Mexico unveiled Argentine manager Gerardo 'Tata' Martino as the new coach of the national team on Monday, as El Tri begin a new push to achieve the goal that has eluded them for more than three decades: the World Cup quarter-finals.
Martino, who has managed Barcelona and Atlanta United as well as the Argentine and Paraguayan national teams, announced he had accepted the job at a press conference in Mexico City, ending weeks of speculation that he had been tapped to succeed Colombia's Juan Carlos Osorio.
The man nicknamed "Tata" cut straight to the chase in discussing his mission for El Tri: end the "quarter-finals curse" that has dogged the team for the past seven World Cups and reach the long-sought fifth match in Qatar in 2022.
"I'm getting onboard with the objective of playing in the fifth match of the World Cup. But before that, I want to put in place a system of play and a clear idea," he said. "We won't just magically arrive there."
"What I'm aspiring to do is to have a reliable team as soon as possible, a team that knows how to play," Martino said. "That is the ultimate pressure that we have now as a coaching staff."
"My commitment is to work with all my effort to make the Mexican team a bigger one," he said. "Mexico is one of the countries that have grown more in the last few years. To be able to systematically qualify to the second round in the World Cup. It's a sign of progress."
"I can't answer how is it that I will be able to reach the fifth game of a World Cup that is going to be played in four years and when we still have the qualifying rounds ahead of us," he added. "It's impossible to evaluate what will happen in four years when there is so much ahead of us."
Martino, 56, is coming off a storybook season in Major League Soccer in the United States, where he led Atlanta United to the MLS Cup title last month and was named coach of the year.
The Mexican Football Federation did not give details on its deal with Martino, but its president, Yon de Luisa, indicated the coach had been chosen to lead the team to Qatar.
"The spirit of the contract is that of the World Cup cycle of four years," he said. "Mexico has been consistent in being one of the best 16 teams in World Cups. We hope to be better than that in this process."
Mexico got off to a promising start at the 2018 World Cup, upsetting defending champions Germany 1-0 in their opening match, before bowing out with a 2-0 loss to Brazil in the round of 16.
That is the same stage they have exited every World Cup since 1994.
Mexico have brushed football greatness in the past – Olympic gold, a Confederations Cup title and 10 regional championships – but never made it past the World Cup quarter-finals, which they last reached in 1986.
The federation said it had interviewed 24 candidates before settling on Martino, who spent most of his playing career with Argentine side Newell's Old Boys in his native Rosario – a hometown he shares with Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi. There, Martino played under the man who became his football mentor, iconic coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Martino will make his debut with Mexico on March 22 in a friendly against Chile in San Diego, California. Mexico then face his old team, Paraguay, four days later in Santa Clara, California.
His first official matches will be the Gold Cup in June and July, where he will be tasked with defending Mexico's legacy as the most successful team in the history of the continental championship.