Mexico’s ‘Tata’ Martino brushes off ‘Piojo’ Herrera comments ahead of World Cup qualifier

Mexico manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino avoided a potential battle of words with former El Tri boss Miguel “Piojo” Herrera, brushing aside Herrera’s comments over Martino’s health.

After Herrera said on Monday that if Martino “doesn’t have the health, he should step aside” from his role with Mexico, Martino was blunt when asked if he had a response.

“No, none,” said Martino at a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s match against El Salvador.

Martino did not travel to Mexico’s World Cup qualifier on Sunday, a narrow 1-0 win at Honduras, as he continues to recover from a retinal detachment procedure on his right eye. Ahead of that game, the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) announced that medical recommendation advised him to not travel by flight for at least six weeks.

– How United States, Mexico and Canada can qualify
– CONCACAF World Cup qual.: Results | Schedule | Standings
– World Cup 2022 qualifying: How it works around the world

“I’m not allowed to go on a plane because of an issue with the pressure. Because of that, I coached against the United States [at home], I couldn’t go to Honduras [away] and tomorrow, I’m back in front of the team,” Martino said.

Despite the fact that Mexico need just a draw in their last CONCACAF Octagonal match to book a spot for the World Cup, Martino has faced a very different kind of pressure from fans and media.

Criticism began to pile up after a failure to win a Gold Cup and Nations League title last year. Coupled with a noteworthy lack of goalscoring in World Cup qualifying and a reliance on veterans, as well as an absence of wins over the United States and Canada during qualifying, serious doubts have been put above the head of the Argentine.

Speaking on ESPN’s Ahora o Nunca, Herrera said he’d be open to returning as Mexico’s manager but remains focused on his current job with Liga MX side Tigres UANL.

“I think my name has always been on the table, it gives me great pleasure, great pride, it means I’m doing things well where I show up to work. Honestly my mind is 100% with Tigres, [but] I’ve also said I would never say no to the national team,” said Herrera, who led El Tri to the 2014 World Cup.

Herrera’s comments followed a report from ESPN Mexico’s John Sutcliffe on Monday that Martino’s future with El Tri was in question, listing Herrera as a possible back-up plan. ESPN Mexico’s Rene Tovar reported on Tuesday that Mexican Football Federation president Yon de Luisa was “unaware that there will be a meeting with owners soon” and that Martino will remain with the team if it reaches the World Cup in Qatar. Tovar also reported that FMF officials were caught off-guard by Herrera’s comments.

Martino can avoid another potentially sticky situation by getting a straightforward win on Wednesday, but whether he utilizes out-of-form key players like Raul Jimenez or Hirving Lozano remains up in the air. During Tuesday’s news conference, he defended his usual starters who haven’t seemed to have fully rediscovered their form after injury concerns.

“Both Raul and Hirving have recently had a tough time, with two quite abnormal injuries for what soccer is today, and with a difficult recovery. Especially with a long time away from the pitch, that undoubtedly has a cost,” Martino said. “Surely we will see them again in the second half of the year with the best version of themselves.”

Regarding Mexico’s poor run of form, Martino is convinced that an invitation to Qatar can revitalize the side that only has one goal in the last three qualifiers at home.

“I think that a direct qualifying spot [for the World Cup] will allow us to play a bit better, recover the performances that the team once had, the style of play they once had. That will surely be very beneficial for the future,” he said.