Juan Carlos Osorio wasn’t even a year into his stint as coach of Mexico’s national team when fickle fans began calling for him to be fired.
Most new coaches get a honeymoon period. Osorio went straight from the altar to divorce court.
So after Mexico’s stunning 1-0 upset of defending champion Germany on Sunday in their World Cup opener, one of the country’s most important victories in at least a decade, players weren’t shy about speaking up for the coach.
“We should dedicate this victory to Osorio,” Rafa Marquez, the team’s captain, said in Spanish.
Said Miguel Layun: “Osorio has had to deal with a lot of things. But he has kept working.”
Layun was one of several Mexican players who sobbed when the game ended.
“The tears,” he said, “were because we had a lot of emotions.”
If the only place Osorio is embraced is in the locker room, he’s fine with that. But even the most bitter critic would have to concede his brilliance against Germany.
Germany prepared for the World Cup by crunching data with state-of-the-art analytics software and having players carry around devices that provide performance feedback. The coaching staff consults tablets during games.
Osorio uses multicolored pens to jot things in a notebook that is never far from his side. And on Sunday the pen was mightier than the USB cord.
“The Mexicans used different tactics than we expected, that we partly didn’t have the means to deal with,” coach Joachim Low, whose team looked slow and old, said through an interpreter.
Osorio, 57, took the Mexico job in part to fulfill a lifelong dream of coaching in a World Cup, and he went into it knowing he faced an uphill battle. Only two of the previous 12 national team coaches were not Mexican and that made Osorio, a Colombian, an outsider.
His cerebral approach and his penchant for rotating players in and out of a lineup that changed 48 times in his first 48 games were also at odds with past coaches.
Osorio will binge-watch games from his vast video collection, searching for ideas and flaws. He toured Europe last winter, quizzing coaches, former players, journalists, anyone who would give him a minute to talk soccer. That visit convinced Osorio to add a masseur, a chiropractor, a therapist and a sleep coach to his staff.
In conversation, he is just as likely to opine on the workings of the frontal lobe or societal norms in Iceland as he is to talk about the offside trap.
“I call him, in a way, like a genius because they live in a completely different world than ourselves,” Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico’s all-time leading scorer, said last month. “He has a lot of knowledge that, even if you can speak five minutes with him about one game or one player, he gives you the way he sees football and the way he sees that player and it’s knowledge that you can learn if you want.”
Even the players didn’t know what to think of their coach at first. But Osorio’s loyalty and honesty won them over.
Consider Marquez. If the last year has been a rough one for Osorio, it has been even tougher for Marquez.
In August, the U.S. Treasury Department accused Marquez of helping a drug kingpin, freezing his bank accounts and forbidding U.S. companies from doing business with him, which is why the kit he wears for training in Russia has been stripped of the sponsor logos his teammates wear.
In the wake of the accusations some friends stopped calling him; others refused to take his calls.
But Osorio never wavered, making Marquez the captain and sending him on for the final minutes against Germany, allowing him to tie a record by appearing in his fifth World Cup.
“A lot of things have been said about him. Nobody trusted him except us,” said Marquez, who has seen 16 coaches come and go in his career with the national team. “I appreciate him putting me in that list and letting me play another World Cup.”
Yet, after the final World Cup warmup game in Mexico, the fans sent the team off not with cheers but with chants of “Fuera Osorio” — “Fire Osorio,” a plea that has become ubiquitous on social media — ringing in their ears.
So the team circled the wagons, ignored the haters and leaned on one another, their coach included.
“There were so many people criticizing, we went through a lot of stuff,” said goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who made nine saves against Germany. “But we did things for ourselves.”
Like beat Germany.