New manager Gabriel Heinze feels ‘able to help Atlanta United’

Gabriel Heinze, coach of Argentina's Velez Sarsfield, gives instructions to his players during a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Ecuador's Aucas Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, at the Gonzalo Pozo Ripalda stadium in Quito, Ecuador. (Dolores Ochoa/AP)
Gabriel Heinze, coach of Argentina's Velez Sarsfield, gives instructions to his players during a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Ecuador's Aucas Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, at the Gonzalo Pozo Ripalda stadium in Quito, Ecuador. (Dolores Ochoa/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Gabriel Heinze was known as a no-nonsense player during his exemplary career.

That seriousness and focus came through during Monday’s teleconference introducing him as Atlanta United’s new manager. His translated answers were to the point. There weren’t many clichés. He didn’t go too deeply into many topics, such as tactics and influences, and metaphorically headed away others, such as Gerardo Martino.

But his most important answer to the myriad questions was this, when asked a second time by why did he chose to join Atlanta United when he reportedly had other offers to lead clubs in Brazil or in Europe:

“We feel like we can help Atlanta United,” he said, wearing a red Atlanta United pullover.

ExploreAtlanta United looking to strengthen roster

And, really, that’s all that Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra on Monday said that he wants. It’s certainly what the supporters want after the club struggled through 2020 with no trophies and very few examples of passionate, aggressive, exciting soccer under previous manager Frank de Boer and interim manager Stephen Glass.

Bocanegra said that Heinze, whose managerial career includes stops at three clubs in Argentina, emerged as Atlanta United’s top target because he has consistently gotten his clubs to “play as quickly as possible, the high press, trying to play through the lines, play exciting, being on front foot, playing with high energy.”

If it sounds familiar it’s by design. It’s how the club played under Martino in its first two years, which culminated with the MLS Cup in 2018. It’s what the club wants in 2021.

The hiring process lasted several months, (de Boer and the club parted ways in July) partly because of the effects COVID-19 is having on travel and partly because Heinze and the club wanted to thoroughly get to know each other.

Bocanegra said Heinze prepared by doing a deep analysis of the club’s roster, which he didn’t want to share any details of on Monday other than to say he saw a young team with great will. The analysis he shared during his interviews with Bocanegra and club president Darren Eales included drilling down to some of the academy prospects. Heinze said some may be given a chance to train with the first team.

Video chats and telephone conversations can only reveal so much.

Bocanegra and Eales obtained special permission from Argentina’s government to travel to Buenos Aires to speak to Heinze. They first met in the same hotel that the two first met Miguel Almiron, who remains one of the club’s most beloved players even though he was sold to Newcastle following the 2018 season.

Heinze said he appreciated the respect shown to him by Bocanegra and Eales during the process. An agreement was reached on a two-year contract and the club announced the hire on Dec. 18.

Heinze’s coaching staff is finalized, but, Bocanegra said, its members will be announced at a later date. The team hopes Heinze can be in Atlanta before Jan. 25, 2021, when the team opens training camp. His visa and other documents are being processed.

As for what supporters may see when the team does start training, Heinze said he doesn’t like the word tactics. He prefers to talk about positioning and the players’ confidence and comfort on the field. He also didn’t want to say that he has been influenced by Martino, who was his manager at Newell’s Old Boys, or Marcelo Biesla, who has influenced many Argentinian coaches. Instead, Heinze said he’s gathered ideas from many coaches during his career, which also included years at Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Roma.

“The most important thing for me is to do what one feels and what one is capable to do,” Heinze said. “I’m far from carrying out another coach’s philosophy. I’ve learned from them but what one does is what they feel.”

There will be some personnel changes within the roster, as is to be expected when a team fails to make the playoffs for the first time. Heinze said there are offers out for certain players. The club has been tied to a right fullback and striker.

“There are a lot of things on the table,” Bocanegra said. “We want to give the coach the best chance to be successful here.”

Heinze also brushed away a question about what he wants in terms of results and achievements.

“In this moment I have many steps first,” he said. “I know very well the club that I’m at and the magnitude of the club. I’m not looking for the results or success today like you guys would say but there are many things to do first. And today we’re very far away.”

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