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Jun 26, 2014

Social media master Miguel Herrera

Hats Off To Herrera
Miguel Herrera's goal celebrations have captured worldwide attention and fascination.

When I said before that Miguel Herrera was the king of social media at the World Cup, I still didn't imagine that his persona would lend itself to a worldwide phenomenon. Yet that's exactly what has taken place. Herrera is now a master of the social media universe.

If there are any neutral fans left in the World Cup, they are now looking Mexico's way partly because Herrera, known by his nickname, Piojo, has become the lovable unofficial mascot of the World Cup. He is closing in on a million followers on Twitter -- unheard of for any coach.

Some coaches might grouse that clips of them celebrating goals are undignified, but Herrera has no problem with this. If anything, he revels in it. One of his most recent tweets was a picture of him in midjump and mid-fist pump. Herrera added a message to it, saying, "My celebration is out of control - and yours? Send me a picture of yours using the hashtag #PiojoFestejo."

It's become one of the top hashtags on Twitter.

Social media is a way that Herrera can both distract his players from the pressure of the World Cup and the expectations of the fervent fans of Mexico, and also control the image of the team, to a certain extent. With Herrera and his players constantly sending out pictures of players and staff looking happy, excited and confident, that's what the world believes this squad to be.

-Rafael Ramos: Miguel Herrera, man of a thousand faces

It's such an 180 degree turn from a few months ago, when the team was anxious, insecure and dispirited. The moment that Mexico actually made the qualification playoff -- when Graham Zusi scored for the USA to snatch away the points that Panama had over Mexico -- Javier Hernandez allowed himself a little moment of celebration on the sidelines, relieved that El Tri's World Cup chance wasn't dead yet. He was roundly criticized by the Mexican media. It was as if El Tri wasn't even allowed to be happy for their good fortune. Some even dared to suggest Mexico didn't deserve to go to the World Cup. Most expected the team to bow out meekly, shuffling back shamefully to Mexico.

Now, however, public emotional displays are all the rage. If not for the bite by Uruguay's Luis Suarez, Herrera's happiness would be the story of this World Cup thus far.

The social media takeover isn't all about positive vibes for the team, though. That's important and useful, but since the World Cup started, Herrera has been masterful at using the Internet to marshall the 12th man of the team -- the fans.

Even before the team faced off against Brazil in the group stage, Herrera had promoted a bet with the Twitter account of the Brazilian national team that the Mexican national team Twitter account would have more followers at kickoff time. Perhaps the host country was overconfident, sure that their larger population numbers would translate to an easy victory. Instead, Mexico won, and even though the match itself between Brazil and El Tri was a draw, it felt like a victory, as well. Mexico fans in the stadium made their presence known, again overcoming smaller overall numbers with their passionate cheers.

Before the final group stage game, Herrera, after his usual posting of lineup plans on his Twitter account, had a specific request for El Tri fans. He asked them to come together and sing the national anthem "like never before." Indeed, the players, supporters and training staff all sang the words in a glorious unison, perhaps providing the squad with the extra bit of inspiration needed to overcome Croatia.

On a personal level, the notoriety might see Herrera go on to greater things after this World Cup. It's already infamous that he makes so little compared with other coaches in the tournament. Offers could come in from abroad from owners enamored with his enthusiastic approach.

But for now, Herrera is concentrated on Mexico and helping the squad overcome the Dutch in the round of 16. He's sure to invite fans for the ride, and as ever, his focus is on victory.

Andrea Canales

Andrea Canales has covered soccer for over a decade and has loved the beautiful game most of her life. She has watched games in Azteca, interviewed nine El Tri coaches and covered three World Cups. She lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.