world cup 2014

Miguel Herrera: Mexico’s soccer antihero

With his touchline antics and tactical nous, the coach has been one of the stars of the tournament

Miguel Herrera celebrates one of Mexico’s goals against Croatia. / Laurence Griffiths (Getty)

With his white shirt, shiny shoes and 90s-style slicked-back hair, Croatia coach Niko Kovac on Monday endured the failure of his team with the same composed expression that has accompanied him throughout the whole of the World Cup in Brazil.

Over on the other bench, Mexican coach Miguel “Piojo” Herrera, with his center parting dividing his half-mane of hair in two, waved his hands around during almost every move, raising his arms in the air like a ground controller on a runway, and rolling around with his players to celebrate the goals in his team’s 3-1 victory. “Kovac may be handsome but Piojo is someone you fall in love with,” read a joke going round on the social networks after the match. Herrera has all the requirements of an antihero in the vein of legendary Mexican star Cantinflas.

Back home El Tri’s victory over Croatia was greeted with the same passion that Herrera was doing nothing to hide in the technical area. In the birthplace of the ranchera, emotion is something in the public domain.

Herrera’s fame as a showman is being seen around the world. British newspaper The Guardian has written that the Mexican coach is turning into a new internet star. The images of Piojo – his nickname means “louse” in Spanish – celebrating his team’s goals with his mouth open and fists clenched overshadowed the performance of Brazil’s Neymar, who at the same time was becoming the tournament’s top scorer in the National Stadium in Brasilia.

Back home Mexico’s win was greeted with the same passion that Herrera was doing nothing to hide

The Wall Street Journal says the man who took charge of the Mexican national squad when things weren’t going well in qualifying for this tournament is the liveliest in Brazil. The Huffington Post went even further, calling him “The best thing in the World Cup.”

Herrera has the look of the clever kid on the block who might have turned out mediocre, but ended up capable of carving out a place for himself in the elite of his profession. If retired Mexican soccer star Hugo Sánchez dresses well, retains his athletic physique and talks with the seriousness of a land registrar, Herrera is a bizarre character. While the former Real Madrid forward graduated in dentistry, Herrera specialized as a dental hygienist. He wanted to have something to fall back on if soccer didn’t work out and so chose a subject where you “didn’t have to read much.” An old ad for a clothing brand in which Herrera appears semi-naked has served better as a source of jokes rather than piles of money.

Herrera grew up in Mexico City’s Colonia Narvarte neighborhood in the absence of his father, who abandoned the family. He would beat up anyone who dared make a joke about the subject. His mother, from whom he inherited his strong personality, put him to work as a boy packing bags in a supermarket. First as a player and now as a coach, he has always been careful to help those close to him, setting up restaurants and other businesses that are run by his sisters.

The star coach of this World Cup doesn’t just dazzle on the touchline, but also with his tactics. On Monday he kept the Croatians in check by betting on two forwards in the second half, a chess-like move that left the stylish Kovac with no response. On Sunday ruddy-cheeked Dutch coach Louis van Gaal has the mission of taking his team apart when Mexico takes on the Netherlands for a place in the quarterfinals. From the touchline, the lively louse will be waving his arms and doing everything he can to prevent that happening.

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