Darren Eales - Atlanta United president
Brett Davis/USA Today Sports

Stejskal: Atlanta United explain hire of Frank de Boer as head coach

Atlanta United announced on Sunday morning that they signed Dutch legend Frank de Boer to a multi-year contract to replace Tata Martino as head coach.

And just in case any eyebrows were raised over the reigning champs picking a European to succeed their influential Argentine manager, Atlanta president Darren Eales and technical director Carlos Bocanegra made it abundantly clear that they feel de Boer is a natural fit for the Five Stripes.

“This is about evolution, not revolution,” Eales told reporters on a conference call on Sunday.

That sentiment was the driving force behind Atlanta hiring de Boer. Eales dropped his “evolution, not revolution” line several different times on the call, and both he and Bocanegra expect Atlanta to continue with their fast-paced, attacking style under the former Ajax and FC Barcelona defender.

Atlanta will have a new coach, a reported new Designated Player in Pity Martinez and an outgoing star, likely Miguel Almiron, in 2019. But their execs think their on-field principles will remain the same.

“We’re trying to build on the success we had over the past two years,” said Bocanegra. “We’ve got a style of play, we’ve got a philosophy, we’ve got a vision for the club. This is where we believe Frank can come in and continue to build on that and use his qualities, where he fits in and gels well with how he likes to play and how he sees the game, how he sets up his teams to play, that high-energy, high-intensity passing style of soccer that we like to play here in Atlanta.

“After going through this whole process, it was clear that Frank was going to be a great fit.”

De Boer, who began his coaching career in the Ajax academy, did have plenty of success using an attacking system early in his coaching career. He led Ajax to four league championships in his first four seasons on the job, marking the first time the Dutch giants won four straight Eredivisie titles in their storied history.

The longtime Netherlands international also helped several graduates of the club’s famed youth system breakthrough with the first-team, including Danish star Christian Eriksen and Dutch international Davy Klaasen. His experience giving academy graduates meaningful first-team opportunities and selling them for significant transfer fees after they broke through as pros was important to Atlanta, who have several talented Homegrown Players on their roster.

“Obviously Frank and his proven track record at Ajax, having several players that moved onto top leagues, including the [English] Premier League, was something that was really important,” said Eales. “He’s been through the youth coaching ranks, so, again, that perspective and the importance of developing that talent pipeline from the academy through the Atlanta United 2 USL team and to the first team [was big].”

De Boer fits well with Atlanta on several different levels, but there are a few legitimate questions about his appointment. He was certainly successful at Ajax, but he had a very rough time in his two jobs after he left Amsterdam. He was fired by Inter Milan on Nov. 1, 2016, just 85 days into his tenure at the Serie A club. He was hired by Crystal Palace in the summer of 2017, but he was fired after just five league matches, the fewest-ever given to a non-caretaker manager in the history of the Premier League.

Eales isn’t worried about those two black marks on de Boer’s resume, however. When asked about them, he instead chose to focus on the positives of de Boer’s tenure at Ajax, noting that he thinks the Dutch club and Atlanta are similar in terms of their facilities, philosophies and squad strength relative to the rest of their respective leagues. Eales thinks those parallels make de Boer, who is fluent in English and Spanish, a good cultural fit with the Five Stripes.

Atlanta also aren’t worried about de Boer’s lack of South American connections compared to Martino, who helped the club recruit the continent heavily over their first two years in MLS. Atlanta signed Almiron, Tito Villalba, Ezequiel Barco, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Eric Remedi and Franco Escobar from Argentine clubs, while Pity Martinez is set to join from Buenos Aires-based River Plate. 2018 MLS MVP Josef Martinez didn’t come to Atlanta from a South American club (the Venezuelan joined from Italian side Torino), but he’s a significant part of a locker-room culture with heavy Latin influence.

Frank de Boer | Action Images/Reuters

Eales and Bocanegra were both confident that the team will continue recruiting well in South America under de Boer. Their contention has merit. As they noted, Villalba was signed before Martino was brought aboard. They didn’t speak specifically about Pity Martinez, but he revealed that he’d be joining the club after Martino announced that he would leave Atlanta.

De Boer might not have Martino’s South American roots, but he's still a huge name in global soccer. He has a wildly impressive resume as a player and experience coaching at some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Atlanta’s deep pockets don’t hurt when chasing potential signings, either.

“Clearly having Tata Martino as the coach is someone who is going to be a cherry on top when you’re trying to recruit,” said Eales. “But I’ve said it before, we had our profile, we recruited Tito Villalba before Tata Martino was a twinkle in the eye of this club and we’ll continue to do that. Top talent in Argentina continue to get linked with us and continue to get put forward even though it was announced a long time ago that Tata was leaving.

“So, from my perspective, Atlanta United is a big club in North America, we’ve got great facilities, we’ve got a marvelous owner, we’ve got an amazing fanbase that ranks in the top 15 in the world and now we’ve got a top coach in Frank de Boer, so we’re in a great position to recruit from all over the world.”

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