Three years after declining an opportunity to become head coach of the Mexican national team for family reasons, Victor Manuel Vucetich was named to the post on Thursday, tasked to rescue El Tri from a dire World Cup qualifying predicament.
"Vucetich knows the important moment we're going through and he's accepting this challenge," Mexican federation president Justino Compeán said at a press conference held at the Mexican national team training center. "We are sure that with his experience, dedication and professionalism he'll bring us forward. Mexico will be in Brazil 2014."
Vucetich replaces José Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, who was let go before Tuesday's 2-0 loss to the United States, a result which left Mexico in fifth place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings, three points behind Honduras for the third and final World Cup berth. The USMNT and Costa Rica have clinched the other two spots. The fourth-place team will face New Zealand in a home-and-home playoff for a spot in Brazil 2014.
The 58-year-old Vucetich will be in charge of Mexico for their two final CONCACAF qualifiers next month, at home against Panama and away to Costa Rica. His long-term future will be determined after those matches, according to Héctor González Iñárritu, who will remain in his position as national team director despite rumors of his resignation.
"For me, this is a personal challenge and something that I'm missing as a coach," said Vucetich, who also revealed the names of his entire technical staff at the event. "And even though it's a critical situation, [Mexican] soccer has given a lot to me and this is a moment that I can also give back from what it has given me.
"Yes it's the most important challenge of my career, without a doubt."
Vucetich has been coaching in the Mexican soccer ranks since 1990, and MLS fans will be most familiar from his days in charge of Monterrey in the CONCACAF Champions League. Monterrey teams under Vucetich topped Real Salt Lake in the 2010-11 CCL finals and then defeated the LA Galaxy in the semifinals earlier this year.
He immediately identified the two areas that he'll have to address: lifting the mental state of the team and solving the lack of goal-scoring. And he says that his player selections will go a long way to fixing the issues plaguing El Tri.
"The mental aspect is something that even from the outside, on television, we're aware there is a certain fear [in the team] to risk," Vucetich said. "And this is the main problem we have to face and we'll find the ways and mechanisms to break this mental state.
"The mental aspect is the most important aspect," Vucetich continued. "We'll pick the players who don't have this mental block and who are in great physical form."
Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela and Ajaccio goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa are two Mexican players experiencing particular fine form with their European club teams, and yet they have not responded to recent call-ups from de la Torre. Vucetich said he will be extending the olive branch.
"We'll talk to them. We have to contact them to know their position," he said. "Those players who are committed and are in their best form are the elements that we need to participate with the national team."
Vucetich said his first task will be to review videos for the rest of the week. Then, in an unconventional move that has the backing of Mexican club presidents, Vucetich also indicated he will be calling up domestic players for camps that will be held between Monday and Wednesday in the two weeks leading up to the qualifiers.
But drastic times require drastic measures. And if there's anyone who is qualified for the job it's Vucetich, who has earned the nickname "King Midas" in Mexican soccer circles for his ability to turn around bad teams over the years.
"Hopefully this hot potato turns into a gold potato," Vucetich said. "But I consider that what we have to do is to work. And not commit errors. We have no margin for error."