Mexico fans want Tata Martino fired but looming World Cup makes coaching change tricky

During the CONCACAF Nations League match Tuesday in Jamaica -- hundreds of miles away from Mexico -- chants began to ring out in Kingston's Independence Park: "Fuera Tata" (Tata Out).

The chants, directed at Mexico manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino, were nothing new. They've recently become a staple for El Tri's home games -- which practically speaking includes games in the United States -- from droves of Mexican fans who have become frustrated with the national team's run of form. But the fact that this chant permeated so far into an away game by traveling supporters in a 1-1 draw that Mexico was close to winning, it literally speaks volumes.

On paper, this fan discontent might be confusing for outsiders.

When looking at El Tri's start to the 2022-23 Nations League, it's an encouraging one with a 3-0 victory at home over Suriname and the 1-1 away draw with Jamaica. Mexico remain the heavy, heavy favorites to win their two remaining games in March 2023 and would only need a draw in each one to qualify for next summer's CONCACAF Nations League finals.

Mexico also qualified this spring for the 2022 World Cup, finishing second in CONCACAF's octagonal table and level on points with first-place Canada -- and also three points above their U.S. rivals.

Once again though, this is all on paper. On deeper inspection, Mexico's many narrow draws and wins have been incredibly frustrating for fans to watch this year.

Whether Martino has turned to his usual starters in qualifiers, alternates and backups in the Nations League or a mix of the two in friendlies, the script has been the same: a lack of creativity in the final third, an ineffective midfield, poor finishing and countless questionable individual performances.

Perhaps rattled by three losses and a draw to close out last year, which included defeats to the U.S. and Canada in World Cup qualifying, Martino has turned to a strategy in 2022 that appears much more timid and cautious. Once defined by a more attack-minded and risk-taking approach when he stepped in as manager in 2019, the Argentine coach's approach became more practical and patient over the last several months.

What followed are eight matches in Mexico's last 12 in which they've only scored one goal or fewer. After the 1-1 draw Tuesday night, midfielder Luis Romo told TUDN that they "got stuck" in the second half and that "we know that we are not at our best" in recent games.

Following a 3-0 friendly loss to Uruguay earlier this month, Martino was also self-critical. When asked if his team was playing at the level he wants them to be at for the World Cup, he said: "If we focus on just today's game, we are very far."

"I don't lose sight of the fact that there is a goal achieved, very deservingly, and that Mexico gets to play in another World Cup," he continued. "This is part of the preparation and in the preparation, as has happened in the last four years, there are good and difficult moments. Obviously, if I were convinced that this can't be corrected, we wouldn't be talking."

Does Martino actually have enough time to get everything right though? There are just five months to go until the trip to Qatar and with each passing game, El Tri has looked more stagnant and more ill-prepared to deal with the intensity of a World Cup. The conversation about Mexico's issues in the final third and their nervous results are now expected after nearly every match, providing even more fuel to the fire of those who want Martino out.

With all this in mind, at what point does the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) need to hit a panic button -- and perhaps more important, what would it even look like?

Depending on who you ask, a long list of media and fans would point to a Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez-sized button as the solution -- he just so happens to be Mexico's all-time leading goal scorer. But due to reported off-the-field issues, the 34-year-old LA Galaxy striker hasn't been involved in call-ups from Martino and the FMF since 2019.

Martino confirmed in May that he had a recent conversation with Hernandez, but as the manager put it: "I never said that a meeting indicated any future commitment."

He added: "If my meeting [with a player] generates some kind of commitment, today we would have 70 players in the national team."

Perhaps that panic button looks like Marcelo Flores, an 18-year-old Arsenal academy star who committed to Mexico last month after a push-and-pull that also involved Canada. In the handful of appearances he has made since late 2021, the attacking midfielder has typically been vibrant and game-changing going forward, almost as if he's a vital piece of the puzzle that has been missing for El Tri.

However, Martino has regularly asked for restraint from those who want to give Flores a more serious role with the senior national team. It's likely telling that Flores, who has yet to make his Premier League debut, wasn't included in the XI in Mexico's last two games he was available for.

Is the panic button then focused on Martino? Do you give into the fans who have become infuriated with results and drop the manager? It wouldn't exactly be a surprising move by an organization like the FMF, which has previously given the role to interim coaches before a World Cup.

The issue here is that it's far too risky and far too late. If a worry is that Martino is running out of time to fine-tune things correctly before a World Cup, imagine a new manager trying to implement a new system just months before flying to Qatar. Of the realistic options, which are likely within Liga MX, managers like Atlas' Diego Cocca, Tigres' Miguel Herrera or even Puebla's Nicolas Larcamon would be better suited for a new project starting in 2023.

The responsibility will continue to be put on Martino's shoulders, and despite the problems in 2022 and 2021, the coach deserves to be given a chance after helping Mexico qualify for Qatar.

Looking ahead to November, the silver lining for Mexico fans is that a poor run of form before a World Cup rarely means a poor World Cup. History has shown that as they've always qualified for the knockout round in their last seven appearances, but if that's the one of the few sources of optimism at the moment, don't expect the amount of "Fuera Tata" chants to be dying down at any point soon.