Pitchside Europe

Who is Barcelona’s new head coach Gerardo Martino?


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Gerardo 'Tata' Martino has been named as the new coach of Barcelona but few people in Europe had ever even heard of the 50-year-old Argentine before he started to be linked with the position vacated by Tito Vilanova.

So why exactly have Barcelona plumped for Martino as their new boss?

Well, there is a strong connection between Martino and Lionel Messi which no doubt played a huge consideration in his appointment.

Like Messi, Martino is from the city of Rosario and Martino has really made a name for himself as both a player and a manager at Newell's Old Boys – the club that Messi supported as a boy and played youth football for.

Martino was actually Messi's father's favourite player and holds the Newell's Old Boys record for appearances at 509. In a poll of the club's supporters, Martino was named Newell's greatest ever player.

Martino was an attacking midfielder who helped Newell's win three titles over 14 years with the club as a player. He had three spells at the club - broken up by a brief spell with Tenerife in 1991 and another with Lanus in 1994/95.

While he was a star of the domestic game he only ever won one cap for the Argentine national team. Near the end of his playing career he actually played for Barcelona – but the Ecuadorian club of that name, not the European giant he is taking charge of now.

The coach who most influenced him as a player was Marcelo Bielsa, who managed Newell's from 1990-92, and Martino has taken Bielsa's philosophy of expressive, attacking football into his own coaching career. He has also cited two other former Newell's coaches - Jorge Solari and Jose Yudica – as key influences.

His first coaching successes came in the Paraguayan Premier League where he won four league titles – three Libertad and one with Cerro Porteno.

Such success saw him named coach of the Paraguay national team in 2006 where he had to rebuild the side after the retirement of key players such as José Luis Chilavert, Carlos Gamarra, Francisco Arce and Celso Ayala.

At the 2007 Copa America Martino's Paraguay shone in their opening two games as they thrashed Colombia 5-0 in their opening match before dispatching the USA 3-1 in the next match.

However, their open style was brutally exposed in the quarter-finals when they were hammered 6-0 by Mexico and after that match Martino reined in his attack-first philosophy against certain teams to avoid such embarrassments.

They were highly impressive in qualification for the 2010 World Cup – finishing on 33 points – just one behind best qualifiers Brazil and comfortably ahead of the likes of Argentina and eventual semi-finalists Uruguay. Over the course of their qualification campaign they managed to beat every single other team in South America.

At the tournament itself in South Africa, Paraguay finished top of their group, helping to knock out Italy in the process, and then beat Japan on penalties in the second round.

In the quarter-finals they gave Spain one of their biggest ever scares during La Roja's current period of domination. In the 61st minute of the game, with the match still 0-0, Oscar Cardozo had a penalty saved by Iker Casillas. Just eight minutes from time David Villa then scored the only goal of the game for Spain and the rest, as they say, is history.

Martino stayed on to manage Paraguay at the 2011 Copa America in Peru where they remarkably got to the final without winning a game. Three draws in the group stage was followed by penalty shoot-out wins over Brazil and Venezuela before they lost in the final 3-0 to Uruguay.

Martino quit after that competition and was heavily tipped to take over as Argentina boss but that post instead went to Estudiantes coach (and former Sheffield United and Leeds United player) Alejandro Sabella.

Martino instead took a year out from the game before returning to his beloved Newell's and guiding the club to their first title since 2004 in the space of just 18 months. The achievement was all the more remarkable when you consider that Newell's had finished 19th and 18th in the two seasons before his appointment.

His final game in charge of Newell's was the semi-final of this year's Copa Libertadores when they lost to Atletico Mineiro on penalties. Were the fans annoyed with this defeat? No, instead they went outside Martino's house and started chanting his name and waving flags to thank him for the way he had transformed the club.

Stylistically Martino seems to fit in well with Barcelona. He likes to play a 4-3-3 with a false number nine, but has shown flexibility with his formations and tactics in the past.

South American coaches have had a chequered history after moving to Europe but if anyone has a chance of succeeding, it looks like Martino is a man who fits the bill.

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