June 6, 2018 Kennesaw: Atlanta United head coach Gerardo Martino shares a laugh with his assistant coaches while playing Charleston Battery during the first half in a U.S. Open Cup match on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, in Kennesaw. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Q&A with Gerardo Martino: Pity, Champions League and rough starts

Gerardo Martino looked tan, relaxed and happy while in Atlanta Monday promoting Mexico’s game against Venezuela on June  5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Martino, of course, made Mercedes-Benz Stadium his home as manager of Atlanta United the previous two years. After leading the team to the MLS Cup last season, his contract expired last December and he agreed to become Mexico’s manager in January.

But he has kept his eye on Atlanta United and MLS. He didn’t want to talk specifically about his former team, only saying that he has watched the games and that Frank de Boer is a step up as manager.

But Martino did have some advice for the team’s supporters as part of an exclusive interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: When we spoke in your final interview before leaving Atlanta United, you said that you wanted to spend more time with your family. With this job leading Mexico, I wondered if you are getting more time with your family?

A: Yes. I just spent 15 days at home in Rosario, Argentina. That’s what I was talking about at that time. In April, I could have 15 days at home. Last year in Atlanta, I came back Jan. 3 and returned to Argentina Dec. 14. It’s very long. That’s what I was talking about.

Q: Someone on twitter wanted me to ask where winning the MLS Cup ranked among your achievements as a manager?

A: I’ve had good things. I’ve had bad things. 

This comes from a place of privilege because it was a different type of job. They invited me to participate in a project that you have to build from scratch. On a team you have to build a right back, a left back, a striker, the goalkeeper. You have to build it. I liked it.

I think that in the short term you saw things that we could have improved, but you also saw good things.

Q: Atlanta United supporters are slightly aggravated right now, but I’m not sure they remember that in your first season, the team won just three of its first 10 games. What advice do you have for Atlanta United supporters?

A: First, have patience. 

They shouldn’t think that it’s that easy to win titles. They shouldn’t believe that you can win a title every year in MLS,

Also because they kept the base of the team, they replaced the best player (Miguel Almiron) on their team with the best player (Pity Martinez) in South America. They didn’t rest on their laurels. They doubled-down on their bet.

Q: There’s a theory that a European coach will have trouble managing a team featuring players from Latin America. Do you agree with that theory?

A: No, no, no. I can’t give any credit to that theory. If it exists, I really don’t know it.

Us coaches are used to training soccer players, more than just where they are from.

Of course, the club makes the analysis of what’s needed and goes ahead and retains the coach. They are in the best position to decide what the club needs.

Q: The first international soccer game at the Georgia Dome was Mexico vs. Venezuela in 2009. Ten years later, you will lead Mexico vs. Venezuela at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Without the success of that first game, you and I may not be sitting here talking today. Do you find that as odd as I do?

A: We just hope we have the same success, that there will be a lot of Mexico fans at the stadium, and that there will be a lot of Atlanta fans at the stadium.

Q: There is a lot of pressure that comes with managing Mexico. Have you started to feel that pressure, or are you mostly oblivious to it because of your managerial history?

A: I’m used to it. That will probably all change when we get to official competitions. In every game we are playing a little bit with our future. Maybe friendlies are not the same as official games.

Q: Do you miss the day-to-day training that you got with Atlanta United?

A: In one moment, yes, in another moment, no.

Q: Pity Martinez is having a rough start with Atlanta United so far. Do people just need to be patient with him?

A: Yes. Here’s something that’s very important: The reality is not what happened with Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez. That’s something that happens very rarely. All players need time.

The players you buy for $1 million, $2 million, $10 million, this happens with the top teams in the world. The players have gotten there and sometimes haven’t gotten the results that are wanted. Sometimes, they never do.

But, in his case, he just got there. It’s too soon.

What the fans of Atlanta United should have no doubt is they have an exceptional player.

Q: You spoiled Atlanta United supporters.

A: You’ve got to pick up the fans.

Q: Now that MLS teams have been badly knocked out of the Champions League, what does MLS need to do to compete with teams from LIGA MX?

A: They really should check the calendars. 

When they started playing, the Mexican teams already had five dates. That’s an advantage.

It’s not the same thing having played five league games with playing your very first game of the year in an international competition.

There’s another issue.

In Mexico, there are a couple of teams, such as the ones in Monterrey, that are great clubs with great rosters. It’s not easy playing against them.

Now, the two teams in the final are from Monterrey.

Q: Did you get your championship ring?

A: No. In June. I will get my ring and coach of the year trophy. Justin (Veldhuis) has them. He wrote two hours ago.

Q: Last question from me, after you were made fun of by your family for the way you hit the Golden Spike at the parade, saying it looked like you had never before swung a hammer, would you come hit the Golden Spike before a game?

A: Yes, I will do it.

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