Atlanta United are quickly earning the reputation of a team that makes big splashes. We have a one-of-a-kind stadium. We have a front office committed to MLS glory. We have an academy already making waves.
The next step is to make an even bigger splash at manager.
However, Atlanta United will have to choose that big splash manager based on a set of seemingly incommensurable priorities. Do you want pure name recognition at the risk of extending MLS' "retirement league" reputation to managers as well? Do you want the next star manager, knowing you risk paying a great deal of money for a manager likely to jump at the first big offer from a top European division? Or, finally, do you want a manager that knows MLS and all its quirks intimately? With every point being essential in an expansion team's first season, it would be a shame to throw away points based on an MLS-specific anomaly.
"Major League Soccer is a growing league and Atlanta is an expansion team so they have to be someone who 110 percent believes in MLS being a top league in the future and Atlanta being one of the top clubs. We don’t want someone who is seeing it as a stepping stone to another job. It has to be someone who is fully committed. You’ll notice I haven’t said MLS experience because we accept that if we take a coach who hasn’t had MLS experience, it will be a prerequisite that his assistant coach will be someone who has had great experience in the league. But at the moment, we have a clean sheet of paper and are looking at all coaches from all areas."
Eales has, wisely, kept all of his options open here. Based on this quote alone hiring Jason Kreis or Louis Van Gaal would make perfect sense, provided that they nab a staff of assistant coaches with MLS experience.
But Atlanta United shouldn't settle for the MLS-ready coach. They shouldn't settle for the sake of the club and, more importantly, they shouldn't settle for the sake of the league itself. MLS needs a coaching revolution, and Atlanta United can lead the charge by pursuing some of these names.
Not all of them are master tacticians. Not all of them are guaranteed wins in the press conference. But all of them are names that will cause the rest of the soccer world to take notice, and while that is not everything, it has to become a priority for a league that wants to go beyond just wishing itself into the upper echelons of the soccer world.
When Anthony Martial's dramatic game-winner rustled the back of the net in stoppage time of the FA Cup Semifinal, sealing Manchester United's win over Everton, many said that the fate of Roberto Martinez was also sealed. Or at least that it surely ought to have been. Our friends over at Royal Blue Mersey certainly pulled no punches, calling for Martinez's "reign of incompetence" at Everton to end.
The case for Martinez to Atlanta United is more name-recognition than anything else. He is currently the manager at a major Premier League power. He has "American ties" in so far as he covered the World Cup on ESPN during the 2010 and 2014 cycles. People know who he is and, presumably, Atlanta United would be swooping in to nab him from another European club interested in retaining his services as manager.
Apart from the name-recognition, you could argue that he does well taking small clubs to big heights. He won the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic and won League One with a then floundering Swansea City. The challenge of making the playoffs at an MLS expansion team is obviously unique, but fighting for a goal against tough odds wouldn't be something outside of Martinez's experience.
Whether Martinez truly believes in the future of MLS is still up for debate, but he did have very positive things to say about American players at BlazerCon, so there's that.
I am in love with the idea of Garry Monk in MLS. First reason: because Monk was one of the 'rising stars' of the Premier League, which means his name was linked to every job under the sun before things went way south at Swansea. So securing Monk at any post in MLS would be a coup for the league. Apart from that, Monk is a character who possesses the sort of fire that MLS desperately needs. More often than not that fire is dealt out on behalf of his players and in the direction of the referees. Give Monk a few matchdays in MLS and drama is sure to follow. I grant that drama, narrative, and the other 'meta' sorts of things rightly drive us crazy when they are constantly invoked and discussed in other leagues. But MLS is still a league on the ascendancy, so just about all press is good press, especially when you are trying to get the rest of the world to stop talking about the quality of your referees. Actually, maybe Monk isn't the best guy to make that stop...
Pearson tried to choke out a dude during a game one time. This is a fact I readily admit. But, like Monk, he brings D R A M A. And drama is good for the league. He also brings a counter-attacking style that has (*cough cough*) Leicester poised to win the Premier League. That style, as well as his eye for developable talent (Jamie Vardy anyone?!) is reason enough to give Pearson a look. At this point, and I can't believe I'm saying this, hiring someone with "former Leicester City manager" in their name might be a big publicity win for Atlanta United.
Pellegrini is interesting because he is either utterly impossible to get or the absolute perfect fit. He'd need a great deal of money to come to MLS, not to mention coming to Atlanta over a bigger market city like New York or Los Angeles. I also highly doubt that Manchester City, whose ownership group also owns NYCFC, would allow a manager who won the Citizens a League Title to coach at a conference rival. But this is a phone call that has to be made just to see what the price would be. Moreover, if we're looking to change the culture of MLS around who is "get-able" at manager, a hire like this will do the trick. Particularly if Atlanta United secured a name like Pellegrini and then went on to make the playoffs in his first season, you could soon see teams turning their eyes across the pond for the next legend of a manager looking to jump ship.
If we're going to throw out a manager likely to be sacked by Everton (Martinez) we certainly ought to talk about the manager that rode success at Everton all the way to the Theatre of Dreams. Despite the disaster that consumed his career after he left Merseyside, you can't scoff at Moyes' professional credentials when he was at his peak. He won the League Managers Association Manager of the Year Award three times while at Everton. The only manager who has won that award more times than Moyes? Sir Alex Ferguson. He's linked to the Celtic job and a return to Everton. If you believe that MLS is going to be one of the top leagues in the world why not act like it by doing what other top clubs in the world do--steal a manager that big clubs want?
Harry Redknapp or Tim Sherwood
Ok, Ok, Ok, hear me out. Sherwood hasn't proven much of anything in his brief managerial stints at Spurs and Aston Villa, and Redknapp seems to have lost a bit of the touch that had his Spurs side soaring during the Age of Bale. Both are on this list for one reason: they were acting managers of Tottenham Hotspur during the time of Darren Eales. If that minor detail can serve as a vital link for the British Press then we can at least mention it on this blog.