Some love affairs can last a lifetime, and the one Antonio Mohamed has with Monterrey would certainly seem to be one in that category. The romance began in 1998, when he first donned the famous striped shirt as a player. His deep affection was then reignited in 2015, when he returned as an experienced coach to take up the reins with the Mexican outfit.
Of course, the relationship has not always been a bed of roses. He lost a couple of league championship finals (Clausura 2016 and Apertura 2017) during his first spell in charge and in May 2018 parted ways with the club. However, in mid-October this year, the club came calling once again: the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 was on the horizon and they needed him back.
"Huracan, Colon, Monterrey and Tijuana are the clubs I truly love. The others are just places I’ve worked. So, I'm happy and excited to be back and really eager to make history," said the man known as el Turco (the Turk) in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Flame burning bright once more
The impact of Mohamed’s return was immediate, as the coach presided over seven wins and three draws in first 10 games. Coming up, though, are the twin challenges of the Liga MX, in which Monterrey are currently contesting the play-offs, and the FIFA Club World Cup, set to kick off next week.
So how does he explain the current good form of the club? "Our principal strength comes from everything that makes up this club: the directors, all the staff who work here and of course our squad of players.
"The group we have is of excellent pedigree and is supported by a huge fan base. Now it’s up to me and my coaching staff to harness all that in the best possible way in these final weeks of the year."
With those final weeks including a trip Qatar, what can opponents of Los Rayados expect over there?
"Monterrey are a very intense and aggressive team that always seek to win. We press our opponents high up the field to quickly win back possession. That's an essential part of my coaching style and I try to constantly instil that."
And even though the final stretch of the Mexican championship is vying for his attention, it is only natural that his thoughts have turned to the foremost club competition and how his side will handle it. Furthermore, Monterrey will be participating in the tournament for the fourth time, bringing them level with Pachuca as the Concacaf club with the most appearances.
"We’re preparing in the knowledge that we’ll be facing first class teams that will have moments when they are on top during games. So, when that happens, we need to know how to defend – even though we’ll try to stay in the ascendancy for as long as we can. That's why we're well prepared: to be aggressive in our opponents’ half and get forward. At the other end, in terms of defence, we need to improve."
Ahead of this major challenge in Qatar, Mohamed is focusing fully on on-field matters, with player motivation the least of his concerns. "The players are self-motivated. The chance to be part of history and compete against the best is enough. There’s no greater motivation at club level than taking part in the Club World Cup."
Breaking new ground
No Concacaf side have ever graced the Club World Cup final – an unfortunate sequence that Monterrey would love to end.
"We have the chance to make history for the region, but it also takes some luck. Sometimes you're competitive but you lack that little bit of good fortune. First, we have to be competitive and then hope for little stroke of luck to capitalise on. Because of our style of play, we’ll have chances, so we have to take advantage of them."
At a personal level, Antonio Mohamed is just days away from realising what has been one of his life’s goals: "For me, it's a dream come true. I always wanted to take a team to the Club World Cup. I also want to coach a national team at the World Cup, so bit by bit, I’m fulfilling my dreams."