Bora Milutinovic, the coach from Yugoslavia who helped the United States achieve international soccer respectability only to be discarded after World Cup ’94, was rehired Friday as Mexico’s national team coach.
The move by Mexico’s soccer federation set up the intriguing prospect of Milutinovic coaching against the American players he developed and against Steve Sampson, his former assistant and now the U.S. coach.
The first competitive tournament in which the United States and Mexico are likely to meet is the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the regional championship for North and Central American and Caribbean countries, in Southern California in January.
More important, however, is the qualifying tournament for the 1998 World Cup in France. Three countries from the CONCACAF region will qualify, with the U.S. and Mexican teams almost certain to face each other in the second or third round late next year or early in 1997.
Milutinovic, who coached Mexico into the quarterfinals of the 1986 World Cup and Costa Rica and the United States into the second round of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, respectively, signed a contract through 1998.
His decision to accept the Mexican federation’s offer, terms of which were not disclosed, was surprising only in that he replaced his longtime friend, Miguel Mejia Baron, who was fired earlier this month after Mexico had a series of bad results.
Among those were a 4-0 defeat to the United States in U.S. Cup ’95 and a penalty-kick loss to the Americans in the quarterfinals of the America Cup in Uruguay.
Milutinovic, who is widely popular among the media and fans in Mexico and who, along with his Mexican wife, Mari Carmen, owns a home in Mexico City, had been hesitant to take over from Mejia Baron, not wanting to benefit from his friend’s ouster.
In the end, though, he was the federation’s first choice, ahead of a handful of other candidates, including former Dutch national team coach Leo Beenhakker; Manuel Lapuente, who was fired as Mexico’s coach the day after it lost to the United States under Milutinovic in the 1991 Gold Cup; Argentina’s Ricardo Antonio Lavolpe, and Mexico’s Alberto Guerra and Victor Manuel Vucetich.
The nine-member selection committee, headed by Enrique Borja, had only to look at Milutinovic’s record of 29 victories, 15 ties and only seven defeats in international matches during his first tenure as Mexico’s coach between 1983 and ’86 to make its decision.
“I come with a lot of desire to work again in Mexican football,” Milutinovic said in Mexico City after his selection was announced.