Javier Hernandez, the Manchester United striker and easily the biggest name in Mexico, had just scored the most important goal of his life.
And Mexico’s World Cup campaign. Having rustled the Croatian net with his header from close range in Mexico’s final group game, ‘Chicharito’ had assured his country of a berth in the knock-outs to face his future United boss Louis van Gaal’s invincibles, Holland.
So, in celebration, he darted towards the herd of bibbed photographers behind the corner flag and slid down on his knees, perhaps knowing that the pose would make the front page of every Mexican newspaper the following day. Only, it didn’t, as almost every zooming lens was focussed solely at the other end of Arena Pernambuco.
There, on his belly, lay Miguel Herrera — a short, fat man dressed in an oversized suit — trying to breathe, yell and plant a kiss on his goalkeeper’s cheek all at once. Then he rose pink-faced, thrust out his pelvis for the benefit of the cameras and heaved his body back to his designated coaching spot in front of his dug-out.
Forget Mexico, Herrera’s pelvic-thrust made most front pages in Brazil — it would’ve made all had Brazil not qualified on the very day. ‘Cara — Copa do Mundo’ read one headline, roughly translated as ‘Face of the World Cup’. Another paid tribute to his never-say-die personality with a Mexican word. ‘GUERRERO’, it said in bold letters. In English, guerrero means warrior.
The warrior’s identity
In Mexican popular art, the warrior is supposed to be a faceless man, a masked crusader, who veils his emotions in silver foil till the day he dies. Sometimes, even after that. As a sign of ultimate respect, the best luchadors are lowered into their coffins with their face-covers still tightly knotted to the back of their lifeless skulls.
That mask is their identity, a protector of their soul — one that is only shamefully removed in public when a warrior falls from grace. In late 2013, perhaps to atone for his past sins — he admits to committing plenty, such as head-butting Honduras’ Dolmo Flores and faking injury himself — Herrera’s face was publicly revealed to Mexico. The country is said to have cringed at first sight.
The face was square, chunky and symbolised pure failure. Herrera, 46, was once a national footballer with limited success. Now, he had the unenviable task of lifting El Tri — Mexico’s national side — from the depths of disgrace and into the World Cup at the fag end of a woeful qualifying campaign.
Few gave him a chance. Not when his three predecessors — Jose Manuel de la Torre, Luis Fernando Tena and Victor Manuel Vucetich (in chronological order) — had failed and been fired continued…