ATLANTA – Fast and fluid: That’s the way Atlanta United FC want to play, and that's why the MLS expansion side went after Argentinean Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino.
“He’s here for the right reasons, he’s here because he wants to be here, and we’re excited to have him,” Atlanta technical director Carlos Bocanegra said on Wednesday at Martino’s introductory press conference. “The fast and fluid tempo that Tata likes to play – it’s something that we really look for, and something he will implement at Atlanta United.”
But don’t think Atlanta will resemble FC Barcelona or Argentina's national team, Martino’s last two coaching gigs. Martino was heavily criticized in Spain for attempting to move away from the famous ‘tiki-taka’ style of soccer, and in his homeland his approaches during the last two Copa América finals – both penalty shootout losses – resulted in some discontent.
Bocanegra prefers the style Martino's teams modeled when he coached Argentinean side Newell's Old Boys and the Paraguayan national team – and before that, with Paraguayan sides Club Libertad and Cerro Porteño, whom he coached to a combined four titles over a five-year span.
Martino led Paraguay to their best finish in a FIFA World Cup in South Africa 2010, with the side knocked out in the quarterfinal round by eventual champions Spain. With Newell’s, he took over a team fighting for relegation in 2012 – and one year later, they were winning their most recent Argentinean title.
“We wanted to have someone who played a fast and fluid style of play,” said Darren Eales, Atlanta United’s president. “It’s something that Carlos and I from the very beginning were looking to build. Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino fulfills all of our criteria.”
That coaching style is influenced by fellow Argentine Marcelo Bielsa (also a former coach of the Argentinean national team), whose first managing job was at Newell's Old Boys while Martino was playing there in the early 1990s.
“It’s very difficult to deny Marcelo Bielsa’s influence in the head and thought of all the players he’s coached,” Martino said Wednesday. “I think each coach always has a little bit of the other coaches he had in his playing career.
“He’s one of the best coaches Argentina’s ever had, and it’s always beneficial to have a conversation with him, or to hear a recommendation from him.”
Atlanta United already have signed seven players – including Argentinean winger Hector Villalba, who won Copa Libertadores with San Lorenzo, and Trinidadian national team captain Kenwyne Jones. Villalba is on loan at Club Tijuana in Liga MX, and Jones is on loan with Trinidadian side Central FC, where the veteran striker already has faced MLS opposition in the CONCACAF Champions League.
Bocanegra said Atlanta United are actively scouting for players to complete their roster in South America and Europe, as well as within MLS. Martino has been part of those discussions since negotiations with the club began a couple of months ago.
“We need to first build a competitive team and bring in players that have a deep affinity with the idea we have,” Martino said during a mixed zone following the news conference. “I’m sure we’re going to bring very good football players that will please the team, the league and the city.”