The curious case of Santiago Gimenez: Wanted by Premier League clubs but struggling at Copa America

Additional reporting: Jeff Rueter

“He had a very clear opportunity and as a striker for the national team he has to score it.”

Anyone would have thought the same when Mexico’s Santiago Gimenez was put clean through on goal in the early stages of Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat against Venezuela in Los Angeles.

Except this wasn’t anyone talking.

“Even though he’s my son, I’m an analyst and I have to say it. The difference between (Salomon) Rondon and Santi today was the goal.”

Yes, the man holding the microphone was Christian Gimenez, Santiago’s father, or ‘Chaco’ as he is more commonly known in Mexico. A former national team player, ‘Chaco’ was working for Fox Sports for the Venezuela game when he decided to tell it how it is on the back of a result that leaves Mexico’s hopes of reaching the Copa America quarter-finals hanging by a thread.

“I don’t think Santi had a bad game, but he didn’t have a good game either,” Chaco added.

Gimenez has had a tough tournament for Mexico (Omar Vega/Getty Images)

In truth, Gimenez hasn’t had enough good games for Mexico full stop and that raises lots of questions. Keep in mind are talking about a centre forward who has scored 49 goals across the last two seasons for Feyenoord and attracted the attention of some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Tottenham Hotspur.

For Mexico, it has been a different story. Gimenez has four goals to his name in 28 caps and, worryingly, things seem to be getting worse rather than better. It is now 12 matches and as many months since Gimenez last scored for his country — the winner (and what a tremendous solo strike it was, by the way) against Panama in the Gold Cup final.

To put it bluntly, Gimenez doesn’t look like the same player in a Mexico shirt.

Perhaps he isn’t able to be the same player.

Against Jamaica, in Mexico’s opening group game, Gimenez had only 16 touches and completed just six passes. A lonely red dot on the pass network graphic below illustrates the disconnect with his team-mates. Against Venezuela, those numbers climbed to a modest 26 touches and eight completed passes. In both games, Gimenez touched the ball only four times in the opposition penalty area – half as many as he averaged in a Feyenoord shirt last season.

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The fact that Gimenez was substituted against Jamaica and Venezuela was a source of annoyance to his father, who questioned whether the coach Jaime Lozano genuinely believes in his son.

“For a number nine of the national team the confidence of the coach is very important,” Chaco said. “I feel like they are doing Santiago a favour (by picking him).

“I was a player for a long time, and when you have the confidence of the coach you have many more minutes. Santi enters the field with the idea that he must score one or two goals because after 45 minutes he comes off.”

Publicly, Lozano has been supportive of Gimenez, both at press conferences and on the sidelines. When the striker squandered that golden chance against Venezuela, Lozano betrayed no sense of disappointment or anger. A split-screen video shows Lozano walking up and down his technical area applauding and encouraging his players after Gimenez failed to cleanly connect with his shot.

Others found it harder to conceal their emotions though — behind Lozano a few of the Mexico substitutes covered their faces. It was easy to imagine that being the reaction in sitting rooms across a country where it hasn’t taken long for frustration to spill over during Copa America.

“With all due respect, Santiago Gimenez has only sold smoke with the Mexican national team, he has not been a decisive player,” David Faitelson, the renowned Mexican journalist, said.

Faitelson is never short of an opinion, but then neither is anyone else in Mexico when it comes to Gimenez. Former players have been critical of the forward in one breath (Oswaldo Sanchez: “I do remember that goal in the final against Panama but from then on he has not been as involved or as convincing”) and supportive in another (Miguel Layun: “I don’t agree that football depends on a single player”).

Luis Garcia had another take. The former Mexico international told ESPN: “I think the worst thing that could have happened to Santiago Gimenez is that Henry Martin wasn’t there. The fact that he doesn’t have internal competition screws up Santiago Gimenez’s life the most because Gimenez is expected to play every minute and score four goals per game, and that’s not going to happen. That’s what Hugo Sanchez did in his time and no one else.”

Martin was left at home for the Copa America, much like Fulham’s Raul Jimenez, another experienced striker, as part of a rebuilding process that Lozano, who has been tasked with putting together a team that is capable of being competitive on home soil at the 2026 World Cup, describes as “generational change”.

Where Gimenez will be playing his club football by the time that World Cup comes around is anyone’s guess. But it seems unlikely that a disappointing Copa America would discourage clubs from pursuing a player who has scored prolifically for Feyenoord — and goals of every description too — for the past two years.

Indeed, you wonder what Feyenoord make of Gimenez’s struggles for his country, mindful that the Dutch club has invested so much time and energy into developing the 23-year-old ever since they signed him from the Mexican top-flight team Cruz Azul for €4million in 2022.

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Gimenez missing a chance against Venezuela (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

As part of Feyenoord’s research into Gimenez, the club’s medical and performance team screened his movement patterns — accelerations, decelerations, running at top speed, changes of direction — and noted that the “control of his trunk and around his pelvis” could be improved. In short, Feyenoord felt that Gimenez’s existing running style could hold him back at the highest level.

With the support and understanding of Arne Slot, who has since taken over as Liverpool manager but was in charge of Feyenoord at the time, Gimenez was actively held back, put on a bespoke training programme and given six months to, quite literally, get up to speed.

Feyenoord also organised a dedicated nutritionist, took Gimenez to a boxing gym to build up his aggression and — wait for this one — introduced him to “float tanks”.

“It can be helpful, it’s basically like Epsom, like bath salts,” Lee Egger, the club’s head of performance, told The Athletic. “The water is really viscous. So you can basically just float because of the salt holding you up, and then they close this tank over you and you’re in complete darkness with no sound, no light. And you can sleep, you can meditate, you can do whatever you want.”

Short-term pain — Gimenez regularly started on the substitutes’ bench in his early days at the club and missed out on selection for the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar partly as a result — brought long-term gain as goals flowed freely in a Feyenoord shirt from the moment that he was given a run in the team at the start of 2023.

How Mexico would love to see the same now.

(Top photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

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