Palencia heads next wave of Mexico's best and brightest young managers
Mexico hasn't traditionally been a hotbed for coaching talent. The only coach to really enjoy success and establish himself outside of the country is current Al-Wahda FC boss Javier Aguirre. Even at home, it is difficult for domestic managers to succeed; only eight of 18 Liga MX coaches are from Mexico.
With the short-term mentality of many ownership groups in Liga MX -- just six of the current crop of coaches have been in their positions for more than year -- and the way established bosses are seemingly recycled between clubs, it isn't easy to keep a job and plan over the long term, even after you get a foot in the door.
Nevertheless, there are a few young and talented managers who are well-placed to challenge the established order.
Francisco "Paco" Palencia | Pumas | 43
Not every coach gets a welcome message from rock band Kiss when they take their first job, but then "Paco" Palencia isn't just any coach. An emblematic figure in Mexican soccer, the long black hair is still there, but it is swept neatly back these days and Palencia appears to have stopped painting his fingernails. While his looks used to steal headlines, it is now his burgeoning managerial career that has people talking.
The laidback Palencia has taken to the first division with ease in his first nine months, meshing an efficient playing style while also balancing the university club's budget and promoting youth teamers in line with Pumas' traditional philosophy. Using a 4-2-3-1 formation, Palencia's team is more orderly and direct than most in Liga MX; Pumas have played the highest percentage of long balls this season. And with the rise of winger Jesus Gallardo and the instant impact of striker Nico Castillo, Palencia's side is in the Clausura title hunt.
"He's spent a lot of years [in Spain] watching games, training sessions, learning over there and he's brought a lot of things," said Pumas' Spanish midfielder Abraham Gonzalez. "It is normal that people say that he's a coach without experience, but looking at the cases of [Pep] Guardiola and Luis Enrique, people also said that they were coaches without experience and now look."
Palencia's record reads 11 wins, six draws and nine losses from his first 26 Liga MX games. A long and successful career should beckon.
Jaime Lozano | Queretaro | 37
At the age of 27, then-Tigres player Lozano decided he wanted to be a coach, inspired by former Club America manager Mario Carrillo. But instead of going the usual route of using contacts to open doors after he retired from his playing career, Lozano went over to Spain to study FC Barcelona's methodology. Upon returning to Mexico, he started to work his way up the Queretaro youth system, winning the 2016 Clausura at the Under-20 level.
When Victor Manuel Vucetich left Queretaro in late January, Lozano was surprisingly promoted and handed a contract that takes him up to the end of 2017. The son of actors and someone who has campaigned for awareness about autism, Lozano has made a strong initial impression at Gallos Blancos, with the team winning three and drawing once in his first four games in charge.
Lozano's philosophy is short passing, possession-based football and creating numeric superiority around the ball. He likes players who think about the game and, crucially, Lozano seems to be at a good club. Queretaro has recently opened a new training center for young players and has become one of the more serious Liga MX institutions.
Eduardo Fentanes | Atlante | 39
Fentanes started his coaching journey aged 17 and became the youngest Mexican first-team head coach in the history of Liga MX when he managed Puebla back in 2010. He's since gone on to coach San Luis, Dorados de Sinaloa and now Atlante.
Fentanes was never a professional player. Instead, he took the Jose Mourinho route and meticulously studied the game and his profession, learning from the likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson, Ricardo La Volpe and Cesar Farias and as a part of the coaching staff installed at Chivas by the late Johan Cruyff.
If there is one word that shines through when you hear Fentanes talk, it is preparedness. With his modern methodology, adherence to statistical analysis and a firm ambition to manage outside of Mexico, Fentanes is well set to return quickly to Liga MX, but he first needs to succeed with Atlante in Ascenso MX.
Marcelo Michel Leano | Coras | 30
Leano is another who was not a professional player, but he is one of the more fascinating figures in the Mexican game.
Listen to him speak and you may hear quotes from Cesar Luis Menotti -- Leano's mentor -- Steve Jobs or Jorge Valdano. He may discuss the literature of Jorge Luis Borges or Pablo Neruda, or explain his desire to see a team without a coach in which the players decide about training sessions, what to eat and when to go out. It's unlikely to be boring.
Leano believes in attacking football, in empowering the player and in coaches like Guardiola, Menotti and Juan Manuel Lillo. The Guadalajara native only turned 30 last week and is clearly full of ideals and ambition.
"I'm going to manage in Europe and the national team," he has said on a number of occasions.
Nevertheless, these are early days for Leano and he'll be well aware that he still needs to back up the elevated rhetoric with a sustained period of positive results.
Ramon Morales | Unemployed | 41
The Chivas legend found success in the Guadalajara club's youth system and looked and talked the part when he came in as the head coach on an interim basis after the resignation of Carlos Bustos. It was thought that he was being groomed for the top job in a Guardiola-esque type ascent, at least until Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre was fired in late 2015 and Morales was only appointed as an interim before returning to become the Under-20 coach.
A manager you can imagine players would respect and who demands absolute commitment, Morales had a brief stint with Coras in the 2016 Apertura, but is now looking for an opportunity to further his managerial career. It promises to be an interesting next step.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.