The new manager is one of few coaches in the world who can cope with the intense scrutiny the El Tri gig brings from fans and the press
As Mexico searched for the successor to Juan Carlos Osorio as men’s national team coach, Mexican federation president Yon de Luisa said the search committee had reached out to 24 candidates .
That prompted several news outlets to claim they had the full list, each running their own graphic that looked like the character select screen from Super Smash Brothers. Candidates from all sorts of backgrounds doted the matrices. Very few faces had the pedigree of the man who Monday was announced as the 12th El Tri manager this century .
Gerardo “Tata” Martino has a track record of success. He has international experience. He’s dealt with some of the world’s best players, developed young players and for the most part has won at every stop. Maybe even more important than that, he knows how to deal with high-pressure situations.
The Mexico national job is infamously one of the toughest in world soccer. The expectations are high – even as the team continues to do the exact same thing World Cup after World Cup.
Fans want more. The press is unforgiving.
Osorio often joked that he hadn’t purchased a house in Mexico City and remained a renter until the day he left town. While Mexico fans in Russia sang his name after wins over Germany and South Korea at the 2018 World Cup, his neighbors booed him weeks earlier in a send-off victory over Scotland. He was tired of it and bolted for Paraguay – a job that is less prestigious but also far less demanding.
Martino has coped with similar treatment. Argentina may be one of the few national team jobs where the manager is criticized as intensely as the Mexico boss. And there, the critiques come with intense tactical analysis of every small move that went wrong.
He’s dealt with the media in Barcelona, where the team is front-page news every day for multiple different outlets. There, the criticism comes in multiple languages, like it will for Martino in his new role.
He can take it all in stride. His time with Atlanta was a welcomed reprieve from the madness he’d experienced in his previous stops. Not only was the press there far more curious than critical, he also got back to his roots, teaching and developing prospects rather than overseeing stars like Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Gonzalo Higuain.
While Mexico has some outgoing superstars who will still be in the mix for the next few years and a rising one in Hirving Lozano, Martino will once again be tasked with instructing and creating long-term plans rather than figuring out how to make finished products come together.
The coach also has shown a willingness to adapt from how he wants to play to how he needs to play to win. That’s a sin for which it took Osorio too long to repent. Martino might also have tried to implement his vision of how Atlanta United should play for too long in his debut MLS season. In his sophomore season, though, he accepted the changes he had to make.
He ‘uglied things up’ a bit and adapted the 3-5-2 structure Atlanta would eventually use to win the league. Possession was desired, but the premium was on finding the weak points in opponents to attack. The ball often went from goalkeeper Brad Guzan to forward Josef Martinez in three passes. If it took more, so be it. Fewer? That’s fine too, as long as it ended with a positive result.
Despite his success, Martino may not be a popular choice among Mexico fans. He’s not as wonkish as Osorio was, but he still is happy to talk tactics. He is gregarious but hardly exuberant. While his players love playing for him, he’s not the rah-rah pump-em-up type a figure like Miguel Herrera was when he was Mexico coach and continues to be at Club America.
That could be what sells in Mexico, but so does winning. Plus, Martino shouldn’t worry about how popular he is. A trip to a fifth game at the World Cup in 2022 would make sure he leaves behind an enormous legacy. In the meantime, criticism can come. He’s dealt with it before.
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