Along with my Atlanta United support, I’m also a Tottenham fan, so indulge me while I tell a quick story about Mauricio Pochettino’s hiring (this will come back around to Atlanta United, I promise).
Spurs were coming off some dismal times after enduring a terrible second year under Andre Villas-Boas until he was fired and replaced by an even worse manager in Tim Sherwood. Some players openly mocked him in the press as Spurs sluggishly finished the season in 6th place and far from the top four finish we’d pinned our hopes on. In came Pochettino. With things having ended on such a low note the season prior, and hearing about the adjustment period that was needed for the squad to adapt to his methods, many of us preached patience. Just give us exciting stuff to watch, and we can wait a year or two before we really start demanding results. Sure enough, Pochettino’s first year was a struggle. Despite a 5th place finish, Spurs goal difference was a meager +5 (and it was a negative integer for most of the season). But as the story has unfolded over the next two years, Pochettino’s team is now playing some of the best soccer in England.
As has been mentioned many times, Gerardo Martino and Mauricio Pochettino are of the same ilk. They aren’t just Argentinian comrades – they played on the same team (briefly) as players and were by-and-large coached by the same influencer in Marcelo Bielsa. So it’s not a stretch to say that Gerardo Martino’s training regimen and tactical philosophy will also need some time to bed in with the squad before things become second nature for them.
The question is: Can Atlanta United fans afford Tata Martino the same kind of time for him to build the project?
There’s one key difference between the situations that Martino is facing as opposed to Pochettino — the difference in structure between MLS and the English Premier League. MLS clubs are much more susceptible to year-to-year player turnover through the various mechanisms the league has established. In MLS, players are moved for a wide variety of reasons, whether it’s to free up allocation monies or cap space, an expansion draft, or being poached by a more prestigious club. In the Premier League, which exists without a salary cap and thus all of the complex player designations and legalese that goes along with it, clubs are typically only guarding against unhappiness among the playing staff. If the club and players are happy and don’t want to part ways, they won’t.
Contrast this with Atlanta, which has openly adopted a DP strategy to target young, durable players who they can sell on for profits. This strategy is economically sustainable while allowing the club to go after very talented young players, but does it negatively affect the first team in the long term? We obviously don’t know the answer to that question yet. All we know is that this strategy allowed us to acquire one of the most talented players from Argentina last season in Miguel Almiron. And he has fit in beautifully, no doubt. My question is what the squad will look like after he’s gone. We are going to, eventually, need to replace key players in a complex scheme that will likely have a knock-on effect to the players around them. New players will enter the fray, and they will have to adjust to the new team and manager. Under the current strategy, the cycle will go on (assuming our DPs play at a high level, which we all want).
Obviously with everything the club is doing from the construction of a state-of-the-art training facility, to embedding a firmly entrenched youth academy, the club is doing everything it can to be a sustainable, vibrant club. But in order to win MLS titles, you need extreme cohesion among a relatively small group of players. And that’s why they pay the manager the big bucks – because no matter how good your front office and youth development is, you need a manager to bring the first team together to win championships.