Atlanta United hiring Argentina’s Gerardo Martino as first manager

Atlanta United has hired Gerardo Martino, formerly the manager at Barcelona and of the Argentinian national team, as its first manager.

Martino has never coached a team in MLS or in the United States and is learning English. He will bring an impressive resume, particularly on the club level. Atlanta United will begin play in 2017 and has signed seven players. Financial terms of the deal with Martino weren’t disclosed, but it is a multi-year contract and both sides have a multi-year option.

“Barcelona, Argentina, Atlanta United, it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?” Atlanta United President Darren Eales said.

Martino will be introduced at a press conference on Wednesday. He is a 53-year-old native of Argentina who has managed more than 10 teams, mostly in South America, in a coaching career going back to 1998. He notably led Paraguay from 2006-11, leading them to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup and the finals of the 2011 Copa America.

Known as “Tata,” Martino led Argentina from 2014-16 before resigning earlier this year, citing dysfunction within the front office. Before leading Argentina, Martino managed Barcelona during the 2013-14 season.

It was a disappointing run for both teams, one of few he has experienced after managing numerous club teams in Paraguay before he rose to prominence as a manager at Newell’s Old Boys, a club in Argentina for which he had almost 500 appearances when he was a player.

As a manager, Martino helped Newell’s avoid relegation and led them to a title as well as the semifinals of the Copa Libertadores tournament, which includes club teams from throughout South America.

Martino went from managing Newell’s to Barcelona. Despite featuring some of the world’s best talent, the Spanish club failed to win La Liga or the Champions League.

After resigning from Barcelona, Martino was hired to coach Argentina. Despite fielding one of the world’s most talented squads with a pool of players from which to draw that included Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Angel di Maria, among others, the team twice made it to the finals of Copa America, where they were beaten by Chile both times.

Eales cited several reasons why Martino was attractive: unlike Orlando City and Minnesota, which already have players for their expansion season, Atlanta United is still building its team. Eales wanted someone who can plays with a philosophy that can be instituted from the first team through the academy.

Perhaps because of the talent at his disposal as manager of those teams, Martino played a high press that is designed to push the opponent back as well as allowing his team to maintain possession of the ball. It’s a strategy with tactics that aren’t original to Martino, but one a lot of teams have tried to use with mixed degrees of success. Atlanta United President Darrel Eales has said he would prefer the team play an attacking style of soccer.

Secondly, Eales pointed to Martino’s history of developing players, notably at Newell’s, where he helped them avoid relegation by placing faith in younger players. Eales has great faith in developing players from the academy and into the first team, which his former club Tottenham has done with great success.

“His flexibility and pragmatism to blend the idealism to be competive and get results was attractive,” Eales said.

Third, Eales believes that a manager with Martino’s international experience will be attractive to players who may want to come to MLS. Martino should have relationships with numerous players in Argentina and the rest of South America that could benefit Atlanta United’s efforts to develop its roster. The team has already signed one Argentinian, Hector Villalba, who played at San Lorenzo. Club Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra has said that players who move from Argentina’s first division to MLS have a good chance to succeed because of the styles of the leagues are similar.

“We can’t expect him to win every game from day one,” Eales said. “I do think with Carlos and Tata at the helm of the soccer side, we can bring in players who can be as effective as they can from day one.”

Martino’s lack of experience in MLS will make for an interesting fit. When describing what he wanted in a manager, Eales has said if the person didn’t have MLS experience then it would almost certainly be necessary for his assistants to have that knowledge. Eales said at least one of the assistants will have experience with MLS. Martino’s staff is still being put together.

Foreign managers, like those from the U.S., have had mixed success in MLS. Patrick Vieira, who was born in Senegal but played for France, is succeeding with NYCFC this season where American Jason Kreis struggled last year. But Scotland’s Owen Coyle left Houston in the middle of the season after failing to keep them in the race for the playoffs. Those are just two examples. There have also been numerous coaches to come to MLS who have experience managing national teams.

Eales said he believes that Martino will be able to rely on Bocanegra annd Paul McDonough’s experiences inn MLS to help him through the nuances of the league.

“While MLS does have its intracacies, he understand its no different han coaching Newell’s or club football in Paraguay,” Eales said. “We are comfortable we can give him the tools to succeed.”

Martino will have a lengthy checklist when he arrives. Working with Bocanegra and Lucy Rushton, the team must continue to build its roster, which can be done through the five picks in the expansion draft in December, the draft in January, free-agency and waiver pickups, among other ways.

The team will play in the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium and train in the $60 million complex being constructed in Marietta.