No sooner was Tata Martino officially presented as the new head coach of El Tri than the hand-wringing had begun.
The Mexican Soccer Federation hired Gerardo “Tata” Martino to guide El Tri to the elusive “Fifth match” at the 2022 World Cup and the 56-year-old Argentine spoke to the media for the first time in Mexico City Monday afternoon.
Since then, the talking heads, analysts and scribes have dissected everything Tata said (and didn’t say) at the FMF’s main training grounds during his media availability. They have told us he is obligated to win the Copa Oro, breeze through Concacaf qualifiers and, of course, he can’t lose in March to Paraguay now led by former Team Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio.
Most concede he is “the best option currently available” for El Tri (not exactly a ringing endorsement, but Mexico’s soccer media is anything but subtle). The cynics were in full force, many pundits suggesting a Fifth Match is a pipe dream. Others voiced a willingness to give Tata the benefit of the doubt.
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Martino comes to El Tri from Atlanta United where he led the expansion team to the MLS title in December. Also on Tata’s résumé are head coaching positions with Libertad and Cerro Porteño in Paraguay, at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina, and the cherry on the list is Barcelona where Martino coached fellow Rosario native Lionel Messi for a season.
Martino also coached Messi as Argentina manager, leading the South American nation to two consecutive Copa America finals, both of which they lost to Chile. He also managed Paraguay, leading Los Guaranies to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup only to lose to eventual champion Spain.
Mexico City sports tabloid “Record” succinctly encapsulated Tata’s approach to his role as manager of El Tri in three phrases: “Mexico has more than enough talented and experienced players to field a very competitive team”; he intends to play an attractive “must-see” style of game; he’ll pay close attention to Liga MX performances and will visit with “seleccionados” that play for European clubs.
Martino also expressed eagerness to coach the youngsters coming up the ranks into the senior team, citing Diego Lainez (18) and Edson Alvarez (21), both of whom play for Liga MX champion América.
Tata also said he was satisfied with the job that interim manager Tuca Ferretti did over the course of 6 post-World Cup matches. “There are a wealth of players from which to choose, from Tuca’s 6 training camps, to the squads who played in Russia and Toulouse, we’ll make our selections (for the upcoming training camp),” he said, referring to the 2018 World Cup and the Under-21 Toulouse tournament last year in which El Tri finished second.
Martino’s first chance to prowl the sideline for Mexico will come when El Tri plays Chile on March 22 in San Diego. His debut will be followed by the much-anticipated match against Paraguay and Osorio. That game will be played in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.