April 28, 2018 Atlanta: Atlanta United head coach Gerardo Martino breaks up a heated confrontation between Miguel Almiron (left) and Montreal Impact player Chris Duval (right) during the second half in a MLS soccer match on Saturday, April 28, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Martino expands on helping Atlanta United players get to Europe

I enjoy interacting with y’all.

I enjoy meeting y’all.

Sometimes you may wonder why I ask some of the questions I do.

So, to peel that onion a little bit (I love The Onion, by the way), two things happened this week that made me want to ask Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino about helping players get to Europe.

Many of you know from interviews with Miguel Almiron that he’s said Martino promised to help him get to a club in Europe at some point.

Yesterday, a story came out that he had made the same pledge to Josef Martinez.

A day before that, Wednesday, Martinez said “Ask Darren” when asked if he wants to return to Europe. Martinez played at Torino in Italy before joining Atlanta United.

It seemed like an odd answer. But, keep in mind, it was at the end of a seven-minute interview in which he already had said he was hungry and ready to go. Martinez doesn’t particularly enjoy interviews. Seven minutes may have felt like 17. He may have just been ready to go and that answer was a way to trying to be polite and funny at the same time.

But, his answer could have also been a message to Darren Eales, the club president. Martinez, who just broke the league’s single-season scoring record, makes $1.4 million per year. He has never publicly said that he wants a raise or a contract re-negotiation. But it stands to reason that because of everything that he’s accomplishing he may want a new contract, and that he has the leverage.

To compare, Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco will make $7.1 million this year. Michael Bradley will make $6.5 million. Martinez has scored as many goals in one game as Bradley, a holding midfielder, has in the past 2-3/4 seasons. 

Going back to Martinez never publicly saying he wants a raise: Martinez has said many, many times that he enjoys living in Atlanta and playing for Atlanta United. Many times. Even as clubs in Europe reportedly are interested in signing him. Many times.

That’s why his answer about Europe was so interesting Wednesday, combined with the story about Martino that came out later that day, piqued my interest.

So, here is the conversation that the media had with Martino on Friday:

Q: There was a story that came out yesterday in which you said you promised Josef Martinez that you would him try to get back to Europe. I assume that conversation happened when Josef first arrived. That’s my first question.

A: Yes. The first one.

Q: Have you had that conversation since?

A: No. Never again.

You can only say it once. I can try to help, but he’s doing everything else himself on the field.

Q: I know you have also made that pledge to Miguel Almiron. Have you made the pledge to anyone else?

A: With Josef, my commitment was to help him get back to Europe. With Miguel, it’s to try to help him get to Europe for the first time.

It would be unfair to think anything else. I think that’s the logical progression for him. He came here as a young player, and I think that at his age and great projection that he wants that challenge to play against the best players in Europe.

And I think that it’s a nice challenge for Atlanta United because we’ve brought in two of the best players in the league. Eventually those players will leave so the next step is to see how you can keep that circle going and bring in the next players and hopefully we can bring in another two, or however many, great players.

Q: So I’m clear, this isn’t a pledge that you’ve had with (Ezequiel) Barco, or Franco (Escobar) or Andrew (Carleton).

A: Julian (Gressel)

Q: Julian.

A: It’s possible, yes. Good.

That doesn’t mean that they are all going to leave together, or that they are going to leave while I’m still the coach, but it means that those players, they want to test themselves against the best. It’s the job of the club to bring up guys from the academy so that they can fill those spots.

The difference is football, or soccer, in the United States is different than the NBA or NFL. Those are the top leagues. Players here, they don’t have to think about going anywhere else because they are already at the top. 

But soccer is different.

The top leagues are in Europe. The players, if they want to play the best, they have to test themselves there.

Q: I actually understood all of that (in Spanish), which is shocking.

(After a question about Almiron, Martino returned to the topic and said this:)

Just to conclude with this thought and to conclude what we were talking about before. We are talking about all of these young guys, but there are some very important pillars on this team and every team needs a structure that allows the team to be successful. For us, it’s that spine with Brad (Guzan), the two centerbacks (Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez) and Jeff (Larentowicz) at holding midfielder.

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