Ferretti matched Ignacio Trelles with seven Liga MX titles, with Nacho Ambriz’s side unable to beat Nahuel Guzman and send the match to extra time
Tuca Ferretti isn’t a man who smiles often.
The gruff coach is known for his tirades, for his sass and for his football. His clubs are known for defending, and that’s what Tigres did Sunday night. The coach engineered a scoreless draw in the second leg of the Liga MX final Sunday night, locking up a 1-0 aggregate win for Tigres. It put the seventh star on their shirt and the fifth title won under Ferretti.
Ferretti beamed, and with reason.
With five for Tigres, one at Chivas and one at Pumas, Ferretti has matched Ignacio Trelles as the coach with the most titles in Mexican soccer. Critics will point out Trelles achieved his seven in an era during which one champion was crowned each year.
But you only need to look at how good the team Tigres saw off was to understand how the game has changed in Mexico. Reinforcements arrive from all corners of the world now as teams look to make a quick run at a title. There is more competition than ever, and with that more pressure on the managers. More than half the teams in the league fired managers during the last five months. Ferretti has held on to his post for nine years. Of course, it’s easy to keep your job when you’re lifting as many trophies as the former midfielder has.
Unlike Ferretti, Leon may fade into history as teams that nearly won championships so often do. How often do people remember the 2007 New England Patriots or the 1996-97 Utah Jazz other than to point out that they were great teams that fell short in the final. This Leon team really was fantastic. It won more games in a row than any Mexican team in history. It played fun football, a departure from manager Nacho Ambriz’s previous clubs that often defended for their lives.
It resulted in 41 goals, though the cruelty was that they couldn’t find even one in the final – not even Sunday when just one goal would’ve sent the match into extra time. It was going to be tough once Angel Mena, the league’s leading scorer, left the first half with an injury. He’d had to do the same in the first leg, an enormous blow for a team that already had its forward, Jose Juan Macias, in Poland with the Mexico U-20 team.
Still, there was firepower that didn’t come through. Joel Campbell, Rubens Sambueza and Yairo Moreno knocked on the door but couldn’t burst it down to find the storybook ending they wanted for their superb season. The fans in Leon will always remember it, just as the players will remember the ovation the crowd gave them as they left the field second-best this week.
Of course, Tigres didn’t care about Leon’s story. They weren’t worried about how good Leon was during the regular season or how much the fans that packed the Nou Camp would’ve celebrated a Leon victory. They wanted their seventh title, and went out to get it.
Nahuel Guzman was the best player in the series, with the Tigres goalkeeper making five saves in the first leg and coming up big in the second with five more. The Tigres goalkeeper represented the difference in the teams. One knew exactly what it needed to do to win a title. This is the fourth title since the 2015 Apertura for the club, which has much of the same core from that team still in tact. Leon achieved success this regular season by blowing up what little remained of its bicampeonato team and refreshing the group. What it had in youth, however, it lacked in experience playing together with not even Luis Montes and Sambu’s vetern status overcoming Tigres’ cohesion.
“We’ve fought a lot to get this title. The results speak for themselves. We’re the team of the decade!” forward Enner Valencia said after the match. “This team is used to playing in finals, and we showed that.”
The experience starts at the top. Ferretti has weapons at his disposal other managers can only dream of. Up top, he has Andre-Pierre Gignac and a rotation of players behind the Frenchman who would start every match at nearly any other club in the Americas. At the back he has World Cup veteran Hugo Ayala and Francisco Meza, who slotted in ably with Carlos Salcedo, Ayala’s World Cup teammate and the best Mexican defender in Russia, fit only for a cameo in the second leg because of a knee injury.
Salcedo arriving from Eintracht Frankfurt before the season shows how badly the institution wanted to win a title. Needing a player to replace long-time captain Juninho, who retired, the club opened its wallet and spent big for the 25-year-old. He won what they hope will be the first of many trophies in the years to come. Salcedo wasn’t the only big move the club made. Guido Pizarro was brought back in after being sold to Sevilla and took up his role right back in the center of the midfield, next to Rafael Carioca.
Saying Ferretti’s team was defensive takes away a bit of those Tuca touches that made the difference. With Leon desperate for a goal late, Tuca used his fresh attackers to put a high press on Leon’s defenders who already were frantically looking to avoid a mistake and create chances.
Opposing fans may play the same type of game with Ferretti that European fans play with Pep Guardiola. ‘He has the best players in the league and the deepest squad. Of course he’s going to win titles!’
But it isn’t that easy. Someone still has to orchestrate the title run, cope with the injuries, draw up the game plan for both legs of the playoffs and keep the locker room happy in a squad in which every player is good enough to start.
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“It’s a shame about the criticism, but another manager couldn’t manage the egos like Tuca does,” Gignac said after the game.
Ferretti made mistakes this year, leaning on Gignac in league play rather than saving him for the Concacaf Champions League final. But he also showed he’s not too old and stubborn to learn from his mistakes. After uninspiring showings in the first two rounds of the postseason, Ferretti took Tigres back to its identity and looked on satisfied as his club kept the league’s best offense scoreless over 180 minutes.
Could another manager have done it? Maybe, but that’s not the point. Ferretti has done it, and in the process he’s etched his name into the history books.