Back in the good ol’ days, they probably just booed, or wrote letters to the editor or something. Now, angry fans take to Twitter, and in a world where even the most detached oligarchs can’t resist scrolling through their timelines, those irreverent 140-word protests can actually carry real weight.
Lately, it’s Santos Laguna fans making noise on the social network, sending waves of messages to Alejandro Irarragorri, the team’s president. The latest barrage came on Tuesday, after los Guerreros struggled to a 2-2 draw in its Copa MX opener. After the current holders capitulated their 2-0 lead to a second-tier side, fans responded with a what’s become an increasingly consistent message: We want to return to the glories of 2012. We can’t do that unless you fire manager Pedro Caixinha. #FueraCaixinha.
The difference between these tweets and the many that get tossed into social media’s black hole is their potential to find their target. Irarragorri is a progressive 43-year-old with impressive business savvy who is known for keeping up rapport with fans. On Saturday, he tweeted a message of his own after Santos dropped its second straight match to start the Clausura, saying he shared the fans’ frustration, but now is a time “to sow, cultivate and soon harvest!”
That stance — be patient with the coach — reflects an enlightened view in a league where teams change managers more often than Mr. Rogers changed shoes. The Portuguese boss has only been in charge since the 2013 Clausura, but in that time he has led his team to series of good-to-defensible finishes: sixth, second, fourth and most recently ninth in the standings. The team’s made the Liguilla semifinals in three of his four seasons in charge.
But there’s little sympathy for managers dropping results in Liga MX, where even finishing the regular season with the best record and winning a championship isn’t always enough to stay employed. Former Club América manager Antonio Mohamed discovered this last month when, after leading the Águilas to the Apertura title, his contract was not renewed.
One reason Irarragorri is seemingly giving Caixinha a long leash goes back to the metaphor: sow, cultivate. The wording alludes to the picked-over field Santos’ front office has left Caixinha. The talented core that he inherited – one that nearly claimed CONCACAF’s crown less than two years ago – has slowly been harvested.
Mexican international Oribe Peralta, the forward who scored so many goals for Santos as it won the Clausura in 2012, moved to Club América in the summer and won a title. Colombian Carlos Darwin Quintero, the architect of so many of Peralta’s goals and the scorer of many himself, has reunited with the star striker in the capital. Defenders Ivan Estrada and Felipe Baloy beat their attacking cohorts out of Torreón, leaving for other Mexican teams after the Clausura and Apertura in 2013, respectively. And goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez hung up his gloves a few weeks before the start of the current tournament.
Any sort of experience Santos could leverage now went out the door with those title-winners, and veteran reinforcements haven’t been coming. Of the 23 players who have suited up for Caixinha in a league match since the start of the 2014 Clausura, only seven have eclipsed the age of 25. The team that’s expected to win now is a completely different unit from the one that challenged that Monterrey squad.
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how good that team actually was, particularly since that success is a part of fans’ expectations. The Clausura 2012 champions were particularly fun, with Peralta’s stoppage time brace against Tigres in the second leg of the Liguilla’s semifinals leading the shock comeback that vaulted them into the final. Caixinha wasn’t the manager of that team, which went on to defeat Monterrey, but most of the squad was still together when los Guerreros topped two MLS clubs to reach its second straight CONCACAF Champions League final. There, los Rayados would have their revenge, but only after Santos was up 2-0 with 40 minutes left in the second leg. If it wasn’t for a memorable comeback from the confederation’s eventual back-to-back-to-back champions, that Santos team would have claimed a league-CONCACAF double but instead had to settle for a second straight runner-up spot.
The 2012 championship was Santos’ fourth in history, the first coming in 1996 with a squad including Mexican legend Jered Borgetti and Benjamin Gallindo, who would go on to coach the 2012 side. The club is relatively young, founded in 1982, but has culture of success, likely from these titles. There may also be a fear that Irarragorri, who took over the club in August 2013 after Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased the team from former owner Group Modelo, is too tied up in the business workings and not enough in results.
Los Guerreros are still waiting for their harvest. Perhaps some seeds have been planted, but with pressure building and fans angrier than ever, will Santos be able to keep its manager around? It seems unlikely, judging from the culture around coaches in Mexico.
After Tigres’ boss Tuca Ferretti and Alfonso Sosa, who led Leones Negros to promotion last spring, Caixinha is the longest-tenured Liga MX manager with his current team. Seven men have led Chivas while he has been at Santos, and while Chivas is always an extreme example, América has had three bosses during that same time. Morelia, five.
Perhaps it doesn’t help that Caixinha is a strange man to defend. He’s stand-offish, temperamental and isn’t media-friendly. But he’s a breath of fresh air in a league that features far too many old, retread coaches who are seemingly intent on managing each Liga MX team at least once (and usually, multiple times) before their tired lungs call it quits.
Caixinha has also shown that he knows what to do with talent. But in Mexico, it will be a novelty if Caixinha’s allowed to stick around and see what blooms.