Ignacio Ambriz under pressure in crucial year at Club America
This is Club America's centennial year and it is important Liga MX's most glamorous institution entertains.
Ideally, there would be at least one trophy to celebrate but 2016 has been dismal so far, bringing mounting speculation about the future of head coach Ignacio Ambriz.
The fallout from Las Aguilas' disastrous performance in Japan at the Club World Cup, where they lost to China's Guangzhou Evergrande FC, and the embarrassing home defeat to Pumas in the Apertura 2015 semifinal first leg in the Estadio Azteca ratcheted up the pressure on Ambriz before the year had even begun.
The 50-year-old had to come out swinging in 2016 and put the end of last year to the back of everyone's mind. Instead, his team badly struggled for creativity last Saturday in the Estadio Azteca in their Clausura opener against a limited Puebla and ended up drawing 0-0. Ahead of the trip to Atlas in the Estadio Jalisco next Saturday, his job could be on the line if Las Aguilas don't show drastic improvement.
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Ambriz is adamant that America will progress, but he needs results quickly with rumors already linking other managers with his job. And in this centennial year, in which the club is expected to splash out on at least one really big-name signing -- Radamel Falcao, according to one report -- it could be that America choose to put in a well-known head coach that can earn the respect of a squad that has proven difficult to manage.
There certainly isn't a shortage of top quality candidates. One name already linked to Ambriz's position is Julen Lopetegui, who guided Porto to the Champions League quarterfinals last season and was let go by the Portuguese club last week despite a run of just one loss in 33 league matches.
Lopetegui's Porto played attractive soccer and he has a degree of knowledge of Mexico after working with Porto players Miguel Layun, Hector Herrera and Jesus "Tecatito" Corona. At 49, it may be a suitable challenge, after spending most his career developing youth players at Real Madrid and the Spanish national team. There aren't many home stadiums in world soccer that are more emblematic and seeped in folklore as the Estadio Azteca and Club America can match the wages of most La Liga clubs at present.
Another foreign option possibly on the market shortly is Jorge Sampaoli. The Argentine guided Chile to the Copa America last summer, plays attacking football and his exit from La Roja seems inevitable, even though America would face stiff competition from some top European sides.
If knocking reigning Liga MX champion Tigres off their perch is the goal, America sporting president Ricardo Pelaez (assuming he stays on if Ambriz exits) could do no better than looking at River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo. The 39-year-old won the 2015 Copa Libertadores after defeating Tigres in the final and captured the Copa Sudamericana the year before. Gallardo is considered one of the most talented young Latin American coaches and he is currently in preseason with River, although it is hard to think what more he can achieve with the Argentine giant.
The constant pressing, combined with knowing when to close a game out like in the Libertadores final first leg in Estadio Universitario, makes Gallardo the ideal candidate should America be able to pry him away from River's clutches. Of other potential foreign-based managers, Michael Laudrup is a legend who would command respect, while Pepe Mel has previously had interest from Mexico and has just been released by Real Betis. Joaquin Caparros has also expressed his admiration for Mexican soccer.
Closer to home, there are also some intriguing potential candidates. Victor Manuel Vucetich already has a job at Queretaro, but his contract runs out after this Clausura and would surely have his head turned by the possibility of managing one of Mexico's "big four" for the first time, especially considering the stage of his career he is at and the resources Club America offers.
As coaches go, Vucetich is arguably the best guarantee of success in the Mexican game. Along the same lines, Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre -- sacked from Chivas in September 2015 -- has previously refused to rule out taking over at Las Aguilas, despite his history with Guadalajara. His hiring probably wouldn't be very popular with Club America fans, but De la Torre's record in Liga MX was almost immaculate from his time at Toluca and his first stint with Chivas. The 50-year-old's spell with the national team was also largely successful, until the wheels fell off in 2013.
With "Chepo" having previously been an assistant at the Mexico City club, you couldn't blame De la Torre for perhaps wanting to extract a bit of revenge on Chivas by taking over Las Aguilas. He is a proven winner.
Former Club America player Javier Aguirre's name may have been tarnished in some peoples' eyes after the allegation the two-time national team coach was involved in match-fixing earlier in his career in Spain, but he remains the Mexican manager with by far the most experience outside the country.
Currently in the United Arab Emirates with Al-Wahda, following his dismissal from Japan's national team after the match-fixing investigation, Aguirre would surely be tempted by a move back to his homeland, where he hasn't managed in the first division since his glory days with Pachuca back at the turn of the last century.
If it was down squarely to America fans, the shortlist for any possible head coaching vacancy would likely start and end with one name: Miguel "El Piojo" Herrera, although it appears unlikely he would ditch Club Tijuana after only taking over officially in December.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.