Tata Martino: Replacing Tito Vilanova at Barcelona
A Friday night in July usually sees people flocking to bar terraces on the Iberian peninsula as they drink away their weeks woes and embrace the weekend but last Friday most football fans sat inside waiting. In the early evening, via their website, Barcelona announced a press conference but there was no gleeful expectation but instead an air of dread. The statement was short and gave nothing away but the people read between the lines as it said that Barca President Sandro Rosell and Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta would be addressing the press at 8:30pm. One major name was missing.
The last time they held a press conference like this was when Tito Vilanova’s cancer returned and now it was rumoured that it had again. Players made their way into the dressing room as Media outlets drew up shortlists for Tito’s successor. Jordi Roura took the reins when Tito went to New York for treatment earlier this year but it was a job he reluctantly took and, as then, now had no desire to take it full time. The man that was being tipped was Joan Francesc Ferrer, or Rubi, as he is more commonly known. Formerly Head Coach at Girona, Tito brought him aboard this summer and for some it seemed the logical choice. His style of football matched Barca but on the other hand he wasn’t a big name.
Suddenly in a moment of pure coincidence, Tottenham announced that they had some squad news and would be making an announcement soon. It would turn out to be a new player but for a while social media buzzed with the news that André Villas-Boas was taking over. The former Oporto Coach was seen as possible successor for Pep Guardiola a year ago and was also on the list of possible candidates drawn up before the season ended to replace Vilanova, just in case he decided that he didn’t feel up to returning. At the end of the season Guardiola’s former No. 2 said he did want to stay on but as Rosell explained that after a check up, Tito would have to undergo a treatment that would be ‘incompatible’ with his job as Barca Coach. He also said that the club would seek a manager from outside the club and so the rumour mill kicked into action.
The three main candidates for the job were Luis Enrique, Marcelo Bielsa and Tata Martino. Enrique is a Barca legend and a few years ago worked as Barca B Coach and for many was believed to be Pep’s natural successor but a spell at Roma didn’t turn out too well and this summer he took the reins at Celta Vigo. There is an option in his contract that says he can leave should the Catalan side come calling but only after they fork our more than €3m. Marcelo Bielsa was a man in demand 18 months ago but his star lost its shine and also some wondered whether a man known as ‘El Loco’ would be a good match for Barca. Guardiola seemed to think so but that resembles something similar to a kiss of death these days as Barca and their former legend are currently in a war of words and so we turn to Tata Martino. A man few had heard of last week, is suddenly a household name in Spain, so who is he?
Born in 1962, Gerardo Daniel Martino, he would become more known by the name Tata but he has admitted that he has no idea where it originates. Born and raised in Rosario, also the hometown of a certain Leo Messi, he came up through the ranks at Newell’s Old Boys and is a club legend there. He played as an attacking midfielder and worked under Marcelo Bielsa. At first El Loco considered him to be lazy but after knuckling down he won over his Coach and won three league titles. He had a spell in Europe with Tenerife and in 1996 he signed for Barcelona, but not Spain’s Barca, the Barcelona Sporting Club that is an Ecuadorian sports club based in Guayaquil.
He made his name in Paraguay at club level and from 2006 to 2011 he was the National team Coach and that is where most first heard of him as he guided them to South Africa, where he almost knocked out Spain. There was confusion at first when people saw his system as most expected a free flowing, passing game that they had read about but they were to be shocked. His style at international level was very different to his traditional style as he was forced to work with limited means. When he was mentioned as a possible Barca Coach many European writers, who had only witnessed his Paraguay days, believed that he was a terrible choice but in truth Paraguay was the exception to the rule when it came to his style. In 2011 he led them to the Copa America final and then left his post. He returned to Newell’s Old Boys when the club were in dire straits and languishing at the bottom of the table and brought them back to the top. His contract ran out this summer and he had options but with his side still competing in a continental competition he ignored everything to concentrate on his duties. They lost in the Copa Libertadores to Ronaldinho’s Atlético Miniero and Tata was available for hire. Nobody expected him to be out of work for too long and they were right. He worked wonders in Rosario and he left a hero. He made them a major force again and did so on a budget and lots of unknown players, something that Barca will be delighted to hear.
Most Barca fans are unconvinced with an unknown but if they read a little more and did some research they will be delighted to hear that he enjoys an attractive, possession based style of football. While he likes his team to dominate, he also likes them to pass and let the ball cover the distance rather than the player. In the last few days he has been constantly compared to Bielsa and while one will see some of El Loco in him, he is much more than that. He believes the best way to defend is by not letting the opposition have the ball. He has admitted that he enjoys Barca’s way of playing and he has defended the criticism that has been thrown at the club over their system and style.
He faces a tough challenge not just to win over fans but also to fix some big problems at the club. Barca have a major issue with squad depth and need to recruit. Injuries to Puyol and Pique have seen the likes of midfielder Javier Mascherano playing as a central defender. While he did an admirable job, what was supposed to be a short-term solution started to become a frequent occurrence and Mascherano looked out of place and he wasn’t the only one forced to play out of position. Tata will need to fix this and get some reinforcements in and quickly. There is also the political side of the club and that means that the new Coach will have responsibility like he has never had before. A look at photos of Pep before and after he took the job shows the toll that managing one of the biggest clubs in world can take and this is one of Barca’s fans major concerns, and they are right to be so but only time will tell.
Some are suggesting that Barca have gone after Tata because it was the Coach that Messi wanted but the fact that he was out of contract probably played a bigger role. He has been given a two-year deal and becomes the 4th Argentine to take the reins at the club but there still remains doubts over his assistants and the future over the current Barca Coaches. This summer was supposed to be a quiet summer for Barca but suddenly everything has changed. Barca moved quickly to replace Tito but the new Coach must hit the ground running. He must help the players overcome a very difficult year and get them listening to him straight away. It is no easy task but they doubted Pep and they doubted Tito and they both proved everyone wrong, why couldn’t Tata join that list.