I never thought the language barrier for Tata Martino and Atlanta United would be a deal breaker. I did wonder how it might work between manager and players, and manager and front office. I didn’t really know how other clubs dealt with such an issue. After Martino’s introductory press conference, I’m not even a bit concerned.
“Tata has promised he’s going to learn his English and his wife actually is an English teacher, so he’s going to get great instruction,” Darren Eales joked during the press conference.
“We understand, and Tata understands, that learning English is of paramount importance. But having said that, soccer is a global game. Coaches around the world can go to countries and coach the game of soccer without learning their first language,” he added.
This says something about Martino’s commitment to Atlanta United that otherwise might be missed. It would’ve been easy for Martino to take a job in a Spanish speaking country. Instead, he’s so enthusiastic about the what Atlanta United is doing that he’s willing to undergo a three month, rigorous, fast-tracked semester of English in order to better coach his new team.
“Once they get up here in mid October, him and the rest of his staff that he’s building, they’ll have English lessons four days a week out of our family office. That will be kind of an intensive course - three, four month course leading up to preseason,” Carlos Bocanegra told the media.
Whether Martino’s wife is teaching that course, I don’t know. Regardless, it’s just one way the front office plans to tackle this obstacle.
“It’s very common. As you saw today, he has a bit of English already. He can say enough and he’s only going to get better. But you combat (the language issue) with people on the staff, and other players in the locker room, who can speak multiple languages,” Bocanegra said.
Atlanta United’s technical director has been in the position Martino is in now. He spent three years of his career in France with coaches he didn’t understand at all for the first six months. He had a Swedish teammate help translate whatever the coach was saying, ensuring Bocanegra understood the tactics being covered at the time. His experience receiving instruction in a different language is an example of how it may work here, and an opportunity to build chemistry between future Atlanta United players.
This woudn’t be unique to Atlanta United, but imagine a scenario where players like Kenwyne Jones, Tito Villalba, Chris McCann and Andrew Carelton are all helping each other understand the instruction being delivered by Martino. It’s an opportunity to build chemistry between players and, for a new team bringing in players who’ve never played together before, a chance to help understand how players will play with each other on the field.
Of course, Martino will still need a translator.
“He isn’t going to be able to express himself maybe as much as he would like to in another langue that he’s learning. But he will have someone on his staff that is bilingual, fluent in both...so he can get his message passed,” Bocanegra added.
“We know that’s a challenge. But, that’s one we thought about long and hard before going down this road. It’s not uncommon in a locker room to have people speaking multiple languages,” he said.
The front office also expressed they didn’t want any players to be isolated due to the potential language barrier. It’s clear that Eales and Bocanegra want to establish a family-type atmosphere around their club.
“In or around the group at dinner tables, in the locker room, if there’s other people around besides only Argentinean, then it’s English we would speak because we don’t want anyone to feel left out,” Bocanegra said.
Time will tell how dedicated to learning English Martino is, but in case he struggles with the language, Eales has promised to brush up on his Spanish. I wonder if Mrs. Martino teaches Spanish too?