- Tona Is is the first overseas female coach in the history of Mexico’s Liga Femenil
- Spaniard now in charge of Pachuca
- "I want a team that’s hungry for goals and ambitious, just like me"
The thought of leaving your home and family and moving to another continent in the middle of a global pandemic is not one many people would find appealing. Yet for Tona Is, not only was it an attractive proposition, but a challenge she felt compelled to embrace.
"I had to take the plunge because I really fancied this project. I’d had offers after leaving the Spanish Federation, but I’ve always said that I’d only accept a project that I was passionate about, and the Pachuca job was certainly that. These are complicated times, but it was something I had to do; I simply had to be daring," she says in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
Speaking about the appointment, the club's sporting director, Eva Espejo, said: "We’re four years into this project and so it’s always good to have something new. We’d already gone through a period of adaptation and structuring, so after that we needed growth. And that could only be with a person like Tona. We wanted our players to have world-class coaching."
And so it was that Tona relocated to Pachuca in late 2020 and quickly found what she was looking for. "They’d told me about everything the club had, but I found it hard to envisage. It’s only when you're here and you see it in reality that you realise what they said was true.
"When the news came out, football people told me I’d enjoy a very good work environment at a great club, who’d give me all the tools for the job. And so it was: from day one I've felt at home and very happy."
Tona has already experienced a taste of Mexican football in the final of the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup Uruguay 2018, where the Spain side she was coaching prevailed over their Mexican counterparts.
"It was a very difficult match as no-one gets to a final without being a good side. There's a lot of work to get that far and eliminate a lot of rivals, even in the qualifiers. Both teams deserved to be there. It went Spain’s way that day, but it could easily have been Mexico celebrating."
First objective: Foster ambition
As she settles into her new role, Tona is clear about the need to instil some of her own character into her players.
"I try to imbue them with what I have inside of me. I'm a very ambitious person, who always wants to win. And I want them to have all that. So little by little, we're going to work to get the best out of each of them to get this team to where it deserves to be."
Her arrival at Pachuca was big news, firstly because of her world-champion status, and secondly because she became the first foreign woman to coach a Liga MX Femenil side.
"I don't feel pressure beyond that which I put on myself to achieve certain goals. I’ve been fortunate to be a pioneer with many things in Spain, and so I’ll continue to be a pioneer outside Spain. In the end, it's about paving the way for other colleagues. I'm trying to help Mexican football and assist other foreign women coaches to follow me down this path I’ve laid."
Second objective: Development and bravery
In football, victories are what fuel every project, with these triumphs very often built on the foundations of previous hard work. Unsurprisingly then, Eva Espejo has already been thinking about where she wants Las Tuzas to be in five years’ time.
"Women's football within the club is now getting its own structure and setting its own goals. In five years, I see Pachuca having two or three underage sides, becoming one of the best academies in Mexico (as it is in the men's game) and providing many players to the national team. I see the club becoming league champions soon."
It is a vision that Tona Is fully embraces: "I've seen the tremendous potential of this club, so you have to try to get the best out of every player. There are many young players who still have to show the best of themselves, but who are technically very gifted. That's what I'm here for: to teach them everything I know and keep the team developing."
The truth is that her aspiration for a great future is not limited to Pachuca, but to the Liga MX Femenil as a whole, given that the championship is currently some way from the standard of leagues in Europe. "You can't compare it right now to Europe. Spanish women’s football, for example, has many years head start on that of Mexico, which is a relatively young league and still has only local players. So, you can't compare it to leagues that have a lot of foreign players at the highest level."
That said, opening your doors to outsiders can pay dividends. "The small step that can be made by bringing in foreigners can give you an edge in terms of competitiveness. However, it is a very good league, given it consists entirely of national players. Take overseas players out of any league and you’d be left with a ‘decaffeinated’ championship. I believe Mexico has everything needed to be a force in the coming years."
So what kind of Pachuca can we expect to see in the coming weeks? "I like [my teams] to put pressure on opponents and pin them in their own half. I want them to keep possession. If we have the ball, then this means we’re also defending well. My aim is for them to want the ball and be brave enough to attempt things. I want to see a team, one that’s well drilled offensively and defensively. I want a group that’s hungry for goals and ambitious, just like me."