Atlanta United’s new manager Gerardo "Tata" Martino has a spectacular resume for a MLS manager, having coached two national teams and one of the biggest clubs in the world, Barcelona, among others.
He made massive changes and found great success at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, winning the league and reaching the Copa Libertadores semi-finals in his first and only season as manager. Both Newell’s and Barcelona are clubs known for their youth products, something Atlanta United is very clearly invested in. Tata’s use of the youth academy will be an important trend to set, and one that could last far longer than his tenure as manager.
Tata’s time at the Camp Nou at first glance it doesn’t look all that impressive, only one trophy in one year as manager, but reading deeper into that season provides a bit more context. 2013/14 was a transition year for Barcelona, as they lost David Villa to Atletico Madrid and Thiago to Bayern. This was the same summer in which wünderkid Neymar made his very controversial move to Europe.
While neither Villa nor Thiago were catastrophic losses, the team had to be recreated, and that season’s Barcelona had a Luis Suarez shaped hole in it that wouldn’t be solved until after Tata’s departure. And though they finished poorly, conceding the title to Atletico on the final day, it’s not like they weren’t in the title race. Through 24 games Tata’s Barça had only been out of 1st position once but never regained top spot for the 14 remaining games.
In the cups, Tata’s Barcelona fell in the Copa del Rey final 2-1 to Real Madrid courtesy of one of the most amazing solo goals in recent times from Gareth Bale. They were also eliminated from the Champions League by a team from Madrid, this time Atleti in the quarterfinals, who were eventual runners-up. Not too bad for only one year at in one of the most difficult jobs in the world.
Tata was most recently, and probably more memorably to American fans, the manager of Argentina, without doubt one of the strongest national teams around, with equally high expectations. Coming off their 2014 World Cup final defeat to Germany, Argentina were (and still are) stacked with talent from top to bottom. While this may have made selection easier for Tata, it just added more pressure to an already dramatic job.
In the two tournaments Tata took his team through, Copa America 2015 & 2016, they reached the final twice and lost to Chile twice on penalties. In both tournaments Argentina topped their group, finishing with seven and nine points, respectively. In 2016, when they earned the maximum nine points from nine available, it should be noted that Chile, their past and future vanquishers were in their group.
As mentioned previously, Tata’s Argentina were loaded with talent both tournaments, and he regularly was able to bring great players off the bench if they didn’t start, like Gonzalo Higuain and Carlos Tevez. In general they would line up in 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, both very popular systems in the modern game. Although it should be noted that in both tournaments, Tata used traditional center backs as left-backs, like Funes-Mori and Rojo, some managers prefer more defensive full backs, but this could be a situation of lack of options, either way, something to watch for in Atlanta.
In summation, Tata’s record is both impressive and fairly unlucky given the exits from competitions he’s had and the teams he was beaten by. Despite this, the information surrounding these tough losses is very positive for Atlanta United fans. Tata has a reputation for being a Bielsa disciple, meaning his teams play fun-to-watch attacking soccer with a bit of an edge. Atlanta United did a fantastic job acquiring Tata, and hopefully we can look back on his time in MLS as revolutionary, or at the very least a positive start for United's MLS life.