On July 19th, Barcelona head coach Tito Villanova announced that he would be resigning from his post, effective immediately due to an on-going battle with cancer. His successor, Gerardo “Tata” Martino, was announced three days later and on Wednesday, in his official debut as manager lost his first game in charge as the Blaugrana succumbed to a 2-0 defeat to former Barcelonacoach Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich.
Of course, we should note that this was a friendly match and the La Liga title winners were missing some key players including Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Cesc Fàbregas, who are all still on holiday following their participation in La Roja’s run in the Confederations Cup this past June in Brazil.
And as is the case in friendlies, Martino’s new side featured quite a bit of B-team players as well, but nonetheless had quite a number of first-team players including Lionel Messi, (whose recommendation, according to some reports, sealed the deal for his compatriot to make the move from Argentina to the Camp Nou), as well as Alexis Sanchez and others were also on the pitch against the same side that easily dispatched them 7-0 on aggregate in last season’s Champions League semi-finals.
Several names were bandied about following Tito Villanova’s announcement on July 19th that due to health reasons, he would step down from the helm of the Blaugrana, including former Barça player and youth team coach Luis Enrique, as well as fellow ex-player and current Swansea manager Michael Ladrup among others. But, as we’re all aware, shortly after, Martino was named as the one who would take over the helm of the Catalan giants for the next two seasons.
So, who exactly is Gerardo Martino?
Born on November 20th, 1962 in Rosario, he began his professional career as a midfielder for Newell’s Old Boys in 1980 where he began his youth career. As many football supporters are already aware, manager and his star player share more than the same home town, as the Primera Divison club also happens to be the same team that Messi played for as a child before moving to Barcelona.
“Tata” Martino went on to spend over half of his professional career with the same side, winning the league title on three occasions. He also had some success as a coach in Paraguay, both with the national side which saw him reach the quarter finals in the 2007 Copa America and 2010 World Cup as well as finishing as runners up to Uruguay four years later during the 2011 edition in Argentina, and at the club level, winning the league title four times with two different teams (Libertad and Cerro Porteño). But, despite this, he remains largely unknown to those outside of South America due to the fact that he has yet to try his tactical skills with any team across the pond.
Regarding allegations that he was selected to head one of Europe’s biggest clubs due to his younger compatriot’s influence, Messi himself recently has spoken out, categorically denying having “any role” over choosing his squad’s newest manager. Nonetheless, the media has been rife with reports indicating that the four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s recommendation was enough to convince the Catalan club’s board to bring in the Rosario native, despite his glaring lack of previous European coaching experience.
Whatever the case as to how much influence the 26-year-old striker actually has over management positions at his club is really irrelevant at this point. What is important, however, is how Barça’s newest tactician is able to help guide his side back to the pinnacle of European football following their humiliating defeat against eventual CL winners Bayern and to get the best out of all of his players while doing so.
The signing of Brazilian rising star Neymar was heralded by some, but one cannot help but think back to the last time Barcelona brought in a top striker for an astronomical sum (€69.5 million) and how things did not pan out in favor of the new arrival. Zlatan Ibrahimović waxed on about his relationship with then-coach Pep Guardiola in his autobiography, Jag är Zlatan (I am Zlatan) and has previously spoken in the press to anyone who would listen about the problems he had while playing at Camp Nou. It will be up to Martino to be effectively man-manage his squad and to get the best out of both talismanic icon Messi as well as the up and coming Neymar if they would like to get a good ROI (return on investment) from the €57 million splashed out on the 21-year-old.
Additionally, while this is more of a club management issue—it’s quite obvious that Barcelona desperately need a strong defender as they were easily overrun by Bayern Munich and struggled against PSG, only managing to squeak by narrowly 3-3 due to the away goals rule—and the club’s management have made no secret of their desire to shore up their defense due to their ongoing pursuit of PSG’s Thiago Silva; so additionally Martino will have to figure out how this new arrival, if any, will slot into the Blaugrana’s backline.
And of course, following Barcelona’s disappointing performance last season by their high standards in which despite winning La Liga they failed to progress past the semis in both the CL and Copa del Rey, and finished second in the Supercopa de España, it’s quite obvious that the pressure will be on “Tata” to succeed especially as a somewhat unknown entity following in some big shoes left behind by the likes of his opponent in yesterday’s friendly, Pep Guardiola. Certainly, Barcelona’s board had enough belief in the 50-year-old to deem him fit to run the club with the motto, “Més que un club”, but as whether their confidence will be rewarded or misplaced, we’ll just have to wait and see.