Monterrey manager Antonio Mohamed continues to add to his Liga MX legacy
Antonio "Turco" Mohamed arrived to Mexico in 1993. At the time, Mohamed came to Mexico to play for Toros Neza, and it was there where he lived his best playing years. Mohamed, a potent midfielder, dominated the league's assist department and had a good right-foot shot that allowed him to score plenty of free-kick goals. After his time at Toros Neza, Mohamed went on to play for Monterrey, Marte, Irapuato, Atlante, Celaya and Zacatepec. He's an Argentine football personality, who has lived most of his life in Mexico and made a well-respected career in the Mexican game. In the upcoming hours, he's going to live a moment that will mark him for a lifetime and will begin to shape the future that awaits him.
In the 1997 Verano season, Toros Neza, with Mohamed captaining them, reached the final where they met Chivas. El Rebano Sagrado was coached by Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti, Tigres' current manager and the man that will try to prevent Mohamed from winning the league title with Monterrey. That Toros Neza team, which was coached by Enrique "Ojitos" Meza, included players like Miguel "Piojo" Herrera, Rodrigo "Pony" Ruiz and Guillermo Vazquez Jr., all of whom have led successful coaching careers in Mexico's top flight. Ferretti's Chivas went on to defeat Toros Neza 7-2 on aggregate; it was a battering that up to this day still is a topic of conversation in Mexican football.
Toros Neza, a team that no longer exists, was a source of pride to the town of Nezahualcoyotl. The fans that fondly remember the club like to recall that their team was one that would either win 4-0 or lose 4-0, there was no middle ground. The club's players always demonstrated a serious conviction to put on a show, and immersed in that moment of craze and joy was Mohamed, who in the 1997 Verano final, colored his hair with the Mexican flag colors: green, red and white.
That exuberance Mohamed showed as a player still happens today. Now as a manager, he's more reserved, but he likes to show off his shiny sunglasses every time he has chance, and his suits tend to be among the best that are paraded in Liga MX. His shoes have detailed designs like the cleats he once wore.
The spotlight will follow him in the next hours, as he sets to become only the fifth manager in Mexican football history to win leagues titles with at least three different clubs. That selected club includes: Ignacio Trelles, Ferretti, Victor Manuel Vucetich and Manuel Lapuente.
"We won all four Liguilla games," said Mohamed after Monterrey eliminated Morelia in the semifinals. "We scored a lot of goals and conceded few, but like I told you a week ago [after eliminating Atlas], 'Everything that took place is already part of the past; it's useless if we don't win the title.'"
Mohamed's Monterrey has put on a show since the start of the Apertura. In the upcoming days, Rayados could cap off a fantastic season by winning both the league and cup, something which was achieved by Chivas last season. The authority they showed in the regular season, where they scored 29 goals and conceded 12, has also been shown in the Liguilla, where they've netted 11 times and conceded only twice. Striker Rogelio Funes Mori has already scored six goals in the playoffs, and if he scores three in the final series against Tigres, he would tie Jared Borgetti as the striker with most goals in a Liguilla edition since the short-season format was established.
After coaching Mexican clubs such as Zacatepec, Morelia, Queretaro, Chiapas, Veracruz, Tijuana, Club America and Monterrey, Mohamed has built one of the most complete coaching resumes in the country, and he's only 47-years-old. In Mexico, he's been at the bottom, but he's also been at the top. Perhaps one of his most memorable moments in Mexico was when his America beat Ferretti's Tigres in the 2014 Apertura final.
However, winning the league title with Monterrey will have a different meaning for Mohamed because he played for the club and lived times when the club was nowhere near the best sides in the country. Nowadays, the tables have turned and there's a unanimous opinion across the country that sets Monterrey and Tigres apart as the best clubs in Liga MX.
Mohamed is one of Diego "Cholo" Simeone's childhood friends. They have known each other since they were between eight and nine years old. There's a mutual admiration they both share, and whenever there's a chance, Mohamed and Simeone call each other to check on how each is doing at their respective clubs.
When the 2018 Clausura comes along, Mohamed would have been Monterrey's manager for three years. Simeone has been at Atleti since Dec. 2011 and has set the club at the top of Europe, playing a distinguished direct style of football that has been lethal against teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich. It wouldn't be crazy to suggest that Mohamed sees his time at Monterrey as a possibility to make history at the club by winning titles and create an era that will be hard to repeat, similar to what his great friend, Simeone, has achieved at Atleti.
But Mohamed, as "Piojo" Herrera suggested on Fox Deportes' "Ultima Palabra," is a firm candidate to become Mexico's national team manager if Juan Carlos Osorio leaves the post after next year's World Cup. Mohamed's El Tri chances will only increase if Monterrey beats Tigres in this week's final.
It's true, though, that Monterrey has a heavily foreign-based squad, and that the last Mexican footballer to score a league goal for Monterrey happened on April 22, 2017, when center-back Cesar Montes scored in a Clasico Regio match against Tigres, but as Herrera noted in the Ultima Palabra interview, he's a coach who knows the ins and outs of the Mexican game.
But what does Mohamed want? Does he want to continue this run with Monterrey and compete for more league titles? What if a European club offer comes along, would that lure him to leave Mexico? If El Tri comes knocking at his door, will he immediately accept, or will he be hesitant to accept, knowing that the pressure in El Tri's manager seat is always high?
One thing is for sure, though, Mohamed could ultimately become the first manager "made in Liga MX" to have a shot for immense success abroad. In 2010, he led Independiente to a Copa Sudamericana, and in the future, he has the potential to lead a club to Copa Libertadores success. He almost did it with Xolos in the 2013 Copa Libertadores, where they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Monterrey plays a style that relates to Mohamed's persona; the team gives a spectacle just like he did when he was a player. However, like he says, the offensive and defensive stats will be pointless if Monterrey can't defeat Tigres in this historic Clasico Regio final.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.