Juan Carlos Osorio has long been linked with the vacant Mexico head coaching position. Now, per reports out of Mexico and Brazil, he will be the next manager of El Tri.
It has been a long process, with Osorio increasingly appearing apologetic in public statements to the press. Indeed, on Monday, in comments reported by ESPN FC, JCO offered a simple apology to fans of the team he is currently coaching, Brazilian club Sao Paulo FC:
"First I want to publicly apologize to all those connected with Sao Paulo for my having involuntarily dragged out my decision. I want to apologize to the fans, for whom I have great respect and to whom I am very grateful."
He said in that interview that he would have a decision by Wednesday, but the decision has reportedly been taken. As reported by Brazilian outlet Globo, Mexico's Univision took the admirably proactive step of cornering Osorio's assistant at Sao Paulo, Milton Cruz, who effectively confirmed the appointment:
I know he did a lot to be able to stay here longer, to finish the year with the team, but unfortunately we know the need of Mexico for it to go because it has important qualifying matches of the World Cup and also has this game against the United States - revealed.
EXCLUSIVA: Milton Cruz (Gerente Deportivo Sao Paulo), confirmó a @_ericklo que Osorio se despide el miércoles pic.twitter.com/R9mQvbY8t9— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) October 5, 2015
Further confirmation arrived with remarks provided by Sao Paulo's veteran 'keeper Rogerio Ceni. As reported by Siete24:
It seems to be a matter of time before Osorio comes to the Mexican national team.
Rumors linking the Colombian tactician to El Tri date back to this summer, though the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) reportedly dallied with Marcelo Bielsa and Jurgen Klopp along the way. Osorio, for his part, has been wrestling with the increasingly solid form of Sao Paulo, which has lost just twice in its last 12 games. The club is in the semifinals of the Copa do Brasil, and is also currently fifth in the Brazilian top flight. Winning the Cup or finishing top four in the league would bring qualification for the 2016 Copa Libertadores.
Hence Osorio's desire to stay with Sao Paulo until December, by which time both tournaments will be concluded.
But, as referenced by Cruz, Mexico is understandably keen to have a full-time head coach in place for the start of its World Cup qualifying campaign in November.
Osorio's appointment will likely be a source of some surprise to fans who follow Liga MX or MLS, or both. JCO's tenure with the New York Red Bulls is generally described as one of the lowest points in the club's history: he almost missed the playoffs in 2008, his first season in charge, and guided the team to dead last in the league in 2009 (leaving in August, with the task of not finishing last effectively irretrievable).
Nor was his reputation at RBNY helped by an often baffling obsession with principles of squad rotation that led him to not just shuffle starting lineups incessantly, but also saw individual players cycled through an unsettling number of tactical roles. He remains perhaps the least-missed coach in the history of the club.
But he also took RBNY to its first MLS Cup final, in 2008. And he was on Octavio Zambrano's staff in 2000, when the MetroStars won the Eastern Conference for the first time (and only time, until Osorio's replacement, Hans Backe repeated the trick in 2010).
Still, Osorio's record in MLS is at best modest, salvaged from total catastrophe by that 2008 run to the MLS Cup final and a respectable stint in Chicago. He had a similarly unimpressive run with Puebla in Mexico, lasting just 11 games - and not fondly remembered. Hugo Fernandez, sporting director of Puebla during Osorio's brief association with the club in 2012, described his former colleague as "dishonest and deceitful" when asked about the rumored desire of FMF to make JCO head coach of El Tri.
Essentially, fans all over North America will greet the news of this appointment as a bad joke, and further evidence of the incompetence of Mexico's national team administrators.
It is safe to say, however, that FMF is not dwelling on Osorio's previous managerial work on this continent. It is in South America where he has made his name and proven the potential of his idiosyncratic tactical ideas. He won a league title in Colombia with Once Caldas in 2010, the season after he left RBNY. He also took the team to the quarterfinals of the 2011 Copa Libertadores, losing to eventual champion, Santos.
And when things didn't work out in Mexico, he returned home again, took over coaching Atletico Nacional (and reunited with Juan Pablo Angel) and won three consecutive league titles and three Cups. And he brought the team to the final of the 2014 Copa Sudamericana (beating current employer, Sao Paulo, in the semifinals).
He didn't change his ways in Colombia. The tactical approach that so often infuriated and perplexed RBNY fans is simply, it would seem, better suited to South American soccer than MLS. Or perhaps he just got better at implementing those ideas. A Guardian report stated Osorio had never fielded the same starting lineup for consecutive games in over 200 games at Atletico Nacional. And he won six major trophies in three years.
That is why Osorio got a shot at managing one of the bigger clubs in Brazilian soccer, and it is presumably why FMF has come calling.
Whether Osorio is cut out for working in the seemingly fractious and volatile environment that surrounds El Tri remains to be seen.