[Part II of an occasional series in which barely background-checked, community-center soccer coach SoMa provides a managerial perspective on Gerardo “Ta Ta” Martino and why he gotta be all like that. -Ed.]
As one of your media correspondents on all things fútbol, SoMa watches a lot of Spanish television. And while searching for an old “Santo” movie one August afternoon, I came across a presser of Gerardo Martino on Canal UniMundodeSport. I shot up, tumbling a bowl of Cheesie Blasts to the floor. The new dude! My first thought was — well, o.k., my first thought was, “Whadda-who?” My second thought, however, was: “Huh. He’s just like, I dunno, kinda … normal.”
This was a brilliant insight on my part, because later that very day ex-player, ex-coach and culé extraordinaire Charly Rexach himself described Barcelona’s new manager as … wait for it … “normal” . To which Gerardo Martino then demonstrated an almost Delphic sense of inner-awareness by responding, “Well, it seems I’m normal.” I know, right? You’re welcome!
As a normal guy, Martino’s got two outfits: casual (the Wrinkled Green Monster) and dressy-casual (the Wrinkled Blue Blazer). He says he was sitting down when Rosell called to offer him the FCB job — on a Barca lounger, probably (pun intended, but compare the Barca to a Barcelona chair and tell me I’m wrong). And, according to all kinds of sources that you can Google your own darn self, the man doesn’t only need to eat. He actually likes it! Throw a “Kiss the Cook” apron on that pistachio polo, hand the man a Quilmes, and I’ll bet he’ll rock a mean parrilla, just like any regular old Argentinian.
Even (perhaps especially) among his countrymen, Ta Ta comes across as familiar-but-in-a-good-way. For example, he’s one of Marcelo Bielsa’s best-known and best-loved protégés. He even looks a little like Bielsa, except more, well, you know. And Martino expressed gratitude to Messrs. Messi for their support. Like Jorge, his attitude towards Leo strikes one as rather paternal, although, thank goodness, he draws the line at sporting the same haircut. That’d be weird.
I would even venture that Martino’s so-called pragmatism is another manifestation of his his-ness. Unfortunately, “pragmatism” has been misinterpreted as a lack of vision, especially when compared to the grand romanticism of a Cruyff, or a Guardiola, or even a Vilanova. Under these, Barcelona’s philosophy evolved into an almost Baroque display of “Death By Tiki Taka,” in which the players bounce around short passes until the opposing team grows dizzy — and if that doesn’t work, there’s always Messi. Martino may be different, but he is no less romantic. If he were, a certain locker-room in the 2010 World Cup would have felt a lot different: “Look guys, you know how I feel about you. But we gotta face facts. You’re from Paraguay.”
Instead, Martino has described his role on the Barça bench as having a few simple principles: 1) Decide who plays where; 2) Decide who plays when; 3) Defend to the other team’s strengths; 4) Attack to the other team’s weaknesses. That, and make the occasional strategic substitution. Now, two seasons with the Cheeseburg Lil’ Kickers isn’t going to earn me a FIFA Coach of the Year nod (a-hem, señor Sepp), but I know enough to know that that is exactly what any normal coach would do. Not because it’s easy to choose between Pedro and Alexis or because geometry is more sublime than arithmetic or because it’s exciting to see who’s zingin’ who at the aprés match presser. But because it works: different players gleam and dim like facets of a multi-cut stone; points add up with the click-click precision of an abacus; and easy-going Tata makes it all look easy.
Besides, “not normal” is special and “special,” as recent seasons teach us, is not always a desirable trait in a coach.