With Pumas out of liguilla contention, following quarter-final defeats in the Apertura and CONCACAF Champions League, discussion has begun over the future of head coach Paco Palencia.
The question of whether Paco should stay or go is a tough one, so FutMexNation’s Tom Harrison decided to get the opinion of a Pumas aficionado.
Stephen Eastepp is the founder of PumasEnglish.com, the only English-language news website dedicated to Pumas. Pumas English offers up-to-date news, interviews, analysis and extensive coverage of the fabled cantera. You can find the Pumas English twitter account here.
In this interview, Tom and Stephen discuss some of the most significant aspects of Palencia’s season, before Stephen offers his overall belief on whether Paco should stay or go.
Tom Harrison: Quarter finals of the Apertura and the CCL, then failure to make the Clausura play offs. Has this been a disappointing season?
Stephen Eastepp: Disappointing for sure. This group of players Paco Palencia has are capable of being a liguilla team, maybe short of a contender, but there is some good quality on this roster. Injuries have certainly been a nagging concern, but not an excuse. Most of the setbacks have been mental, self-inflicted wounds. I’ll add that Palencia had a good start to his career in the prior tournament so the expectations are slightly higher, and that is fair in my opinion.
TH: Poor defending has been the main reason behind this season’s failures. 11 goals were conceded across the two quarter-final defeats to Tigres, and no side have let in more goals this Clausura. Is Paco to blame?
Thoughts on Tigres' win v Pumas from my weekend review.
— Tom Harrison (@tomh_36) April 17, 2017
SE: You have to put some blame on the coach, but it’s shared with the players. You’ve seen it happen numerous times where goals are given up directly from mistakes. Those have some individual culpability. You’ve seen others that are from tactical errors, which the coaching staff has to take more of the blame. Some fans bring attention to the lateral defenders, both young canteranos, but if we’re honest Dario Verón and Gerardo Alcoba haven’t been their best. I think opposing offences have noticed that and exploited it at times.
TH: Verón’s performances definitely seem to have dropped, is it time for the Pumas legend to be replaced? If so, do you think Paco is capable of making such a big, and controversial, decision?
SE: That’s a tough call, and I’m sure no one wants to be the coach that forces it unless Dario Verón says he’s done. It’s evident his playing days are winding down, and in my opinion he still has value on the team for another season or so. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him call it a career either at the end of this tournament or next. It’s clear the institution wants to see him ride out the right way, but I do wonder if they’re willing to compromise results for a perfect ending.
Dario Veron’s future uncertain, while Nicolas Castillo staying put at Pumas https://t.co/U6GhAy3Lxi
— PUMAS MX English (@PumasMX_Eng) April 29, 2017
TH: That sums up the dilemma perfectly. Certainly a tough call. Looking at the tactical side of the season, much of the campaign has been about defeats to Tigres. Liguilla, CCL and the crushing loss in the Clausura. Paco has always set his side up to take the game to Tigres, to attack them, which has resulted in heavy defeats. Does it concern you that Paco didn’t learn from past mistakes, and didn’t alter his tactics against Tigres?
SE: Making mistakes is part of the learning curve with a new manager, but it’s hard to swallow since it’s against a big university rival. Nicolas Castillo has been fantastic, but I’d be lying if I would say the fans are moved past the way the Ismael Sosa transfer happened. Combine that with the losses, Tigres has been the biggest headache for Pumas. What is concerning is Palencia that has been stubborn with the tactics against Tigres, and some of the adjustments he fails to make, plus his use of substitutes.
TH: Speaking of Castillo, one of Paco’s biggest decisions was dropping, and then selling and replacing Lalo Herrera. Was it a good move to get rid of Herrera?
SE: Yes I think Herrera’s move was a good one. To truly commit to this project of revitalizing the cantera, combined with staying competitive, Herrera is the type of player that can be let go. Herrera had a good run at Pumas, but it wasn’t consistent which makes it easier to move him. From my understanding it’s a six month loan, so we’ll see how they handle his contract in the off-season. I’ll also add that Pumas base should be solid Mexican canteranos, and if money is to be spent on a foreigner, it should be a player of Castillo’s caliber.
— Fut Mex Nation (@FutMexNation) February 19, 2017
TH: Bringing players through the cantera is obviously of major importance to you, and on that front Paco appears to have done much better than Memo Vázquez. Players like Alan Mendoza, Jose Carlos van Rankin and Kevin Escamilla have played lots, plus the bench has often been filled with youth products. This has perhaps reduced Pumas’ strength in depth though, and ability to deal with injuries. How would you rate Paco on this topic?
SE: Palencia certainly has made steps in the right direction in terms of his use of the cantera. I love the confidence in Mendoza, who in my opinion has played well at left-back.
— LIGA Bancomer MX (@LIGABancomerMX) January 8, 2017
I think depth surely has been an issue, but it’s hard to say that’s the cause of their struggles. I would have liked to see him make more roster adjustments than he’s done, and if he obtained similar results I’d be fully convinced depth is the issue. For example, Palencia seems to have his players and doesn’t compromise regardless of their performance. Kevin Escamilla is one of the best Pumas prospects in recent years, even though he’s played some minutes, I would have wanted to see him more, and fade out the regular use of Cortés. Perhaps Omar Islas, who is doing very well in the youth leagues, could have stepped in as well. Santiago Palacios, who has returned from a career in Europe, has been non-existent under Palencia. As a fan, I’d like to see him get the opportunity before I right him off.
Santiago Palacios arrived in Mexico City early this morning. Told reporters he "didn't think twice" when approached by #Pumas.
— PUMAS MX English (@PumasMX_Eng) August 12, 2016
So it’s a bit difficult for me to outright claim Pumas are lacking in depth. I think Palencia as made steps in the right direction, but I’m ready to see a few leaps forward in his belief in the system Club President Rodrigo Ares and Paco have committed to.
TH: Always tricky to balance long-term and short-term goals, particularly with the current structure of Liga MX. Taking in all that we’ve discussed and more, should Paco stay or go?
SE: If I’m making the decision, Palencia stays for the remainder of his contract, which is one additional year. I think most fans would agree Liga MX coaches get the short end of the stick all too often if they don’t obtain immediate results. But this has also driven many clubs to spend money first and develop talent second. What we’re seeing with Palencia is a mix of immaturity, which is expected in a new head coach, combined with trying to find the right mix to bring this project to rejuvenate the club’s identity to fruition. I think it’s a fair statement that after two full years and four tournaments, if Palencia hasn’t made Pumas a force he deserves the boot. That’s an amount of time that is realistic to get a nice body of work to assess. Ares has publicly backed him as recent as this week, so my feeling is the organization is willing to give him the time to prove his worth.
FutMexNation would like to thank Stephen for giving up his time to contribute to this article