Why Gerardo Martino Was the Wrong Choice as Barcelona Manager
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Barcelona were true to their word when appointing a successor to Tito Vilanova in the managerial hot seat.
Less than a week after the announcement that, sadly, Vilanova's cancer had returned and he would no longer be able to manage the first team on a full-time basis, Barcelona had installed Gerardo "Tata" Martino as the new number one.
Martino apparently comes highly recommended by none other than Lionel Messi and his father.
Lucas Brown of SkySports.com reported Messi as saying; "What a wonderful surprise it has been that Martino was chosen to coach the team" via a social networking website.
Further, Martino himself even alluded to the part Messi may have played in his hire when he said "I have no doubts that Messi spoke with the club directors. I'm sure that Jorge and Leo have had some weight in this decision."
Although there has been awareness of Messi's influence in the dressing room before now—think Zlatan Ibrahimovic or David Villa—the notion that Messi now appears to be some sort of kingmaker sets an extremely dangerous precedent.
That he then tried to backtrack on his remarks is fooling no one. The Sun quote the Argentine captain:
I have nothing to do with Martino’s signing, nor do I have to give any explanations. It was down to president Sandro Rosell and the club.
I said before that he seemed a good coach, but I don’t have to explain anything. I don’t know him personally, I’ve never met him.
But I think he’s a good signing. He showed at Newell’s and with Paraguay what he’s capable of and hopefully he’ll be good for us.
The damage has already been done, and you would have to be extremely naive indeed to think the first-team squad will not have those words echoing in the back of their minds.
Although Martino was polished and comfortable at his first Barcelona press conference, his opening gambit can be construed as a gaffe of epic proportions.
Read it again: "I have no doubts that Messi spoke with the club directors. I'm sure that Jorge and Leo have had some weight in this decision."
What does that statement say to you about the man in charge? Moreover, what does it say to the first team?
It is utter poppycock to suggest that success in the Argentinian leagues automatically qualify the man to be worthy for a shot at the top job at Barca.
His supporters will point to the job he did at Newell's during 2012-13, guiding them from the lower reaches of the league to the top, and a Copa Libertadores semifinal where they were eventually beaten by a Ronaldinho-inspired Atletico Mineiro.
There is likely to be more than a nod to his achievements at Instituto and Cerro Porteno—where Martino led his teams to Paraguayan titles—and also his work whilst coach of the Paraguayan national team.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa where eventual winners Spain were almost knocked out by his team will no doubt rank highly on Martino's personal CV.
Yet these successes should be put into some sort of context alongside the less successful managerial stints in the Argentinian league with Colon and Platense.
And lest we forget that the brand of football played by Martino with Paraguay was as far removed from the traditional Barcelona style as we are likely to see.
During his playing days at Newell's, Martino won three titles under the tutelage of Marcelo Bielsa and he is still revered as a legendary player at the Rosario-based club.
His affiliation with Messi's first team was interspersed with a season at Tenerife (1991), Lanus (1994-95) and finally Barcelona—Sporting Club of Ecuador (1996)—and O'Higgins also in 1996.
Bielsa is something of a guru for Barcelona managers it would seem.
It is common knowledge that former manager Pep Guardiola holds Bielsa in the highest esteem and as Sid Lowe reported for The Guardian, it was he whom Guardiola sought counsel from when deciding whether to take the Barcelona job—a meeting that allegedly lasted for 11 hours.
Lowe's article also reminds us that Barca's sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, a former Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper, enthused: "Bielsa would adapt well to our club."
Perhaps we should note that Bielsa was also being talked about as being a serious candidate for the Barca job at this juncture, along with Martino and ex-Barca player Luis Enrique, currently ensconced at Celta Vigo.
So, if Bielsa is that good why not just hire him instead?
After all, he has form in La Liga. The last 12 months haven't been the best for him but look at the way Bielsa's 2012 Athletic vintage routinely dismantled Europe's finest on the way to the final of the Europa League.
Martino is often compared to "El Loco" and it is this association which appears to give some sort of credibility to Martino's hire by Barca.
One has to question therefore the constant kowtowing and genuflection for a man whom Barca have no intention of employing. It is quite unsavoury.
Martino himself should perhaps instead bear in mind the experience of Cesar Luis Menotti, the last Argentine to manage at Barcelona.
The World Cup winner took over at Camp Nou in 1983 in a reign that can best be described as ill-advised, unsuccessful and chaotic.
In a synergy of sorts with the Martino/Messi scenario, Menotti also had the luxury of the world's best player Diego Maradona in Blaugrana, yet he could not repeat his managerial successes in Spain.
It is a stark reminder that fantastic results elsewhere are not a guarantee of success in La Liga.
The Barcelona job is simply too big for Martino. He has been hired on the premise of being a "Bielsista," because he likes to play football the "Barca way."
In a 2012 interview with Perfil via fcbarcelona.com he said:
I go for possession, attacking, putting a lot of men in the opposing half, taking risks, making sure the defenders look back and for there to be forty metres between them and the keeper, for them not to stop playing the ball, when they have to move up, they move up, when they have to use the wings, they use the wings, and the ball shouldn’t be in the air unless there’s a reason...
It's an admirable pitch for the position but his inexperience at the highest level of club football could well see us saying "tata" to "Tata" sooner rather than later.
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