MEXICO CITY (AP) — In the end it wasn’t the middling on-field performance by Mexico’s national soccer team that cost Miguel Herrera his job as head coach of “El Tri.”
It was the feisty nature, admired by some and criticized by others, that led to the ouster of “El Piojo,” an affectionate Spanish nickname that means “The Louse.”
The Mexican Soccer Federation fired Herrera on Tuesday, just two days after he led the team to a CONCACAF Gold Cup title. The ouster came after a television reporter said the coach punched him at the Philadelphia airport.
“Nobody can be above a situation like the one that happened Monday in Philadelphia,” said Decio de Maria, who on Saturday becomes president of the federation.
“Our values, our principles, are above any result,” he added. “In our profession, our industry, the matches are never over, and as public figures who represent an institution we must be absolutely clear on that.”
In a statement, Herrera apologized to his players, staff, fans, the federation and the media for his conduct in “the painful incident I had with a commentator.”
“It is clear to me that this is not the attitude that a coach for the Mexican national team should take, despite having received all manner of criticisms, offenses and mockery of my family and my person,” it read.
Herrera said he planned to spend time with family and rest.
“El Piojo” is the latest to depart from what has become a revolving-door job since Ricardo La Volpe of Argentina was the last to complete a four-year World Cup cycle as Mexico’s head coach.
The team has burned through 10 head coaches in the nine years since La Volpe departed after the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
De Maria did not announce a replacement for Herrera, who led Mexico to the round of 16 at last year’s World Cup.
The incident involving the coach and Television Azteca’s Christian Martinoli took place as the team was set to fly home following its 3-1 victory over Jamaica in the championship match.
Martinoli accused Herrera of hitting him in the neck and then threatening him.
The journalist has been a tough critic of Herrera as have many Mexican fans and pundits disappointed with the team’s recent results.
“El Tri” failed to advance from group play at the Copa America last month in Chile. Critics also faulted Mexico’s performance at the Gold Cup, where it finished second in group play and advanced to the final only after winning two knockout-round matches with the help of late penalty kicks awarded in controversial calls.
“We all saw what happened on the pitch. ... We won at the Gold Cup, but none of us liked how it happened,” de Maria said.
Herrera defended his record.
“It saddens me greatly to leave the position of team coach due to this regrettable reason, since the sporting results were, for the most part, positive within the stated objectives,” he said in his statement.
Famous for his exuberant sideline displays, Herrera became interim head coach in November 2013 and was given the job full-time a month later. During his tenure Mexico won 18 matches, tied 11 and lost 7.
Earlier this year he and two players came under investigation by the soccer federation for tweets supporting Mexico’s Green Party just before midterm elections, an apparent violation of the federation’s code of ethics.
Mexico’s next match is a friendly vs. Trinidad and Tobago on Sept. 4. In October, it faces regional rival the United States in a qualifying playoff for the 2017 Confederations Cup.