The worst kept secret in Mexican football was finally made official on Jan. 7.
Gerardo “Tata” Martino, the former boss at FC Barcelona, Paraguay, Argentina and Atlanta United, became the next in line to lead El Tri on the sidelines. Martino’s name was always in the mix since Juan Carlos Osorio’s post-World Cup departure, and we’ve known he had the job for a while now (thanks, Don Garber!). But now we have the pictures, we have the press conference, we have the tweets, Tata is here and Mexico finally has a new coach.
Mexican fans seem to be almost split on Martino’s appointment. Some laud his experience, while others point to his inability to win significant titles, especially during his times at Barcelona and Argentina, or the fact that he doesn’t know the country or the Liga MX very well. Despite some calling these blemishes on his record, Martino brings an array of valuable skill sets to El Tri, here’s a few of them:
1. Successful track record with turnarounds and building projects
After winning four league titles in Paraguay, Martino made the jump to coach that country’s national team ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Paraguay had never made it past the second round in the six tournaments it qualified for previously. Taking a Paraguay team that was not exactly built for his style of game, Martino adapted, and grinded out a quarter-final finish for La Albirroja.
He famously drew with defending champions Italy in the group stage and beat Japan in penalties in the round of 16 before losing to eventual champions Spain in which coach Vicente del Bosque said, “It’s been the toughest and most uncomfortable match but this is what we predicted. Paraguay knocked us out of our stride.”
Martino wasn’t finished there. He later led Paraguay to the final of the 2011 Copa America for just the second time in the nation’s history. Martino’s scarppy side drew 0-0 with both Brazil and Venezuela before beating them both in penalties in the knockout rounds. It wasn’t in the prettiest way, but Martino took Paraguay further than any other coach had done previously, or has done since.
Paraguay has yet to qualify for another World Cup since Martino’s departure.
He later found his way back to his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys, which was in turmoil in the midst of relegation issues. In his first season, Martino secured his hometown team’s top-flight status and, in the next season, won the Argentine league championship while simoultaneously reaching the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores; a tremendous turnaround.
And while some may question his knowledge about Mexican players and the league in general, Martino was in this very same spot two years ago when he was offered the job at Atlanta United.
“[MLS] wasn’t a league I followed closely, obviously not,” Martino told The Guardian “But I had a few months to get to grips with it. We started talks in September 2016 and [Atlanta] started competing properly in February 2017. In that time I was able to embrace the system, familiarise myself with MLS, and with the footballing idea.”
It seems he familiarised himself pretty well. Martino’s recruiting and coaching led United to the peak of the MLS in just the second season of the club’s existence.
2. Emphasis on youth players
For the national team to be successful, Martino mentioned in his press conference that it will take the young talent Mexico possesses coupled with getting the most out of the established stars already playing overseas.
While at Atlanta, Martino relished having such a youthful lineup.
“But we have a young squad; our players are not older than 25. And I like that. I like accompanying the development of young players,” Martino told The Guardian.
It’s no secret that Mexico is in a transitional period. Soon, older stars like Chicharito, Layun, Moreno, Guardado, etc. will be gone from the national team and replaced by the younger stars and prospects making headlines nowadays. It seems Martino is not only capable but ready and willing to be in charge of that transition.
“It seems to me that generational changes are not made at a stroke, 15 players are not deleted and 15 new ones brought. It is a process that takes time and (in Mexico) it has already begun,” Martino said in his press conference.
3. Marcelo Bielsa’s influence
Even before Osorio’s hiring, a name that has been thrown around the national team for years is Marcelo Bielsa. El Loco might be in the most influential coach in the game today. Looking at his trophy cabinet, or his win-loss record, you may not think so. It’s not so much his accolades that give Bielsa this title, but the managers he has inspired.
Josep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino and Diego Simeone are just a few coaches that call themselves “disciples” of Bielsa. Martino is not only another student, but he was a player under Bielsa at Newell’s where the duo won three league titles. He’s closer to him than most other coaches that have received his influence.
They don’t all have the same play style, formation, tactics, or really any specific thing in common. What Bielsa does is make coaches think. He has caused coaches all over the world to think deeper about the game and develop their own tactics that go far beyond the basic “posession or counter attack” mentality, and as you can see by some of the names above, the results speak for themselves.
Did you know: According to David Medrano, last fall, FMF Sporting Director Guillermo Cantú traveled to London to talk with Pochettino about the possibility of the Tottenham coach taking the reigns of El Tri. Pochettino kindly declined, but recommended one of his former teammates and fellow Bielsistas: Gerardo Martino.
4. An attractive and distinguishable play style
One of Osorio’s biggest knocks was the fact that it seemed like Mexico did not have a set play style. He wasn’t really known tactically for anything on the field except his infamous rotations.
This is an aspect Martino plans on working on.
“The first thing I will worry about is building a good team, to have a clear play style that the fan immediately understands, and then the results are the result of a determined way of playing,” he said.
Martino comes with a play style already ingrained in him and the teams he has coached. Evidenced by his time at Atlanta, Martino likes to play an attractive style of football: attack-minded, creative playmaking and quick passing.
Martino defends with four at the back, with the wing backs contributing up front, and a style that is much less counter-attack because the defensive line will defend a few meters ahead. For that, Mexico’s defenders will need to be quick, even the center backs. Carlos Salcedo, Edson Alvarez, and even Cesar Montes are a few that could fit this style.
In the midfield, he likes to play with three players that each play a role in anchoring the defense, controlling the tempo and pace of the game, and collaborating to the attack. Besides the usual suspects like Hector Herrera, Jesus Corona and Andres Guardado, Martino will enjoy the talents of Roberto Alvarado, Erick Gutierrez and Jonathan Gonzalez to be in the center.
Up front, Martino likes the attack to be much more elaborate and less surprising. He prefers wingers to stay close to the striker to link up in the box and not out wide as much. Martino is also a fan of counterpressing. Unlike his mentor, Bielsa, who believes you have to win the ball back as soon as you lose it, Martino’s sides usually like to be reserved off the ball and wait for opportune moments to press and get the ball back in dangerous areas.
5. Peace of mind
After all the downs that Mexico went through in 2018, fans can rest easy knowing that not only does El Tri finally have a long-term project to pull them ahead, but that they have a capable captain at the helm of the ship.
After all of the names that came out during this search, Martino stands head and shoulders above the rest as the one right for Mexico. Did former Chivas coach Matias Almeyda deserve the shot more? Possibly, but drama with his former employers prevented El Pelado from even being considered.
There are better coaches in the world, yes, but not many that can handle, or want to handle the pressure of being Mexico’s coach. Martino himself admitted that this will be one of the biggest challenges of his career. The man coached Barcelona and had to deal with Argentina losing two-straight Copa America finals and Lionel Messi briefly retiring, yet still named Mexico right up there as his biggest challenge.
That’s because it is. It is a period of unrest for the national team, both from media and fans alike. They’re desperate for a change in the norm, a chance to see their country shine with the world’s elite.
Is Martino the one that will deliver? Who knows. But he’s ready, he’s willing, he knows the CONCACAF region and he without a doubt was the best available man for the job.
What do you think of Tata Martino’s hiring?
This poll is closed
He’s the right man for the job
Should’ve been someone else
Who cares. Mexico still won’t get to the ‘quinto partido’
You can follow Antonio on Twitter @antonio1998__