Not in Mexico.
You have one round of fixtures, in which you play every other team once, and then there are playoffs – so you have to be good from the start. Otherwise, you’re left out, which is what happened to us at the Clausura – the second of the two tournaments that make up the league season in Mexico. We made a lot of changes and the team didn’t start well. Even so, we were just one win away from making the playoffs.
There was a lot of anxiety at Cruz Azul, because the team hadn’t been to a playoff for three years. They were even talking about a curse.
At the club, they would say: “Paco, you have to get the team into the playoffs and then try to do the best you can. If we can be champions, great – but the first goal is to get the team among the best eight.”
Fortunately, in the following Apertura – the first tournament of the season – we did start well, and we finished sixth. That gave us, at last, a ticket to the playoffs. We got América in the quarter finals – and we drew both legs, but they had finished above us in the regular league and so they went on to the next round.
Although we were eliminated, I believe we had done a great job; we had achieved the goals we set when I first arrived.
“In the summer, I play golf with Pep Guardiola. I love being with him. Even if he says only a couple of sentences, you learn something”
Maybe the most complicated thing to manage during my time in Mexico was the press. It was a lot more incisive and hurtful than in Spain.
I found that out on the very first day. Some interviews plunged to depths I never expected, but I knew that if I let my head go down, they would eat me alive.
At first, I got really cross with the press because they asked questions I considered offensive. Not only towards me, but also towards the club and my players. That’s why I believe the fans loved us so much. We wouldn’t let anybody stamp on the Cruz Azul image.
We had the odd clash with journalists, but in the end I even enjoyed the press conferences. In fact, there have been Mexican journalists who sent me messages when I signed for Rayo, to tell me they missed those times.
I know for sure that I would have stayed longer at Cruz Azul, because I knew the project there was only half-finished. But my family asked me to go back. It is the only time I’ve put family ahead of football.
Mexico is a door I’ve left open for the future, though.