Now that the fun of introducing Gerardo Martino is over, the real fun of him going to work begins.
Martino, formerly the manager of Barcelona and Argentina’s national soccer team and who was unveiled as Atlanta United’s new manager on Wednesday, said he will spend the next 100 days building a roster ahead of the expansion club’s inaugural 2017 season. The season will run from March until October with the team playing its home games in $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium being constructed downtown.
“I’d like to build a good roster of 28 players who have good qualities and who can face teams of similar level,” he said. “In the next 100 I’d like to install a good philosophy of soccer.”
First things first. Martino, known as “Tata,” doesn’t have to spend time building a staff because he said that is mostly complete. He declined to name them but the will unveiled in the coming weeks. Atlanta United President Darren Eales said at least one assistant will have experience in MLS. Their experience, along with that of Atlanta United Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra and director of soccer operations Paul McDonough, will help Martino understand and navigate the unique rules MLS has for player acquisition.
Those rules have frustrated a few coaches – international and domestic – who have come to the league. When asked what Designated Player, Targeted Allocation Money and the SuperDraft are (which are a few of the means of acquiring players), Martino smiled and answered in Spanish: “It’s the rules that MLS has.”
The mazy rules and salary cap don’t scare Martino, even after three years ago managing a Barcelona team that had the luxury of a seemingly never-ending checkbook and the gravitas to get most players they wanted. Atlanta United has neither the pedigree nor the flexibility because of MLS rules to simply pick and choose players. They must be smart. They must be efficient to fit within the salary cap. Most importantly, they must be right. If a player doesn’t work out, they simply can’t go sign another with a plug-and-play methodology.
Martino has at least two things working his favor that could make working within MLS’s rules easier. He has experience building clubs and rosters. He led several club teams in Paraguay, including eventually coaching its national team to success, before guiding Newell’s Old Boys, the club he played for in Argentina, from relegation to a championship.
Martino did it by focusing on developing youth, which is something that Eales and Bocanegra also believe in. Atlanta United was the first MLS expansion club to start its academy before its senior team played a game. The team has already signed one of those players, Andrew Carleton, to a contract and there will be a few more, even though Eales said there are no immediate plans to do so.
Martino has attended two of the academy’s training sessions.
“I must say that we must have patience because the academy has just taken off,” Martino said. “I come from a city, a team, Newell’s, where the priority was youth development. It will be the same here at Atlanta United.”
Including Carleton, the club has signed seven players. Martino said on Wednesday that he hasn’t spoken to them, but he is familiar with them, especially Hector Villalba, who is also a native Argentinian.
“He did very well for San Lorenzo,” Martino said. “I hope to have the best version of him in Atlanta.”
Martino seemed confident that the players the club has signed will fit within his high-pressure style.
“The players that are currently on the roster are good player and good players adapt to any philosophy very quickly,” he said.
Martino has already begun scouting talent in MLS ahead of the expansion draft in December.
He, Bocanegra and McDonough will work together in identifying and signing players.
Atlanta United will receive just five selections in the expansion draft that will be held Dec. 16. That number was decreased from the 10 that expansion clubs NYCFC and Orlando City received. Eales said he wasn’t concerned because the club theorizes that it’s likely no more than five of the selections would become first-team players anyway.
Martino is already familiar with some of the players in the league. When Eales and Bocanegra flew to Rosario, Argentina to meet with Martino during the interview process, he brought a notebook filled with scouting reports on the teams in the league.
Eales believes that Martino’s resume and reputation, combined with Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the $60 million training facility and season-ticket sales of more than 22,000 will combine to make Atlanta United attractive to the players that the team hopes to sign.
“For us, it’s important for us to give ‘Tata’ the tools to be successful to get the players he think will fit into his style of play,” Bocanegra said. “Our job is to work together as a unit. We all agree on this guy, let’s go for it.”