ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON
SAO PAULO (AP) — Mexico’s national soccer coach Miguel Herrera just can’t keep his joy bottled up, and his enthusiasm has made him one of the most entertaining and popular figures of the World Cup and an Internet sensation worldwide.
Memes of Herrera flood the Web, like one that shows his hair catching on fire cartoon-style. In one picture, he playfully sticks out his tongue while he photobombs three members of his team on the pitch. In a video, he dances happily to Spanish ska music.
Forget Coach Herrera’s success in turning around the troubled Mexican team, which faces off Sunday against the Netherlands after becoming one of the international soccer tournament’s biggest surprises. Soccer fans around the global have fallen in love with Herrera’s colorful antics, which are often as absorbing as the goal replays.
“He is so authentic, so expressive and so genuine,” said Enrique Krauze, a Mexican historian and World Cup commentator. “He’s becoming the representation of the Mexicans’ ability to celebrate and party. That is very seductive.”
Although he wears a suit and a tie, Herrera rumbles up and down the sidelines like a classic Mexican wrestler. When his players score, he shakes his arms in the air and seemingly goes into a state of euphoria, throwing his short, stout body up and down the sidelines.
He jumps atop one player like a friendly puppy, carries another team member in his arms like a proud father or simply kneels down on the sideline, face up, eyes closed, ecstatic.
During the World Cup, sportscasters have affectionately compared Herrera to a cartoon monster — Tweety Bird’s version of Mr. Hyde, from an animated short by Warner Bros. There is unquestionably a humorous resemblance, right down to the shock of sandy hair.
Herrera’s theatrical gestures are not new to Mexican fans who followed him through his two years as a coach for Mexico City’s America soccer club and earlier stints with other teams. But his performances on the pitch during the World Cup have won new admirers for the man who has been known as “Piojo,” or louse, since he played for Mexico’s Atlante team.
“Piojo is the way he is and there’s no way he is going to change. I am happy they are talking a lot about him,” said Mexico’s captain Rafael Marquez.
Herrera has more followers on Twitter than other coaches — 735,000 — and often posts selfies to his official account, http://twitter.com/MiguelHerreraDT . A favorite is a June 15 snap with a legion of Mexico fans in the background.
“You generally don’t hear a lot about the coaches,” said Jesus Berumen, 59, a Mexican fan in Los Angeles. “He spreads happiness. He’s so natural in the way he does things.”
Herrera’s overly enthusiastic side hasn’t always gotten positive attention.
As a player, he was on the bubble to make the Mexican team for the 1994 World Cup, but was scratched after he wildly tackled a Honduras player during a qualifying match. He still insists he doesn’t know why he didn’t make the team.
His coaching career began in 2002 and reached its local league zenith with the America team. He led the underperforming club to the Mexican league championship last year.
Herrera was chosen as an interim solution last fall when little hope was left for Mexico to qualify for the World Cup. He took the reins as the team limped into an inter-continental playoff only because Panama was bumped out of contention with a loss to Mexico’s eternal rival, the United States.
“He revived the team and the country,” said Hector Diaz, 27, a Mexico fan on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, sporting a Mexican jersey and enormous green sombrero. “He lives soccer as if he were there on the field playing. It’s easy for fans to identify with his enthusiasm.”
Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Rodriguez in Santos, Brazil, and E.J. Tamara in Los Angeles contributed to this story.
Adriana Gomez Licon is on Twitter http://twitter.com/agomezlicon
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