The appointment of Gerardo “Tata” Martino as Barcelona coach is slightly at odds with the Catalan giants’ recent run of managerial appointments, which placed the focus on promoting coaches already working within the club.
But given the rushed circumstances in which club directors were forced to make an appointment after Tito Vilanova resigned last Friday due to ongoing helath problems, Martino does at least allow for a degree of tactical stability at the club.
The 50-year-old is a disciple of the style of high-intensity, pressing and passing football expounded by Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa.
Martino was a player in Bielsa’s highly successful Newell’s Old Boys side in the early 1990s and a meeting with Bielsa also strongly influenced Pep Guardiola’s outlook on how to coach before taking over at Barca in 2008.
Although untried as a coach in Europe, Martino’s success in South America and the style of play his sides deployed indicates he could make a successful transition to European club football.
Martino’s first significant steps as a coach came in Paraguay, where he won four titles in five years with Libertad and Cerro Porteno before moving on to take charge of the country’s national team.
In Spain he is remembered for his Paraguay side that very nearly eliminated La Seleccion on their eventual road to glory at the 2010 World Cup. The South Americans were unfortunate to go down 1-0 in the quarter-final tie after having a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside and missing a second-half penalty.
More success followed as Martino led Paraguay to the Copa America final in 2011, eliminating Brazil on the way, but after losing out to Uruguay he opted for a return to club management.
A return to Newell’s in a coaching capacity enhanced his reputation as one of the best coaches in South American football. The team from Rosario claimed the season-ending Argentine title in 2013 and also reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores before being eliminated on penalties by a former Barca favourite in Ronaldinho’s Atletico Miniero side.
His connection with Rosario could help Martino as he begins his new and daunting task. More important to whether he is successful in Spain, though, is the tactical flexibility Martino has shown throughout his managerial career.
The majority of his club sides have tended to follow the Bielsa principles of free-flowing attacking football, whereas with Paraguay he understood the limitations of the players he had on offer and made them extremely difficult to beat.
With the players at Barca’s disposal their strengths will always lie in attack.