Euro-based Players a Mixed Bag for El Tri

Several Mexican internationals at European clubs have been enjoying early season success but won't join the national team next week
by Brendan Doherty   |   Friday, August 30, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

A number of Mexican players have been in remarkable form with their European clubs at the beginning of the season. Most of them have been called up for the next 2 World Cup Qualifying matches by José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre but 2 notable players will not be with the squad.

Here's a short profile of senior internationals playing in Europe and what we can expect from them in the national team.

Carlos Vela

I wrote about Carlos Vela's unique relationship with Chepo and the national team earlier in the year.

The 24-year-old attacker scored 14 league goals and added 10 assists last campaign for Real Sociedad and has started this year even hotter. La Real impressively finished in 4th place in La Liga last year, which earned the club a berth into a Champions League qualifying match.

Leading Sociedad to victory in their first match of the season, Vela registered a goal and an assist at home against Getafe. The Cancún native carried that form into the Champions League where he set up Antoine Griezmann's absurdly good finish away at Olympique Lyonnais before scoring 2 goals at home against the French team. To make the season even better, Vela also finished in Real Sociedad's other league match against Elche.

Even though Vela is one of the most in-form forwards in Europe right now, he won't be a part of the Mexican Men’s National Team. The longer that Vela continues his hot streak, the more that a substantial subgroup of Mexico supporters will call for Chepo's removal from the manager position. Many fans believe that Vela will never reconcile his relationship with Chepo but would be willing to re-join the national team under a different coach.

Chicharito

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández has been an important player at one of the biggest clubs in the world the last couple years. The Manchester United striker has scored a goal every 2.3 games over his 3 seasons so far. Though the hamstring injury he suffered in training was not reported as serious, the Little Pea has missed Manchester United's preseason, Charity Shield and 2 Premier League games so far. It is unlikely he'll play against Liverpool this weekend and, if that's true, would show up to the national team camp not match fit or still injured.

As frustrating as any injury is for a footballer, the timing of this hamstring knock must be particularly hard to deal with for Chicharito. The tenacious forward has had to sit by while Danny Welbeck gets minutes at Manchester United despite missing buckets of chances every match, Vela and dos Santos have taken his mantle of best-performing Mexican forward in Europe and, most importantly, Oribe Peralta has played his way into a probable starting position in the national team.

It will be interesting to follow Chicharito in the coming weeks, whether he stays with the Red Devils and whether he can heal in time to feature for Mexico against Honduras on September 6. He is listed on the El Tri’s roster for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers, but it’s still unknown whether we’ll see him take the field.

The Villarreal Duo

When Javier Aquino made a move from Cruz Azul to then Spanish 2nd division Villarreal in January there was near unanimous approval. The transfer provided Aquino, who had played all 6 matches of the 2012 Olympics with a mostly U-23 Mexico side, an opportunity to adjust to the style of play in Europe without the immediate pressure of breaking into the starting lineup at a 1st division club.

The young winger from Oaxaca featured 12 times for Villarreal, starting 10 games as a right midfielder and registering an assist, en route to a 2nd place finish and automatic promotion for the club. Before Aquino could make his debut in La Liga, however, he was joined by an international teammate.

Giovani dos Santos has a rather long European CV despite only being 24 years old. Gio played in the Spanish 2nd division with Barcelona B before debuting in La Liga with the Catalan giants. After a high profile transfer to Tottenham Hotspur, Gio enjoyed intermittent success on loan spells to English team Ipswich Town, Turkish team Galatasaray and finally Spanish side Racing Santander. At the end of last summer's transfer window, Spurs cut their losses and shipped Gio off to Mallorca on the cheap. Despite 6 goals, 6 assists and several sublime performances from dos Santos, Mallorca faced relegation at the end of the 2012-13 season and the Mexican international was on the move again.

Villarreal presented Giovani on July 18 after a nearly $8 million deal was reached with Mallorca. In 2 league games so far this season, Gio has 2 goals and an assist for the Yellow Submarine while Aquino assisted dos Santos against Almeria.

When a journalist asked club manager Marcelino García Toral whether he would play Giovani on the right wing or inside behind a target forward, the Spanish manager replied that Giovani plays best as a 2nd striker and that the team already had quality wide players. That is a lesson Chepo de la Torre could use in the upcoming WCQ matches for Mexico.

Guardado

Andrés Guardado has been a staple for El Tri on the left side of the field for years. Since his transfer from Deportivo la Coruña to Valencia, Guardado has seen more and more time at leftback instead of his national team position at left wing. Last season he played in defense 17 times and only played in the midfield 8 times in La Liga. Despite being exposed at leftback by Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey and PSG in Champions League, Guardado did put in a man of the match worthy stalwart defensive effort against Barcelona last year.

Guardado has only played 12 minutes over Valencia's 2 matches this season while he recovers from injury. He suffered a sprained ankle and a minor knee injury during a preseason match against AC Milan at the end of July. Despite not being fully fit, Guardado was still called into the national team by Chepo de la Torre. He has a better chance to play against Honduras than Chicharito, but neither will be 100%.

Memo's Mini-novela

Guillermo Ochoa is a dedicated professional goalkeeper. When Club América refused to let him leave for Europe despite transfer bids well above his market value at the time, Memo continued to play week in-week out for the Águilas until his contract expired.

Since moving to AC Ajaccio in France, Ochoa has fought tooth and nail to keep the club above the relegation zone and, in doing so, has earned the club's Player of the Year award both seasons.

Memo must have the fixtures against PSG circled on his personal calendar because the Mexican goalkeeper always seems to put on a show against the Parisian club. Ajaccio faced PSG in their 2nd match of this season and have Ochoa to thank to earning a draw. Memo made 14 saves in that match and a number of them would make any goalkeeping highlight reels.

If you don't follow Ochoa, it might appear that he was playing out of his mind in order to limit Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi to just 1 goal. However, Ochoa routinely makes acrobatic saves and recovers well enough to make spectacular double saves with some regularity.

Controversy arose when Chepo went to the media with the story that Ochoa refused to accept the national team call-up if he couldn't get assurances that he would actually play. For several years there has been a pretty intense rivalry for the starting goalkeeper position between Ochoa and Cruz Azul's Jesús Corona. Corona isn't a poor goalkeeper and hasn't necessarily performed poorly with the national team but playing for a decent team in Liga MX does not stand up to the rigors of facing world class players in the French Ligue 1.

Ochoa did not want to interrupt his great league form by flying across the Atlantic Ocean just to sit on the bench. While his action may burn bridges with some Mexico fans (let's face it, most of those fans already didn't like him), Ochoa is focused on his club game and his rumored transfer to AC Milan.

Conclusions

This has been a crazy opening few weeks for the Mexican internationals playing in European leagues. Vela is one of the most in-form strikers on the continent, Ochoa continues to put together a very solid body of work, and Aquino will look to link up with Giovani during the next Villarreal game. Hopefully we can see Chicharito and Guardado fully recover from their injuries and see Héctor Herrera and Diego Reyes break into the first team at FC Porto soon.

Unfortunately for fans of Mexico, Vela and Ochoa will not be participating in the national team's crucial WCQ matches against Honduras and the United States. If Chepo shows the same flexibility he used in the friendly match against the Ivory Coast, Mexico's remaining European based stars may be able to get the results the team needs.

NEXT UP: September 6 – World Cup Qualifier: Mexico vs. Honduras, Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico. 6 p.m. EST, TBD.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
BRENDAN'S SPONSORS