Further Review

Steve Hummer is a sports writer and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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Martino to leave Atlanta United? No comprendo

Chasing the latest hot coaching rumor takes on whole new layers of frustration when that coach in question is Gerardo “Tata” Martino and the job market involved is as global as soccer.

At least when there’s scuttlebutt about some coaching upheaval within a SEC football program, we all speak the same language. Sort of, unless the program happens to be LSU.

There is a comfortable familiarity to how the process works in those cases.

The denials and misdirection are complete rubbish, but at least it’s English rubbish.

The outlets working the story don’t span nations. The rumors don’t emanate from another country’s basement. Because nobody in Guadalajara cares if they’re fixin’ to get a new ball coach at Auburn.  

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And then, eventually, when the coaching change does happen just like everyone knew it would, we at least have some clear opinion – even if it’s misguided – on how the move will shape the future.     

None of that is in play now. The reports that Atlanta United’s first and to-date only manager has a spoken agreement to leave at season’s end to lead the Mexican National Team are a new kind of unsettling.

Not exactly being raised on soccer, I can only guess that Martino is very good at what he does. Fresh out of the package last year, Atlanta United was the regular-season sensation of MLS. This season, it is even better, poised to enter the playoffs with the league’s best record. That is, if it is not too distracted by all these rumors that its coach has one foot across the border.

“In these kind of situations, if the results are good everyone will say the team is focused. And if the results are bad they’re going to say the team is thinking about other things. We think the guys are focused,” Martino said Friday through an interpreter.

Although yet to win his first MLS playoff series, Martino can be regarded as one of this market’s most accomplished coaches. And if someone explains to me something he has done strategically that has confirmed his genius, I’ll try to make that point more emphatically. (Pretty sure he would have run the ball against the Patriots toward the end of regulation).

But I can read a bio. He’s managed 12 teams since 1998, leading to the impression that one does not hire Martino as much as one leases him, like a new Jaguar. Maybe two seasons of him could be the best that Atlanta United ever should have expected. You turn him in before going over your mileage allowance.

Getting a read on this particular coach is difficult because of the fact I didn’t pay enough attention in Spanish class. Hard to read between the lines when you can’t read the lines themselves. So, once again Friday, through the filter of an interpreter, Martino said he had nothing to say about the increasingly numerous reports that he was Mexico bound. What wasn’t issued in any recognizable form was a denial.

And there apparently is nothing in the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement that would stop him from going – either north or south.   

Martino has a sweet deal here. He works for an owner who will invest in talent, but doesn’t pretend to know how to use it. His front office has come up with a wonderful system for importing dynamic young players (Martino plays a big role in that). The city is too smitten with this new product to second-guess much of anything the coach does. And at least one local columnist is clueless about his sport, and can be easily duped.

Mexico reportedly is ready to unleash a flood of pesos upon him. But with that surely comes ulcers and hair loss. 

You can have only one first coach. The part Martino played in the transformation of Atlanta into a professional soccer mecca always will be immense.

There is no saying that a new coach can’t come in here and build off the foundation that has been laid. Still, we’ll miss him when he’s gone (whenever that is). How much, I just can’t say for sure. 

About the Author

Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.

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