Barcelona’s newly appointed manager Gerardo Martino was as surprised as the rest of the world when he was picked to replace Tito Vilanova. “I had prepared myself for a rest,” the 50-year-old Argentine said. “Barcelona’s call caught me by surprise but it filled me with pride.”
Although not tested in Europe, Martino has had success in Latin America, winning titles in Paraguay as well with his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys, in Rosario, Argentina. But traditionally, South American coaches have found the transition to Europe difficult, which made Barca’s move baffling.
But a closer look at Barcelona’s current state and Martino’s coaching philosophy gives us an idea why he was chosen.
Despite the La Liga success, Barcelona under Vilanova looked fatigued and short of ideas on many an occasion, particularly the two-leg, 7-0 battering in the Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich.
With Real Madrid regrouping under Carlo Ancelotti and Bayern (now coached by Pep Guardiola) threatening to extend last season’s dominance, Barcelona can ill-afford a failed experiment.
Martino, a student of Marcelo Bielsa (who even Guardiola travelled more than 6000 miles to meet before taking up the Barca job in 2008), is a firm believer in the advantages of ball retention.
And he wants a group of technically gifted players, who can play a high intensity, passing game. His Newell’s side played with a high defensive line, controlling possession, almost similar to Guardiola’s Barcelona.
“My priority is possession. Attack, get a lot of players in the opposition half, take risks,” he said in 2012.
And the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, schooled at La Masia, and drilled further by Guardiola, will only be too glad to follow suit.
Martino’s team will present an attacking, attractive style of football, but he will be pragmatic about his side’s deficiencies and Barcelona will be safe from another European humiliation. His success with an average Paraguay national side (it reached the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup and the final of the 2011 Copa America), showed his adaptability.
And Tata, as Martino is fondly called, will surely shore up the brittle defence, possibly adding a new central defender to fill in for the injury-prone and aging Carlos Puyol and the now erratic Gerard Pique. Player-fatigue, because of Barcelona’s style, will be another concern and Martino has to be astute in his squad rotation.
Slated to be unveiled at Camp Nou on Friday, the manager will also have to find an effective system to accommodate both Lionel Messi and Neymar, and that again might turn out to be a tactical nightmare.