Anyone who watched the 2014 World Cup remembers the capillary-bursting facial contortions and berserk sideline shenanigans that made Mexican Coach Miguel Piojo Herrera a meme legend. The internet couldn’t get enough – but the love affair was about more than GIF potential. For El Tri fans, Herrera was the savior who finally arrived to shake the team from its aimless mediocrity, guiding Mexico to a World Cup it almost didn’t qualify for, a victory against Brazil, and become a rallying voice in the #nofuepenal charge.
So naturally, we were looking forward to way more Piojo antics this summer, given that the Mexican national team was slated to head to two major international tournaments. But although the coach is once again in the spotlight, it isn’t for the reasons we expected.
Just days before the Copa América kicked off, El Piojo made headlines when he tweeted in support of the Partido Verde (Green Party) on June 7th, the day Mexico’s legislative elections were being held.
His tweets were problematic for several reasons. Mexican law prohibits election propaganda in the days just prior to the vote, and while some might argue that this law applies more to political parties than to private citizens like Herrera, speculation began to run rampant that he was paid for the tweets. At around the same time on the same day, several public figures, including soccer players Marco Fabian and Oribe Peralta, tweeted similar messages. To wit, Mexican sports journalist Jean Duverger, who works for Fox Deportes, later stated that he was offered 200,000 pesos (around $13,000) by a private agency in exchange for a few tweets in favor of the Partido Verde (he declined the offers).
That, in and of itself, is not proof that Herrera was paid. Still, let’s not forget that the coach was the face for Chiapas’ tourism campaign – a state governed by the Partido Verde. Whether directly or indirectly, the political party lined el Piojo’s pockets.
When asked about the matter in the run up to the Copa América, the Mexican coach testily criticized the sports journalist at Mediotiempo for even inquiring about “social matters,” and then proceeded to give an evasive and roundabout answer.
Although the matter should have been given a full investigation, FEMEXFUT decided to put an end to the whole thing by fining Herrera, citing a policy that doesn’t allow players or coaches to be publicly involved in political matters (another thing I find problematic, but that’s another story).
Herrera’s support of a political party that many intellectuals have denounced – a party that was recently fined millions of pesos by Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute for its violation of electoral rules – was already enough to draw the side-eye of many. And that was before Mexico left the Copa América with its tail between its legs.
After losing 1-2 against Ecuador, Mexico finished – once again – in the last spot of its group. During the match, Herrera bickered with a referee and got himself sent off the sidelines, later blaming his team’s elimination on the referees – who he called “los tres tontos” – in a post-game interview with Mexican channel TV Azteca. It seems he forgot the bad calls he made during the match, as well as the fact that the referee didn’t call a deserved penalty kick in favor of Ecuador in the last minutes of the game. In the wake of the loss, Twitter exploded with anti-Piojo criticism:
But it wasn’t just the grumblings of disappointed fans. During the live transmission, popular TV Azteca commentator Christian Martinoli went on a mini-rant about Herrera’s embarrassing and pathetic attitude – comments which would have probably flown under the radar if they hadn’t been made on one of Mexico’s two huge public access TV networks (which have close links to the government and benefit greatly from el Tri’s economic gains). The criticism made it straight to the ears of El Piojo, who later stated in a press conference: “there is only one pendejo that attacks me and you all know who it is. Eventually I’m going to cross paths with him and I’ll discuss it with him.” The coach followed with a feeble explanation for why “discussions” and “debates” between coaches and journalists should not be considered censorship.
But it is about censorship. It’s actually surprising that El Piojo doesn’t see something obviously unethical about stating his desire to have a private conversation with a journalist who openly criticizes him and who he just called a pendejo. What does become clear, however, is how Herrera thought he’d get away with his Verde tweets even after he was paid to do a tourism campaign by a Verde government. Like many Mexican politicians, El Piojo Herrera seems to have inherited the sinvergüenza gene.
Unfortunately for el Piojo, the Mexican people have grown very tired of corruption and those who orbit in close proximity to it.
El Piojo has fallen from grace, and even a Gold Cup victory might not be enough to win their forgiveness.