Atlanta United president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra didn’t go into too many details about why the decision was made Sunday to relieve Gabriel Heinze of his duties as head coach.
But in a conference call with reporters, they pointed out two factors that didn’t impact the decision.
It was not about Heinze deciding to have star striker Josef Martinez train away from the first team, a clash of personalities Eales said was settled Saturday with Martinez returning to training Sunday.
“Obviously the timing overlaps, but that wasn’t a factor,” Eales said.
And it wasn’t about the club’s results — a 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution Saturday extended a winless streak to eight matches and the Five Stripes are in 10th place in the East, four points below the playoff line after 13 matches.
Heinze, who was informed of the decision following training Sunday morning, was 2-4-7 in charge of Atlanta.
“I want to be clear, the actual performance on the pitch wasn’t the factor here,” Eales said, citing the quality of the roster and with two-thirds of the season left to play as reasons he’s optimistic about a turnaround.
Instead, Eales and Bocanegra pointed to “issues relating to the day-to-day” management of the team, without going into specifics.
“There are a variety of issues that led us to this decision,” Bocanegra said. “And out of respect for Gabby, we're not going to air everything out. We had a number of concerning issues brought over the last few months, and our process of evaluating some of them brought us to this decision today.”
Heinze’s hiring in December came after a detailed search. As part of the process, Bocanegra said interviews were conducted with former players who worked with Heinze and all signs pointed toward bringing in a rising South American star in his two-and-a-half years at Velez Sarsfield, as the right one.
“There'll be some times managers will fit at certain clubs and will not fit at other clubs,” Eales said. “Sometimes you’re not going to know that until they’re actually in the job.”
The assistant coaches Heinze brought in are also gone, with Rob Valentino serving as interim manager, Liam Curran remaining as goalkeeper coach, with academy director Matt Lawrey providing assistance and Jack Kimber and Ryan Alexander acting as fitness coaches. During the training week, Jack Collison, the head coach of Atlanta United 2, will also provide assistance.
As for the next hire, which Eales and Bocanegra both said they have to get right, finding someone who aligns with the club’s culture and core values is integral.
“It's about the accessibility to the fans, with the media, with our staff here, it’s about carrying yourself in the right way,” Eales said. “There’s so many factors that go into it.”
“It’s going to be really important we do our due diligence and that we get someone that understands when you’re working for Atlanta United, there’s a number of boxes to tick,” he added.