Martino climbs summit with Atlanta after going back to basics as a coach

ATLANTA, Ga. — "Tata" Martino came to Atlanta to do one thing.

It wasn’t to necessarily win a championship, it wasn’t to recruit some of the best international talent MLS has seen. He did those things, but that’s not why he chose Atlanta. Martino simply wanted to coach.

“Here, I went back to being a coach,” Martino said through a translator following Atlanta United's 2-0 triumph in the 2018 MLS Cup against the Portland Timbers on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “That was very important for me. Sometimes, when you’re at very important clubs, you don’t feel as much a part of it. But here, I went back to being a coach and we’re proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

With a state-of-the-art training ground, an owner willing to flex his financial muscle for an expansion team, and a rabid fan base that broke attendance records on a regular basis, there was perhaps no better place for him to get back to basics.

And while many were surprised that Martino — who had managed Argentina to two Copa America runner-up finishes, as well as global powerhouse FC Barcelona — would come to MLS, the Argentine explained that Atlanta United promised big things and never backed away from them.

“This club had a plan from the very beginning — from the first time we spoke in September 2016 in Rosario,” Martino said. “The important thing is this club never modified from those plans they had told me. That’s very important, and it’s what makes this club very successful. The club had a plan and the directors have followed that plan to a T.”

Even with the rousing success overall in the club's two-year history, it hasn’t always been easy for Martino in Atlanta. A year ago, he sat in the same press conference room fighting back tears after his team’s Knockout Round loss after penalties to Columbus Crew SC. This season didn’t end in tears like last year, but with his departure following this title win, after Martino announced he would be leaving at the end of the season earlier this fall, it's already the end of an era in Five Stripes history.

“The most satisfying thing for me is to be able to fulfill all the plans the club presented to me from the beginning,” said Martino. “As a club, they gave me everything I needed to be successful.”

Martino’s legacy won’t only be defined by the results he achieved on the field in MLS. Ask any Atlanta United player about Martino, and they will talk about his humility and grace before tactics and training regimens. Defender Greg Garza told media in the week leading up to MLS Cup that Martino willingly takes the middle seat on flights in coach as a gesture of goodwill toward his colleagues.

If there’s one player who who truly benefitted from Martino's coaching, it’s striker Josef Martinez. Before joining Atlanta United, Martinez was a backup forward in a mid-table Torino team in Italy, and then Martino helped turn him into the Landon Donovan MLS MVP, MLS Cup MVP and 2018 Golden Boot winner.

“I’m not saying goodbye to him, it’s a 'see you later' because for me he was a father,” Martinez told reporters through a translator after MLS Cup. “I have to thank him and I hope to see him again soon.”