Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino does not know the troubled history of high-profile foreign coaches in MLS, but both he and Atlanta United are looking for him to be the exception.
Atlanta United appointed Martino as its first head coach on Tuesday, making the veteran Argentine the person in charge of leading the fledgling club on the field during its upcoming expansion season in 2017. Martino arrives in Atlanta with a sexy resume that includes being the coach of Argentina and Paraguay on the international stage and Spanish heavyweights Barcelona at the club level, but managerial experience and accomplishments abroad have not translated very often into success in MLS.
From Ruud Gullit to Carlos Alberto Parreira, plenty of high-profile coaches have come and gone without making much of a dent in the league’s landscape. The rules in MLS are complex and mountainous, and they restrict the freedom of roster-building that is enjoyed throughout much of the rest of the world.
Atlanta United is confident that the 53-year-old Martino can buck the trend, especially since he will have the help of many people familiar with the intricacies of MLS.
“We feel the front office staff we’ve got here is very strong to enable to support and help Tata in terms of navigating the rules,” said Atlanta United president Darren Eales in a conference call on Wednesday. “With (technical director) Carlos Bocanegra, we’ve obviously got a player who knows the American soccer scene well. He’s played as a player in MLS, but also has played abroad and understands the global stage of the game. We’ve also got (director of soccer operations) Paul McDonough, who was the general manager of Orlando and in particular an expansion team with Orlando and came through.
“We feel from a support mechanism, we’ve got the people in place to help give Tata what he needs.”
What eventually won out over Martino’s lack of familiarity with MLS are his pedigree, his track record of valuing younger players, and his international appeal. Atlanta United still has to sign the bulk of its squad before officially kicking things off next year, and having someone like Martino at the helm will surely help attract interest from all types of players from all over the globe, whether they be marquee names, talented up-and-comers, or somewhere in between.
For Martino, the thought of having a blank canvas from which to start was alluring. That is why it was he who initially reached out to Atlanta United after resigning from his post as Argentina manager following a second consecutive Copa America final shootout loss to Chile.
“Fundamentally, it’s a project that starts from scratch,” said Martino on the conference call. “It isn’t competing yet and it’s not just about shaping a team, but also finding players that will make up the roster and establishing a philosophy. That’s something that’s not very common and the most attractive part of all of this.”
While Martino could have talked to a number of different compatriots like Guillermo Barros Schelotto who are familiar with MLS, he did not specifically reach out to anyone to discuss the league. His reasoning behind that was that Atlanta United would provide a different experience from other clubs that have been competing for years, meaning the job he has to do is a unique challenge.
Part of the challenge for Martino, apart from learning English, will be to familiarize himself with MLS. Only four months remain before Atlanta United gets together for its first camp ahead of the 2017 campaign, and having a better understanding of the competition, the styles of play, and talent in the pool will only help prepare him for the task that lies ahead.
“We actually came to an agreement this week, and we need and have still two months of the league to learn it with a better understanding,” said Martino when asked how familiar he was with MLS. “We also have a full preseason, we have friendly games. There’s enough time to learn the league in general terms and in specific ones.”
A major building block has been laid by Atlanta United this week with Martino’s appointment, one that will shape the future of the club and draw plenty of interest from observers looking to see how he does with his new challenge.
History is not on Atlanta United side’s, but the club doesn’t believe that it needs to be.
“For us it’s important to have Tata here to help our club grow, from the youth levels to the first team,” said Bocanegra. “It’s important that we work together, and we move forward from here.”