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Get to know Atlanta United Interim Head Coach Rob Valentino

Support pours in for the new Interim Head Coach

Jacob Gonzalez/Atlanta United

With all of the news surrounding Gabriel Heinze’s abrupt (and timely) firing and speculation about his eventual replacement, Atlanta United’s interim solution went relatively overlooked.

For the second straight year, Atlanta United promoted their interim coach from within, naming Assistant Coach Rob Valentino as the club’s steward until it can find a permanent replacement. Valentino began his coaching career with Orlando City B after a lengthy career as a defender between the USL, MLS, and NASL. In 2018, Valentino joined Atlanta United 2’s training staff and want subsequently promoted to Frank De Boer’s staff as an assistant manager to work with players from the entire organization to help aid young players in their acclimation to the professional game. In Tony Annan’s master class on the new direction of Atlanta United’s academy integration with the organization, Annan credits Valentino with the development of players like George Bello through voluntary extra work after practice. Valentino did the same with many players including Miles Robinson, Jon Gallagher, Lagos Kunga, and other players hoping to make the jump from the academy or USL to the first team.

From the limited amount that we have seen and heard from him, Valentino seems to bring a much more compassionate relationship-based approach to his form of coaching. In the press scrum the day after his official appointment to his new role as Interim Head Coach, Valentino shared that, “I care about those boys in there. I care about the club. I want to see them succeed. I want to see them happy. I want to see smiles on their faces.”

Valentino’s job as an assistant was to build relationships with these players and help them find ways to succeed for the team and in their careers. When asked what he can bring to the team, Valentino emphasized the human element. “We want to take more risks and create more chances. That’s the idea, right? And score more goals and win more games, that’s the end-all goal, but ultimately we are dealing with these humans. And we’re dealing with people.” Valentino continued to say that he knows all of our players and staff are facing this adversity in their own way and he wants to strengthen relationships with players that he already knows and build relationships with the new player he has not gotten a chance to work with. It is that connection that rests at the core of who he is as a coach and as a teacher. “There’s more to these guys than just being athletes,” he said. A team that trusts their leaders to care for them as not just players but people does not seem to be that novel of a concept but judging by some of the news that has come out recently, it may be a much-needed change for our club.

You can tell a lot about a coach by how their former players speak about them. Just a few hours after his interim promotion was announced, Valentino received an outpouring of support from former players and journalists.

Valentino sees this as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and is not worried about this being an audition for a higher profile job. He knows this is an interim job and is at peace with that. While his appointment to this position will likely be short-lived, it will be devoted to restoring the trust of the players and rebuilding the integrity of the team. Aiding Valentino in this effort will be Matt Lawry (Academy Director), Jack Kimber (First-team Fitness Coach), Ryan Alexander (Director of Sports Science), Liam Curran (Goalkeepers Coach), and 2s Head Coach Jack Collison who will assist in joint training activities between the two teams.

This is entirely an Atlanta United-based crew of coaches and staff from the pre-Heinze era since Heinze’s entire support staff departed with him. This tells us that the club is trying to get back to what it wants to be and to restore some continuity for its players. In addition, we will likely see a greater emphasis on the development of young players and prospects in the near term until the club can find upgrades to fit the yet-to-be-hired Head Coach’s needs.

When asked about the qualities he thinks are most important for a head coach, Valentino emphasized honesty, transparency, and hard work. He quoted Suns’ coach Monty Williams’ idea of how pressure is a privilege in that what he calls “fun pressure” is being in positions of adversity can be fantastic opportunities “to create diamonds”. He differentiates “fun pressure” from “real pressure” like family, health, financial security. This “fun pressure” is a chance to go out there and to challenge themselves at a high level. That pressure is why he is there and why his players are out there working every day. With that pressure also comes the need to offer some consistency for this team while allowing them to find enough comfort to be creative.

“To be honest, I don’t want to change a lot because (the players) have gone through changes and you try do it in a short period of time and you can hit a real roadblock. Ultimately we just need to turn our luck. We need to get results.” — Valentino

Valentino wants the players to know their roles and responsibilities and to be ready to play the club’s next two matches on Wednesday and Saturday. They will want to simplify things for the players and for the staff. They will want to get the players back to actually playing again instead of overthinking things while on the field.

We will likely learn much more about Valentino, his staff, and their plans for our team over the coming weeks but for now, they seem to understand that they are not just healing the team, they are healing a community.

Best of luck and congratulations, Rob Valentino.