For Atlanta United, your 2018 MLS Cup Champions, its short history has been one of dreams. Arthur Blank’s vision and commitment to set the precedent. The hiring of Darren Eales, Tata Martino, and Carlos Bocanegra has led to the most talented team in the league. They got Miggy. They have Josef. They’ve set attendance records over and over. Then finally, they won an MLS Cup Championship.
Even when things didn’t go as planned, the organization still came up aces. Mercedes Benz Stadium wasn’t ready in time. So what? The experience at Bobby Dodd was amazing. Even “Atlanta United” and the logo weren’t universally accepted, but the organization has the highest selling memorabilia in the league.
But now that the parade is over and the confetti has been swept up, Atlanta United enters a new era – one without Tata Martino. For an organization that has been perfect with their personnel hires, it now faces its biggest challenge yet. As the rumor mill about Tata’s replacement has fired up, two names have emerged as the favorites: Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Jorge Sampaoli. So, who are these coaches and how do they compare?
Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Of the many rumors linking Atlanta United and candidates, the Boca Juniors’ manager, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, had the earliest and strongest links. Many Atlanta United and MLS fans may recognize Barros Schelotto’s name. As a former player for the Columbus Crew, he won the MLS MVP Award and the MLS Cup in 2008. Although his time in the MLS ended in 2010, you have to imagine that some relationships still exist in the league which could bode well if he takes the Atlanta United helm.
Barros Schelotto’s managerial career is only six-years old, but has seen success. Shortly after his time ended with Columbus, Barros Schelotto was hired by Lanús in Argentina. With some good wins and one trophy from the 2013 Copa Sudamericana at Lanus, he left for Italy and the Palermo job. Through events out of his control, he left after one month when he was not given a coaching badge by UEFA. Shortly after, he signed with Boca Juniors where he has been very successful. His teams have won the league in back-to-back seasons and were runners-up in the Copa Libertadores this year.
Recent success with Boca Juniors. Proven ability to win domestic leagues and perform well in tournaments. Solid knowledge and experience with the MLS and soccer in the US. Runs an attacking style of soccer with a 4-3-3 formation that Martino used often.
He took over a Boca Juniors team that had won the league the previous year (in other words, the team was a winner already), and his current team is in 6th place. This could be forgiven due to the focus they have placed on their deep run in the Copa Libertadores. Boca Juniors has relied on vastly outspending the other clubs in the league and their success could be attributed to a huge talent advantage. Can he make it in a league with a salary cap?
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this article was posted, Sampaoli was reported to have agreed in principle to a deal with Santos FC in Brazil.
Many Atlanta United fans will know Jorge Sampaoli as the man who failed to get Lionel Messi a World Cup in 2018. While that “failure” needs to be dissected, let’s start with Sampaoli’s more humble beginnings.
The first eight years of Sampaoli’s managerial career are forgettable for most MLS fans. The manager coached in Peru and then Chile for Juan Aurich, Sport Boys, Coronel Bolognesi, Sporting Cristal, O’Higgins, and Emelec, winning a total of…zero trophies. In 2010, he moved to the Club Universidad de Chile where he won the Primera Division Apertura and Clausura Championships in 2011 and the Apertura again in 2012.
His success at Club Universidad de Chile gave him the opportunity to coach for the Chilean National Team where he took over an underperforming team. With Chile, Sampaoli qualified for the 2014 World Cup where they lost to hosts Brazil on penalty kicks; a 2015 Copa América championship, winning the final against Tata Martino and Lionel Messi; and a record breaking 10-3-3 record. With that, he moved to Spain to lead Sevilla in La Liga.
In his one year at Sevilla, he compiled a 21-9-8 record and finished behind Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid in the table. The team also qualified for the UEFA Champions League. While he was starting something special at Sevilla, Sampaoli once again left club football for his dream job with the Argentina national team.
Sampaoli’s time with Argentina was somewhat tumultuous. After all, any coach should be able to win a World Cup with Messi. Jorge is a justifiable scapegoat for some of his call-ups and lineup choices, but Argentina’s struggles were not new or isolated to his tenure. Previous coaches like Edgardo Bauza failed in Argentina - even coaches with a pedigree like Tata Martino. No to sound like a Sampaoli apologist, but the failures of the Argentina Football Association are bigger than Sampaoli, Tata, or even Messi. Nonetheless, Sampaoli made some questionable decisions, had an underwhelming 2018 World Cup, and fell short of Argentina’s expectations.
Great experience at big clubs in big leagues. Domestic success with Club Universidad de Chile. Experience and success in critical, must-win games for club and country. In 2015, he was named in the final three for the 2015 FIFA World Coach of the Year award, joined by Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique. Tactically, he shares the same approach as Tata Martino, both of them being disciples of Marcelo Bielsa. Therefore, the current personnel fit the scheme and style of play he would bring.
Sampaoli is a drifter, only staying with the Chilean National team for a period of more than two seasons. His failures at Argentina are highly publicized, even if he is being treated as a scapegoat for some bigger issues with the AFA. His personnel choices have been questionable and have received justifiable scrutiny. There is a limited number of trophies won in his coaching career. He did not win Messi a World Cup.
Arthur Blank and Darren Eales have been playing King Midas for the past few years. Atlanta United’s meteoric rise has been due to the fact that they have made the necessary hires. Tata Martino and his influence in South America brought us players like Miguel Almiron and the quality of his leadership brought us an MLS Cup. But know the rest of the league is questioning Atlanta’s ability to keep the success going. This next hire is going to set the trajectory of this organization for the next few years. As Five Stripe faithful hold their breath, we have to ask, “Can Atlanta United be successful without Tata Martino?” We’re about to find out.