Two days ago, I had the pleasure of a front row seat to another Tata Martino press conference. The setting was far from familiar, with Tata dressed to the nines in the Venetian Ballroom at the InterContinental Buckhead.
See, I’m more used to Tata donning that pullover he’d so casually have tied around his shoulders during games (and still quipping about the muy frio press room). Or, if it wasn’t that, it was “9 a.m. Tata Martino” — freshly showered with his hair combed and training shirt neatly tucked in before he went out to get absolutely roasted by yet another Georgia summer day.
I’m not going to be long here, because I don’t care much to talk about the words Martino spoke in a press conference held to help promote Mexico’s upcoming match with Venezuela in Mercedes-Benz Stadium this summer. If you’d like to read about what he said, please read Doug Roberson’s two stories in the AJC or Chris Fuhrmeister at ProSoccerUSA who have published about the event.
Truth is, it’s hard to write about Tata’s return to Atlanta without considering the subtext of the current situation happening at Atlanta United, where the team is trying — to various degrees of success — to return to the pomp and flair that Martino’s teams had in their best form. Every word is dissected and scrutinized like it’s a clue from the three-eyed raven warning us that winter is coming.
Tata Martino’s press conferences are special because you pretty much know he’s going to say something that makes you laugh, makes you reconsider an opinion, or even makes you emotional. He famously talked about some of the issues facing his native Argentina that went viral on social media last season. Another time, he made Doug switch seats. And when Atlanta United was knocked out of the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2017 after penalties against the Columbus Crew, Martino was visibly emotional when he gave “a profound thank you” to the fans for the unbelievable support his team had received in that first season.
And that sentiment holds true with Tata today. The fans in Atlanta clearly mean so much to him. When I asked him what memories or feelings came to mind, he talked about the joy he feels and mentioned the fans before even his former players or colleagues.
One group he didn’t mention was los periodistas. Us. The journalists. How dare he.
I kid, but I would like to talk about Tata from our perspective. Because an occasion like this — a sterile promotional event — is an easy opportunity for someone of his stature and place in the sport to phone it in. He could’ve been done with this thing in 15 minutes, but the presser lasted more than twice as long. He answered every inquiry with the thought and care it deserved. When he answers your question, he looks you in the eye (which admittedly makes for a bit of awkwardness when I basically have to pretend I’m completely understanding what he’s saying). What stood out Monday though was that he looked genuinely happy to see us. The feeling was mutual. Tata talked about “respect” between fans and manager, but there was similar, albeit more implicit feeling of respect between he and us. And I respect the hell out of this man.
Basically, all I’m trying to say is