Luck hasn’t always followed Gerardo Martino but after three Copa América final defeats, once with Paraguay and two with Argentina, plus an ill-fated spell with Barcelona, Tata proved his critics wrong with a triumphant farewell in Atlanta this weekend.
In only the club’s second year in the league, Atlanta United capped their meteoric rise by capturing the MLS Cup in front of a packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium after a 2-0 win over Portland Timbers.
“We won it, it feels good. If I had to choose a way to leave somewhere, this is the best way,” Martino said having already confirmed that he will be leaving Atlanta and consequently bringing an end to the first chapter in the club’s history. While Tata looks poised to take the Mexican national team job, the newly crowned MLS champions have the difficult task of replacing the 56-year-old.
And it won’t just be Martino that Atlanta need to replace. MLS Most Valuable Player Josef Martínez broke the deadlock on Saturday evening after his record breaking regular season haul and will surely attract interest, former Lanús midfielder Miguel Almirón looks certain to leave and River Plate’s Gonzalo Martínez is already agreed to arrive as his replacement.
Pity Martínez, fresh from helping River to the Copa Libertadores, will not work under Tata but will join the influential group of Argentinians at the club.
Franco Escobar was the least heralded of those arrivals but the 23-year-old has been superb in his attacking full-back role and the Newell’s Old Boys academy product latched on to Martínez’s flick to double Atlanta’s lead during the second half.
Escobar along with compatriots Leandro González Pirez, Héctor Villalba [now representing Paraguay], Ezequiel Barco and Eric Remedi will form a vital part of the new era for the Five Stripes and could yet have another Argentinian in charge, with reports linking Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Jorge Sampaoli to the position.
For those players, who have all made some contribution to the club’s success, there is still work to do as it is often said the real challenge with winning a title is maintaining that level but for Martino, now on to a new challenge, the Atlanta United job has been something of a road to redemption after many had written him off unfairly after difficult periods with Barcelona and Argentina.
Despite lifting the Supercopa de España with Barcelona, Martino’s time at the Camp Nou was ultimately a failure and so it hasn’t been since his exciting Newell’s Old Boys’ side lifted the 2013 Inicial that Tata was credited with a genuine success.
“It’s been a long time. In 2013 with Newell’s and one title with Barça. Now this. After several disappointments, above all two in the Copa América.
“For me, to talk about the final and the championship, it’s good, it’s beautiful. I’m happy, but what has happened over the length of these two years is what will stay with me.”
Martino clearly puts great value in the freedom he has been afforded in Atlanta. The microscope of Barcelona and the chaos of working within the Argentinian Football Association took a toll and will have frustrated Martino.
“I said what happened to me here is I started to feel like a coach again from the perspective of putting a team together, signing players, giving the team an identity, see how the players are growing in the last two years.
“A lot of times when you work at the top level, you feel like your part really isn’t as important, you don’t feel as involved in the growth.
“Here the same thing happened as happened at Newell’s. I felt like I participated, I felt happy, I felt I had an influence on the growth of the team and the growth of the players, and I’ll try to conserve this and try to think about this above all when I have the possibility to choose another job.”
That other job looks set to Mexico, where Martino may struggle to find such an ideal environment, but his legacy in Atlanta will remain forever.
Martino leaves a big pair of shoes to fill and adjusting to MLS for any coach without experience of the league and its unique organisation can be difficult. The next step in Atlanta United’s history will be interesting.