Mexico must shake off delays, off-pitch issues and focus on Argentina
CORDOBA, Argentina -- For any potential incoming Mexico manager combing through the domestic press and taking the temperature of the game in the North American country over recent weeks, the overall conclusion wouldn't be particularly positive.
Last week, the government's watchdog agency on monopolies began a formal investigation into Liga MX's transfer practices. That comes on top of the government tax authority's ongoing investigation into players signing "double contracts" with clubs.
Then there appears to be a kind of lingering hangover from the World Cup. The team has operated in a bunker-like menality during the subsequent international breaks with little access given to the traveling press.
And there are suspicions that at least part of the reason why Javier Hernandez, Hector Herrera, Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno haven't been called into the squad since Russia is because of friction over how the national team operates.
"Those that don't come will have their reasons," said defender Edson Alvarez in a news conference on Wednesday ahead of the first of two friendlies against Argentina. "They are people that maybe have had a long run [in the national team]. When they were starting I'm sure they didn't want to miss a call-up."
Even the news of the cancelation of next Monday's NFL game at Estadio Azteca due to the abysmal pitch conditions reflected badly on Mexican football, given that Club America and Cruz Azul -- two of Mexico's top clubs -- will be playing potentially championship-defining matches on it in a couple of weeks.
On top of that have come problems in Cordoba this week. Players endured nightmare journeys due to the poor weather and the team's training session on Tuesday took place in a local indoor gym because the bus carrying the team's equipment had broken down on route from Buenos Aires.
That wasn't actually the federation's fault, but still, the reports go out into the public and the actual details can get lost.
Finally, the search for a new head coach rumbles on. Quique Sanchez Flores is the latest to apparently turn down the possibility and Gerardo "Tata" Martino remains the frontrunner.
"Objectives? At the moment we don't know even know who our coach is going to be," said Alvarez.
The statement kind of summed it all up: The future of the Mexican national team is far from clear.
The great hope is that the gradual generational change will lead to a group of players with more quality -- and a chance to change the narrative slightly on the dismal last few weeks and put a different spin on the side's future.
That fresh and more positive take suggests that the upcoming generations are hungrier, mentally stronger and just need the right kind of guidance, at both national team and club level, to supersede the generations before them.
Interim boss Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti is likely to play something close to the strongest team at his disposal on Friday, with a back four expected and a starting XI looking something like the following in a 4-2-3-1 formation: Guillermo Ochoa, Miguel Layun, Jesus Gallardo, Miguel Layun, Nestor Araujo, Diego Reyes, Jesus Duenas, Erick Gutierrez, Javier Aquino, Isaac Brizuela, Marco Fabian and Raul Jimenez.
A win against Argentina at Cordoba's Estadio Mario Kempes, or even a positive display, would emboldened the whole program.
"We've shown that in adversity, when we are the underdogs, we step up," Alvarez said. "I like these challenges ... what better way to show our quality than now, against a great team in front of their fans? We all want to play the game already."
The federation will be hoping the same, especially if Martino isn't as sown up for the national team job as has been reported.
The opposition shouldn't be lacking motivation. Argentina is in a similar place to Mexico, without a permanent head coach and its star names like Lionel Messi, but interim coach Lionel Scaloni has heard positive noises from the Argentine federation (AFA) about potentially continuing in the job until next summer's Copa America.
Momentum for that to happen will only come from Argentina performing well in this double-header of friendlies.
It might not seem like it on paper, but there is plenty at stake for both sides, especially for Mexico.