bit heavy, but FIFA takes aggression toward referees, especially when there appeared to be some physical contact, seriously. That he hadn’t been disciplined for screaming profanity at a New Zealand coach during a group game, an incident for which he later apologized, may have tipped the scales a bit – or maybe not. Either way, the suspension means Osorio will miss the Gold Cup, and perhaps World Cup qualification matches against Panama and Costa Rica should El Tri fail to reach the semifinals or final.
While Osorio won’t be in the technical area for Mexico’s games, though, his fingerprints still will be all over the team in the Gold Cup. He and Pompilio Paez have been friends for decades and shared many of the same footballing philosophies even before they began working together in Colombian soccer in 2006 with Millonarios. The rotations and structural tweaks Osorio has been criticized for will continue. And, while it may not have seemed possible, Pompilio Paez may be even more wonkish about the sport, taking five to 10 minutes for each answer during news conferences when reporters ask a general question and running through different possibilities in the way both Mexico and its opponent might play.
Even the in-game shifts should be relatively similar. While Osorio’s methods are unconventional, the two men have grown together in their ideas about the games. Pompilio Paez doesn’t boast the same pedigree or the romantic stories about scouting Liverpool practices or learning from Sir Alex Ferguson. But he has the same obsession for the game Osorio has.
In that respect, this ban has to be killing Osorio. He is obsessed with the sport and will be involved in dissecting and communicating with his coaching staff as much as is allowed from the group game on. This is a man whose idea of not working is watching more soccer games, getting more ideas, seeing how other teams play and figuring out the best way to neutralize those styles.
But while the team may be able to play without the coach at the Gold Cup, Osorio’s suspension still could have repercussions beyond the Gold Cup. A bad showing for Mexico still would reflect upon the coach, owing to how close he is to his assistant and the fact that the messages and style are largely the same.
And while Osorio has largely been cool and level-headed during his tenure, he won’t forget that it was off-field behavior that saw his predecessor Miguel Herrera removed from the post. Herrera was fired after winning the 2015 Gold Cup and getting into a confrontation with a columnist as the team flew back from the final, turning celebration into chaos and getting his marching orders soon after.
The Colombian tactician’s job – and those of his coaching staff – seems secure, but he has been clear since taking over that he’s renting rather than buying a place in Mexico City, understanding the nature of the Mexico national team job that sees frequent turnover. With that in mind, giving a team any reason to point to if someone on top decides they want you gone is never a good idea.
As frustrated as Osorio has to be about this ban and as inconvenient as it may be for Mexico, it’s something that both parties can survive. The coach knows he has to be more wise in the future, more discerning in when he decides to let his emotions come through and more in control on the touchline even if things aren’t going his way. If he doesn’t make a change, Mexico will.