The level of concern Mexico fans have about the World Cup will look like a healthy heart-rate graph even though there's nothing healthy about the peaks and valleys they're experiencing. Right now, as the January transfer window begins to close but has not yet slammed shut, the concern level is at a high.
The hope was that this window would deliver hope for El Tri, that players who are stuck on the bench at clubs in Europe would move to places where their services are needed. Some of Mexico's most important players are rooted to the bench. Hector Moreno, Mexico's unquestioned starting left center back, is a Roma afterthought after moving there before the season. Defenders Miguel Layun and Diego Reyes get infrequent minutes with Porto. Forward Raul Jimenez is at best a super sub for Benfica. And of course there's the curious case of Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez.
The star Mexican forward looked to be headed for the exits at West Ham, even though his five Premier League goals put him one off the team lead. Indeed, earlier this week his agent hinted that the player wants to be getting more minutes. That may happen in London with Andy Carroll out for three months with a broken foot, Marko Arnautovic out at least three weeks with a hamstring injury and Manuel Lanzini sidelined for a month or longer.
Chicharito's situation has gotten the most attention. He's a Premier League player and an enormous star. Yet his Mexico teammates who haven't gotten as much attention, and have gotten even fewer minutes, are in more concerning situations. Mexico boss Juan Carlos Osorio has to strike a posture showing confidence his players can do the job in Russia but concern that they're not getting into a good rhythm before the tournament.
"It's a worry of mine because our players are at a good level and they need an opportunity. Any human being gets better through competition and through pressure," Osorio told ESPN Mexico earlier this month. "Competition is what makes you better and that's what we're suffering from. Our players have lacked the week-to-week competition with their clubs competing at the highest level."
Chicharito at least has had some semblance of this rhythm, the flow of preparing for a game each weekend and competing for a spot in the first team. Since coming back from his hamstring injury suffered with El Tri in November, he's played 166 league minutes for West Ham. That's not great, but Moreno has 227 Serie A minutes, all of them coming in September and October.
The Porto duo of Reyes and Layun recently appeared together in a league game that, frustratingly for the Mexicans, was suspended because of security concerns within the stadium after it appeared to have sustained damage in an earthquake. Reyes was back out of the bench and Layun was out of the squad this weekend.
There are, of course, players in form. Hector Herrera has worked back into the Porto starting lineup and often is sporting the captain's armband for the club. He's run up 1,103 league minutes. Hirving Lozano had a dream start to life in the Netherlands and, if he doesn't leave PSV for an even bigger club, is sure to continue getting match action after seeing 1,439 Eredivisie minutes. Andres Guardado is a key component of Real Betis' starting lineup and looks set to arrive in Russia in good form.
There is hope for a few moves as well. Chicharito's situation has changed with West Ham's injury list, but the 29-year-old also has suitors in Turkey and elsewhere if the club still wants to move him. More promisingly, the reports that have Layun teaming up with Guardado at Real Betis are continuing to intensify. There has been little chatter about moves for Moreno or Reyes. Mexico's center-back pairing will have to stay at their clubs and fight for a place in the lineup, hoping for minutes in cup competitions or spelling the regular starters before and after UEFA Champions League matches. Jimenez must keep making the most of his substitute minutes, and may get more after opening his Liga NOS account earlier this month.
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That will have Mexico fans, along with Osorio and his coaching staff, concerned about fitness. Osorio, who is worried about his players' physical condition even when they're getting regular playing time, helped design training plans for players. That was seen as offensive by many of his critics, who felt it was an overreach into players' club regimen and personal life on the part of the national team manager. Now, for players like Layun, Moreno and Reyes, sticking to a training plan may be the difference between going into the World Cup in top form or playing catch-up in the preparation friendly games.