On Friday July 19, it was confirmed that Tito Vilanova was stepping down as Barcelona head Coach after suffering from a second relapse in his fight against throat cancer.
Although initially it provided somewhat of a shock, the likelihood is that Barcelona would have partly expected Vilanova to fall ill again. If you expect the worst, you can be prepared for the consequences and the club’s swift movement towards appointing a new boss seem to reflect that.
Luis Enrique – now at Celta Vigo – was a leading candidate according to various reports in the Spanish Press, while the retired Jupp Heynckes, the Catalans’ newly-appointed second assistant Juan Francesc ‘Rubi’ Ferrer and the last man to step in for Vilanova, Jordi Roura, were all tentatively linked, but the new man confirmed is a little more out of left field.
Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino will take over from Vilanova after agreeing a two-year contract at Camp Nou. The 50-year-old Argentine’s name will not be immediately familiar to many, but this should not necessarily draw unfavourable opinions and assumptions. The simple fact of the matter is that he comes to Barcelona with a glowing reputation and a recognisable philosophy.
Martino was most recently at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina and he guided them to the 2013 Argentine Primera Division Final triumph before leaving the club he appeared for as a player over 500 times as his contract expired.
Many see Martino’s football education as one of the main reasons for being lined up by Barcelona, as he, like Pep Guardiola, is a student and prodigy of Marcelo Bielsa. Guardiola’s style was revolutionary as the Blaugrana under him were hailed as one of the greatest club sides in history, but his successes have often been attributed to the fact he sought out advice from El Loco and adapted a similar style.
In that respect Martino is of the same breed. He was a key component of Bielsa’s midfield while in charge of Newell’s in the 1980s and his tactics certainly appear inspired by his teacher.
Depending on how one views it, Martino’s primary formation is a fluid but tactically disciplined 4-3-3. Intense and high pressing is an integral characteristic, much like with Guardiola, while he deploys a deep-lying midfielder to cover and act as a shield in front of the defence, affording the full-backs opportunities to get forward without the flanks getting exposed.
Verticalidad is another Bielsa ideal used by Tata as his Newell’s side – as well as Vilanova’s Barca side – looked to shift the ball forward as quick as possible, with the presence of three advanced options to pass to being emphasised.
Away from tactics, the Rosario native has often been praised for his handling of his players as he is said to have a canny ability to adapt to new squads, meaning he is generally available to all of those who play for him.
Cynics and pessimists are almost certainly already questioning Barcelona for the appointment, perhaps because they have not heard of Tata. The fact he has never managed in Europe or been in charge of the very best players on Earth will come up sooner or later, but neither Vilanova nor Guardiola were particularly experienced as Coaches when appointed, yet they fared well.
Providing he and the players click as some say, there is little to suggest that Martino’s adventure with Barcelona will be a disaster. His ideals, philosophies and style all appear to be tailor made for the modern Barcelona, but only time will give a definitive answer.