Barça’s new coach: “Tata” Martino
In a single summer, Neymar joins Messi; Ancellotti and Isco arrive at Cristiano’s Madrid; Mourinho goes back to a Chelsea that already had Hazard; Ferguson says goodbye at United; his neighbour receives Pellegrini; Monaco’s ambitious project kicks off; and Dortmund, with Hummels, Gundogan, Reus and Lewandowski, wins the seasons’ first title to Göetze and Pep’s Bayern. If it wasn’t enough, after Vilanova’s sad and forced farewell, Barça changes its coach. Tata Martino lands. We will need more eyes to see so much.
The Argentinean’s appointment as F.C.Barcelona’s head trainer surprised all, and twice it did. First for unknown, and secondly because with him the line breaks. Rijkaard, Guardiola, Vilanova. Previously Van Gaal. Since Cruyff, the formula of success was clear: the five coaches that have won a Liga since the Dutch’s advent, grew up and were trained by Ajax’s model or its later implantation in Barcelona. The five were students before becoming teachers. Not Martino. Tata’s language is another, no matter how much he has been saying the same lately. With the Argentinean’s arrival the betting is for an outside gaze. To cleanse the house. A breath of fresh air that the group has been needing for some time, but that it also hides some evident risks.
Martino was basically educated at Newell’s, and with Loco Bielsa as his great –but not unique– influence. First clarification: Tata is not Bielsa. With Marcelo’s libretto a national team such as Paraguay would have never been possible, that with Martino’s hand it reached the World Cup’s quarterfinals and the American Cup’s final. With possibly the best defence in the World Cup engagement after Spain and Dunga’s petrous canarinha, its passing through the Albirroja speaks of a wide libretto and flexible Tata. That Paraguayan Team little will resemble his later Newell’s Old Boys. If anything, one can acknowledge –a lot– Bielsa’s hand in both team’s intensity. That is the trademark: hyperactivity. Without reaching Marcelo’s extremes, because between them the crazy one is the teacher and not the student.
In fact, Martino’s Newell’s well could be defined as a team with two speeds, and very pronounced. A slow and calmed first one when the team starts from behind, and a vertical and impatient second one once the boundary has been crossed.
Tata’s teams like to start playing. It is not the first contemplated scenario, but always the first intention. And there is no rush. The long ball occurs when there is risk of losing the ball; if not, the initial approach is followed. Lover of the famous lavolpiana start, the Argentinean coach likes to send both fullbacks very forward from the start. In Barcelona he will have in Alves and Alba the two perfect tools. More complicated will be to bring out Busquets’ best, backing him between centre backs. We will see what solution Martino finds here.
In any case, this lavolpiana start intends to give importance to the centrals, more than to the midfields. The first pass is their responsibility and it generally seeks to jump a line and quickly find one of the forwards. It is about a more vertical start. This is not new to Barça (remember the Márquez-Ronaldinho connection), but it is to this Barça. The centre-midfield, in most cases, comes afterwards, receiving face-front from the forward. One can say that with Tata the forwards live better than the midfields. With the vertical pass central-forward, Martino avoids jeopardizing the loss and promptly puts the ball ahead, in order to return it facing the midfields or, in case of losing it, launch the pressing.
During all this process, both fullbacks are wide open to combine from the outside with the center-midfield and the winger, or to set marks and generate spaces so that their team-mates receive from the inside. Having said this, it goes without saying that people who were worried about if Neymar would be tied up and unable to move inwards, breathe more peacefully. Having Barça the ball, Neymar will have a stage to shine on.
With this open fullbacks and closed wingers approach, if we had not heard the coach in his presentation press conference, we could have thought about Messi. But Martino left his intentions clear when insisting, at least in the beginning, on Leo as a centre forward. For which he seems less false than up to now. Playing Messi or another, the truth is that Tata admits that he is better off with mobile strikers than with fixed references. The doubt, making a parallelism with Newell’s, is that where Scocco was backup and rupture, Messi will only be the first. Neymar, the right-winger and the fullbacks should not allow this to become a problem.
Although we foresee a forward trident with Neymar on the left and Messi on the centre, the truth is that with Tata we expect to see more swapping positions than up to now. With Guardiola and Vilanova we have seen open positions –false 9, false winger, half-centrals…– but fixed. With the new trainer it is possible that we find a more dynamic behaviour and that swapping roles and positions will occur when the ball is in play. The mobility, more than superiority, seeks to generate advantage. Hence the high rhythm at the rival’s field. And hence that we have more assurances on the forward than in midfield.