Pros: The South American Coach of the Year (2007) has won four league titles in Paraguay and the Clausura tournament in his home country, Argentina, with Newell’s Old Boys. He has also led relatively modest clubs Libertad and Newell’s to the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores.
Like many South American managers who have shaken the mad man’s hand, he is known as a Bielsista. Yet Martino actually played under Bielsa for their hometown’s main club in the early nineties and later worked as his assistant. He certainly advocates a similar style of football: vertical, possession-based and a defense based on intensive pressing to recuperate the ball.
He is nothing if not pragmatic, however, as he proved while managing the Paraguay national team, whom he led to the World Cup Quarter Finals in South Africa and to the final of the Copa America in 2011 with a doggedly defensive strategy that was set up to prevent goals, shots, dribbles and entertainment.
Cons: Although his Newell’s Old Boys and Paraguay national side performed well above the public’s expectations, Gerardo Martino has only won trophies with Club Libertad en Cerro Porteño in one of South America’s less prestigious football leagues. And while he did spend one year at Tenerife as a player, he does not have the experience of ever coaching Europe.
Also, and perhaps more alarmingly, the argument has been made that his Bielsista approach causes his teams to burn out by the end of the season, as happened with Newell’s, who lost the League Championship final and the Copa Libertadores semi finals after running out of steam.
Probability 10/10: There’s left field, and there is the southwest corner on the map. Whether or not Tata’s inexperience in Europe will prove to be a handicap remains to be seen, but his appointment has certainly caught many of us by surprise. Sometimes in life, we just have to pick our jaws up from the floor and carry on.
Verdict x/10: To be completely honest, I can’t even begin to speculate how this move will work out for us. What we want, is someone who can win over the dressing room and who can implement some subtle changes to a team that, although possessing the best players of the world, showed some glaring weaknesses when up against first class opponents last season. What we got, is something of an x-factor.
From what I gather, Tata’s footballing style and philosophy are compatible with ours. Then again, the only team of his I have seen play is Paraguay. This could be viewed as a negative, for a similar defensive approach would not be accepted in the Camp Nou, but I disagree. A good coach sets up his team according to its players strenghts and weaknesses.
I certainly think that one of Martino’s big challenges will be to get players who have won it all (and then some) to believe in him. There are no guarantees, here. We have seen how one of the world’s best managers, whose motivation skills were widely (albeit grudgingly in some quarters) admired, got chewed up and spit out by our royal rivals last season. Likewise, some of the toughest decisions our new coach could possibly want to make (limit Puyol’s and Xavi’s playing time) might not go down all that well with our dressing room heavyweights.
It is said that Tata is a better communicator than Marcelo Bielsa, the man he is most compared with. He will need to be, just as we will need to be patient. Last year was supposed to be our transition year and it turned out to be a record-breaking year, during which our biggest victories were the return of Tito and Eric Abidal. Then life happened, and who knows how this year will unfold. What I do know is that we will support the club we love, regardless.
Benvingut, Tata! Visca Barça!