Particularly for Atlanta United fans enduring their (young) club's worst-ever season, the near five-month wait to name Frank de Boer's replacement felt like an eternity.
Yet the club knew who they wanted but had to bide their time. On Friday, they eventually got their guy.
Atlanta appointed Gabriel Heinze, the realistic candidate most fans were hoping for not just this time, but back when the club were searching for Tata Martino's replacement ahead of the 2019 season when they ultimately landed on Frank de Boer.
“We started the process a while back and Gabi quickly emerged as our top target," technical director and VP Carlos Bocanegra told media on a virtual press conference Monday.
Atlanta and Heinze began discussions months ago as the club identified him as one of the premier up-and-coming managers in South America.
Heinze was recently in charge of Argentine club Velez Sarsfield for three years, though chose to depart after the 2019-20 season. He also had stints at Godoy Cruz and Argentinos Juniors before taking charge of the Primera Division side. During his time at Velez, he led the club to two consecutive Copa Sudamericana qualifications.
His brand of soccer more closely represents what Atlanta are seeking— Front-footed, attacking, aggressive and entertaining.
Talks progressed to the point where Bocanegra and club president Darren Eales got special clearance from the government and consulate to travel down to Argentina for a meeting with Heinze. They laid out their offer and awaited Heinze's answer.
"One of the important things throughout the process was the respect I received from both parties, I asked them for time to fully analyze the proposal and they allowed me to do that," Heinze said through a translator. "That was important for me to analyze everything and come to a decision.”
Heinze liked what he saw during his dive into the team.
"Something that was very impressive to me during the interview process, he’d done quite a bit analysis on our team," Bocanegra said. "Not just the first team, but down through the youth ranks."
With the manager in place, focus shifts to offseason additions. Heinze knows what he wants for improvements and said there are "offers on the table."
Reports suggest Boca Juniors and Argentine youth international talent Agustin Almendra will soon follow, though neither Bocanegra nor Heinze commented on that.
Transfers will come next, but the new manager was Atlanta's biggest decision to make this offseason. They believe they've hit a home run. With Heinze in charge, Marcelino Moreno starting his first full season and Josef Martinez healthy again, Atlanta aim to return right back to the top.
“With so much uncertainty this year, we wanted to make sure for 2021, we got this hire right," Bocanegra said. "For all the preparation we had in trying to get Gabi in and eventually getting an agreement, it was to look at 2021. It was a very long process and well worth it.”