David Moyes might be preparing for a baptism of fire in his first season in charge of Manchester United, but the Scotsman isn’t the only manager set to step into one of European football’s biggest jobs next season.
Moyes is a relative unknown figure outside Britain and Ireland, but has managed for over a decade in the Premier League, while Gerardo “Tata” Martino is an even more obscure name to many football fans, including Barcelona’s.
For the second time in 12 months, the Catalan giants were forced into ushering a new man into the Camp Nou dugout, as Tito Villanova decided to quit his post to focus on fighting the cancer that has reared its ugly head for the third time, just a year after succeeding the man who, alongside Lionel Messi, will go down as Barcelona’s most influential figure over the last couple of decades.
While many considered Villanova’s unlucky retirement an opportunity for Barcelona to instal a big name in charge – marquee signings, it seems, aren’t just limited to players – to carry on Perp Guardiola’s legacy, but the Catalan plucked a name out of relative – some would say total – obscurity, by appointing Newell’s Old Boys supremo Gerardo Martino as their new manager.
The decision, however, is far from being the plunge into the unknown that it might appear at first glance.
For a start, the 50-year-old has a strong connection with Lionel Messi and there are arguably not many better ways to endorse yourself to Barcelona’s board and supporters than being endorsed by the club’s talismanic striker, a figure likely to become even more prominent within the team now that his fellow Argentine has been appointed manager.
Martino, like Messi, hails from Rosario and played for local club Newell’s Old Boys, the same club a young Lionel supported and the team with whom the world’s best player trained and played youth football for.
During his three spells at the club, spanning over 14 years, the attacking midfielder appeared 509 times for Newell’s Old Boys, winning three titles and was named Newell’s greatest ever player by the club’s fans.
One of those fans was Lionel Messi’s dad, who considered Martino his favourite player even though the new Barcelona manager never enjoyed international recognition, appearing only once for Argentina throughout his career.
The international experience Martino lacked as a player, he made more than up for as a manager, guiding Paraguay to the 2010 World Cup after an impressive qualifying campaign in which Paraguay managed to beat every other South American team.
In South Africa, Martino’s side came undone against Spain in the round of 16, a side which, ironically, contained many of the players Martino will rub shoulders with on a daily basis in training, but only after Oscar Cardozo had a penalty saved by Iker Casillas with the score still 0-0.
So will the man who last year delivered Newell’s Old Boys since 2004 and who cites Marcelo Bielsa as the coach who influenced him the most, be able to steer Barcelona back to European glory, while keeping Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid at bay on the domestic front?
Like his inspiration Bielsa, Martino likes his teams to play an offensive brand of football, normally opting for a 4-3-3 formation – which often includes what is now known as a “false nine” – but, throughout his career, he has shown flexibility with both tactics and personnel, particularly in 2007 when his Paraguay team were humbled 6-0 by Mexico in the Copa America.
Having been European football’s trailblazers over the last couple of years, Barcelona now view flexibility with suspicion, their unwillingness to step away from their “tiki-taka” approach often derided by critics as a lack of plan B.
Whether Martino opts to stick with Barcelona’s core strategy, one which has yielded unprecedented trophies in recent years, or whether he decides to tweak the Catalans’ perceived mono-dimensional approach remains to be seen but one thing is sure, the son of the man who idolised him in his playing days, will be crucial to his success at the Camp Nou.
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