Gerardo Martino will not renew his contract as Atlanta United’s manager at season’s end, team president Darren Eales said Tuesday.
Martino informed the players at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at the team’s practice facility in Marietta. Eales said Martino told him of the decision some time after Sunday’s win against Chicago.
“It’s one of those situations where we’ve had a wonderful two years,” Eales told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It was a long discussion, and he came to a decision, which we respect, that he wants a new challenge and for family reasons.”
Martino, a native of Argentina, is reportedly going to become Mexico’s next manager as reports indicated last week. Eales said he doesn’t know where Martino may go next. Martino wasn’t on the team’s media interview list Tuesday.
» Timeline: Martino’s career at Atlanta United
Martino did issue a statement through the team.
“This was not an easy decision to make, I have enjoyed my time with Atlanta United very much and am proud of what we have accomplished together in such a short time,” Martino’s statement read. “The decision was not made for financial reasons, negotiations with the front office were transparent and fair. It was simply the right move for me and my family at this time. The opportunity to build a team from the start does not come along often, and I am grateful to the club and to the fans for putting their trust in me to establish a solid foundation here in Atlanta. What is most important now is that the focus remain on our goals for this season.”
The search for Atlanta United’s next manager will begin soon and will be global, according to Eales. They want someone that can continue to use Atlanta United’s style of play and who fits within the organization’s core values.
There have been many rumors regarding Martino, especially with a contract option that could have been picked up on Oct. 8. Martino said early this year that he received a formal contract extension offer from Atlanta United.
Martino has spoken little of the many rumors of his departure. Last week, he declined to directly address the Mexico report.
Martino led Atlanta United to the playoffs in its first season. The team needs only to win at Toronto on Sunday in the regular-season finale to take the Supporters’ Shield, given to the team that finishes with the most points.
Atlanta United will host its first playoff game this season at home on Nov. 11. Should Atlanta United advance in its playoff run, the conference semifinals will be Nov. 25 and 29. The season ends with the championship game on Dec. 8. It will be Martino’s final game in charge should Atlanta United play for the title.
With last week’s win against Chicago, it tied the league record for points in a season (69) and secured a berth in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League tournament.
“It’s been incredible, really, what the club has achieved in its first two seasons,” Eales said. “In a way, it’s strange that we’ve equaled points total and still haven’t wrapped up the Shield.”
Martino’s hiring was considered a coup for Atlanta United because of his pedigree as formerly the manager of Paraguay, Barcelona and Argentina.
Martino came to MLS and Atlanta because he said he had grown tired of the scrutiny that can come with managing in Spain and Argentina. He wanted to focus on coaching.
With a roster full of young, attacking players from South America, many of whom cite Martino as the reason they joined Atlanta United, the team played an offense-first style of soccer that made it the darlings of MLS and packed first Bobby Dodd Stadium and then Mercedes-Benz Stadium on its way to setting numerous records.
In its first season, Atlanta United scored the second-most goals in MLS (70) and had the second-best goal difference (plus-30). Eales said that the goal-difference may have been one of Martino’s greatest accomplishments.
“When you watch Atlanta United you know what you are going to get,” Eales said. “We score the goals and play a fast, fluid style of play.”
Martino notably led the team to its first win, a 6-1 effort in the snow at Minnesota United on March 12, its first win at Bobby Dodd, a 4-0 shutout of Chicago on March 18, its first win in the $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Dallas on Sept. 10, and the 7-0 demolition of New England on Sept. 13.
It had a chance to finish with the second seed in the East for the playoffs, but a Sebastian Giovinco free kick resulted in a 2-2 draw with Toronto in the final game of the regular season and pushed Atlanta United to the fourth seed. It hosted Columbus in the first round of the playoffs and was beaten in penalty kicks.
The team added two weapons in the offseason. It traded with Portland for midfielder Darlington Nagbe. It then spent a reported MLS record transfer fee of $15 million to acquire Ezequiel Barco from Independiente in Argentina.
With Nagbe, Barco, Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, the team is again leading MLS in goals scored (69) and, with a defense led by goalkeeper Brad Guzan and centerbacks Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, goal difference (29).
Martino, 55, compiled a 38-17-17 in all competitions in his two seasons with Atlanta United.
Martino seemed to enjoy coaching in MLS, though he didn’t like the Video Assistant Referee system put into place last season. He also had verbal confrontations with other coaches, most recently Red Bulls’ Chris Armas. He respected several teams, notably Columbus, Sporting KC and New York Red Bulls, for their style and commitment to playing an attractive style of soccer.
Eales said he has no concerns that Martino’s pending departure will negatively impact the rest of the season. He said the players will want to win the Supporters’ Shield and try to win the Cup for themselves, for Martino, for the club and for the fans.
Eales said no one is bigger than the club. They are all parts of the puzzle.
“Tata will be a huge part of our history, always a friend, always a legend,” Eales said. “He will always have a special place in club’s heart and fans’ hearts because he created a club that will be a big club on world stage for years to come.”