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Michel Gonzalez steps down as Pumas coach days before the start of the tournament

Pumas starts their season on Sunday against Queretaro, but will have to play it with interim coach Andres Lillini.

Atletico San Luis v Pumas UNAM - Torneo Apertura 2019 Liga MX Photo by Cesar Gomez/Jam Media/Getty Images

Citing personal reasons, Michel Gonzalez announced that has stepped down as coach of UNAM Pumas. The move comes days before Pumas starts their season on Sunday against Queretaro at home in Mexico City. The reasons weren’t given, but there have been strong rumors that Pumas is in severe financial trouble with most of the team lowering their salaries because of the COVID-19 emergency and with several players leaving Pumas as a cost measuring move. Pumas announced that Andres Lillini will be the interim coach.

Coach Michel Gonzalez was made Pumas coach in May of 2020. Pumas came from a rocky tournament where David Patiño had started as coach but fired early in the Clausura 2019. Bruno Marioni became the coach, but a number of physical confrontations as well as the arrival of Jesus Ramirez to the sports director position ended his tenure. Michel came from an average tenure in Europe, where he had won league titles with Olympiacos but hadn’t done as well in other places. Michel had and overall strong start with Pumas in the Apertura 2019. Pumas became a solid team at home, constantly winning games but not as much as an away team. Still Pumas looked like they would go through to the Liguilla but ran out of steam as the season ended. A tie in their final home game against FC Juarez doomed the team, and it fell just short of getting to the Liguilla.

In the Clausura 2020, Pumas once continued the same pattern and was in the Liguilla zone when the tournament was cancelled. Still things didn’t look good for the coming season. First there were strong rumors that Pumas is in severe economic distress, with the team being one of the first to lower salaries because of the COVID-19 emergency. A number of players left the club supposedly because of this. Pumas then played the Copa GNP de Mexico, and while it was played at Estadio Universitario they went out in the group stages. Pumas scored a goal in the first minutes of their first game, but wouldn’t score again as they lost the opener 4-1 against Cruz Azul. They would then have scoreless ties against America and Toluca, with a terrible level of play in both games. Then three days before the start to their tournament, Gonzalez steps downs as coach.

There is no word yet on who will be Pumas’ new coach. There are rumors of Hugo Sanchez making a return to the team where he won two Liga MX titles as well as others like Victor Manuel Vucetich, but the fact is that Pumas probably doesn’t have the money for either. Andres Lillini will be the interim coach, but he should probably only coach Sunday’s match against Queretaro. Queretaro is one of the teams who looks to be the weakest as the 2020 Apertura starts, but they now become heavily favored to get a win on Sunday. Pumas’ season now looks to be looking like a potential disaster as they come in without a coach, financial problems, and rumors that there is wide discontent in the squad.