Miguel Herrera's passion now on display at Xolos; is MLS his next stop?

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Miguel "Piojo" Herrera is borderline lucha libre-esque in his gesticulations on the touchline, screaming at a ball boy to hurry up and berating the fourth official. The stage is not the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In fact, it could be pretty much any of Club Tijuana's games since Herrera took charge in Nov. 2015, from Cimarrones de Sonora away in Copa MX to last Saturday's 1-0 victory in Guadalajara over Chivas.

"[Herrera] is very intense," said Xolos winger and U.S. international Paul Arriola after the win at Chivas. That is perhaps an understatement.

Those who think Herrera's 2014 World Cup sideline antics were exaggerated to garner international attention are wrong. He lives every Club Tijuana game as intensely as he did with the Mexico national team. His raw love for football remains childlike and infectious.

But the passion that so readily manifests itself on the bench and fixates onlookers has had a negative and well-documented flipside. The punch he swung at a journalist the morning after the 2015 Gold Cup final ended his reign in his dream job with El Tri. And before that, an outrageous challenge in a 1994 World Cup qualifying match against Honduras ended his dreams of competing in the tournament as a player.

Herrera has been punished repeatedly for his temper, but he continues to get up off the floor, dust himself down and come back. His latest return sees him coaching at the newest institution in Mexico's top division -- Xolos have just celebrated their 10th anniversary.

Herrera will never be exempt from attention as one of the most prominent faces in all of Mexico, but in Tijuana he is on the fringes of Liga MX and has been busy building in relative obscurity compared to the limelight of the big Mexico City clubs.

Since taking over, there has been a spat with mentor Ricardo La Volpe and a media back-and-forth with Chivas coach Matias Almeyda over the Xolos boss' not using many Mexican players. Herrera has also taken pot shots at current Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio. All of these incidents set alarm bells ringing with regards to just about how much Herrera has really changed, although he is adamant that he has grown from his negative experiences.

"I think I'm the same person," said Herrera in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC. "Of course I've grown, I've matured in some aspects of my life that have hurt me and that have made me learn."

For all his detractors and the lingering question marks over his character, the 48-year-old has undoubtedly produced results in his almost 15 months in charge at the club. The former right-back has turned a flailing team around. Over 41 Liga MX games, Herrera's Xolos have picked up 17 wins, 12 draws and 12 losses. It's not a set of results that jump out on paper, but when "Piojo" took on the Tijuana challenge, he certainly wasn't taking the easy route back to management; Xolos had only made one playoff since winning the 2012 Apertura title until Herrera arrived.

To take Club Tijuana to a first-place finish in the 2016 Apertura regular season was a notable achievement and Xolos currently sit top of the league after three rounds of matches in the 2017 Clausura, despite having sold star striker Dayro Moreno and key attacking component Gabriel Hauche in the offseason.

"The truth is I'm fine, I'm happy," said Herrera. "We've been molding Xolos into what we like from our teams ... Every day they've taken the idea onboard more."

Herrera may not talk with the footballing eloquence of in-vogue coaches like Sevilla's Jorge Sampaoli and Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino, nor does he necessarily have the tactical shrewdness or equipment to reach their level. But the football his teams play is modern, vertical and aggressive and isn't a million miles away from the philosophy of those figures.

At Tijuana, Hererra is once again showing that his personable nature (at least when he doesn't feel slighted) also contains a keen eye for building teams. He becomes entirely defensive at the notion -- long-held in Mexico -- that he is limited and only really knows how to perfect a 5-3-2 formation.

"I've shown I have all the tactics and formations and I've worked them," he said. "I've not improvised, nor do I have only one formation."

Herrera's side stormed to first place in the 2016 Apertura using a back four and a very fluid front four, with striker Milton Caraglio pinning them together as the No. 9 -- a very different system to the one he used with the Mexico national team.

"In some games [this season] we've played a line of five [defenders], in some games three midfielders and two attackers or three attackers," he continued. "The truth is that working all the systems is important in order to be prepared for anything, as well as obviously identifying the team and players you have for the system you are using."

The goal for Herrera, whose contract is reportedly up at the end of 2017, is obviously winning a title with Club Tijuana to keep him at the forefront of the Mexican game. But his long-term future could be fascinating. Herrera speaks positively of Major League Soccer, saying he doesn't discount the possibility of coaching north of the border at some stage and stressing that the competition from the league is good for the development of Liga MX.

"I don't rule out the possibility because it's a strong league, it's a league in which the one advantage as a coach is that there isn't relegation, so your project can last a long time if it brings results," he said. "If the owners of the teams there understand that there are teams in construction, in formation, and they don't fire you if you lose two games."

There was also firm interest from the Chile national team a year ago, but the former Club America coach does not waiver when it comes to the question of where he would ideally like his future to lie.

"I would like to be able to return to the national team. I don't know when, but it is pending because I feel that I brought them the results they asked for," said Herrera. "If there is an opportunity to make the leap across the pond to the other side to [Europe], without a doubt I will do it. In 10 years, I want to keep being a coach with a lot of drive, desire to work and accompanied by successes to be able to achieve the objectives that one wants."

With Mexico in the running to either host or co-host the 2026 World Cup, the mind does begin to wonder. For now, though, Herrera knows that path lies with continued success at Xolos, as well as keeping his nose clean.