Gerardo Martino’s philosophy fits at Barcelona

Martino will point Barcelona in the right direction with coaching methods that tie in with the clubs traditions. Picture: ReutersMartino will point Barcelona in the right direction with coaching methods that tie in with the clubs traditions. Picture: Reuters
Martino will point Barcelona in the right direction with coaching methods that tie in with the clubs traditions. Picture: Reuters
Barcelona’s swift decision to replace Tito Vilanova with Gerardo Martino is a bold move not without risk but should at least allow the players to refocus on football after the unwelcome distractions of recent months.

The Spanish champions announced on Friday that Vilanova, 44, was unable to continue because of the demands of his cancer treatment and the club said yesterday that they had hired 50-year-old Argentine Martino, a former Newell’s Old Boys coach in his native Rosario, on a two-year contract.

Barca’s Argentina forward Lionel Messi is also from Rosario and the 26-year-old World Player of the Year, increasingly influential thanks to his phenomenal goalscoring record in recent years, reportedly had a hand in Martino’s appointment.

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The silver-haired former Newell’s player is a self-confessed admirer of Barca’s most successful coach, Pep Guardiola, who handed the reins to his friend Vilanova at the end of the 2011-12 season and is now at Bayern Munich.

Martino’s football philosophy, rooted in ball possession and relying on players with outstanding technical ability, is considered a snug fit with Barca’s playing style.

“My priority is possession,” Martino said in an interview in May 2012, according to Barca’s website. “Attack, get a lot of players in the opposition half, take risks,” he added.

Vilanova’s debut season after succeeding Guardiola was a disappointment by Barca’s high standards even though they wrested the La Liga title back from rivals Real Madrid with a record-equalling points haul.

Towards the end of the campaign, there was a sense some of the players had lost their focus because of Vilanova’s illness.

He was away in New York having treatment for two months in February and March and, although he was back on the bench for the end of the season, Barca’s Champions League campaign was brutally cut short by Bayern Munich.

The players seemed spent and barely put up a fight against the aggressive Bundesliga side in the two-legged semi-final and their 7-0 aggregate reverse was the club’s worst in Europe by some distance.

In recent weeks, as Real began to regroup for next season under new coach Carlo Ancelotti, Barca’s preparations were again overshadowed by the issue of Vilanova’s health.

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Guardiola, the club’s most successful coach, accused the Barca board of using Vilanova’s illness to damage him and the issue dominated media coverage for several days. When it became clear Vilanova could not continue, president Sandro Rosell and sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta knew they had to move rapidly to fill the gap with the new La Liga season less than a month away.

Luis Enrique, a former Barca player who has just taken charge at Celta Vigo, was said to be in the running but they opted for Martino, a relative unknown in Europe but who won plaudits for taking Paraguay to the last eight of the 2010 World Cup.

Martino’s link to Messi will help him settle and win the confidence of the other players, while in new signing Neymar he has one of the hottest properties in the game.

With Real having reinforced their squad with a couple of astute purchases and apparently recovering quickly from the turbulence of the Jose Mourinho years, Barca will have to be at the top of their game if they are to defend their La Liga title.

It is the Champions League that counts, however, and one of Martino’s first jobs will be to make sure Barca find the centre- back they need to strengthen the defence that let them down badly at times last season. When the action starts, maintaining Barca’s entertaining, attacking style while making sure the players are not bullied out of a match like they were against Bayern is likely to be his main challenge.

“I think he will fit in with our model,” Barca’s Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta told Marca yesterday. “Whatever the club decides is best for Barca.”

Iniesta added: “It’s a good decision. I know him from the match in the World Cup. He seems a good coach. The club wouldn’t have gone for a coach who doesn’t fit in as they have clear ideas about what they want. Every season we have hopes of winning titles.”

The news of Martino’s impending arrival is sure to go down well with Barcelona talisman Messi, who has spoken in glowing terms about his compatriot in the past.

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The two men both hail from Rosario and, speaking a year ago, Messi told Diario Ole: “I like Tata Martino. He is a great coach... He gets his teams playing well and we all respect him.”

Martino, who as a player represented local club Newell’s in three different spells while also turning out for Lanus in his homeland, Barcelona SC in Ecuador and O’Higgins in Chile, becomes the fourth Argentine to coach Barca, following in the footsteps of Helenio Herrera, Roque Olsen and Cesar Luis Menotti.

Who are you? The facts behind’s Barcelona’s new man Martino


Born on 20 November, 1962, in Rosario, Argentina’s second city, Martino was a midfielder and team captain with Newell’s Old Boys where he spent the bulk of his career before reaching coaching heights steering Paraguay to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 2010.


Martino, surprisingly capped only once by Argentina, spent most of his career at Newell’s as a midfielder, playing a record 509 matches and winning three league titles, two under his mentor Marcelo Bielsa, with whom he added defensive discipline to his attacking skills.

He came through the junior ranks and stayed on as a professional for a decade before trying his hand in Spain at Tenerife, a short-lived experience.

Nicknamed “Tata” (grandad), he returned to Rosario for another three years, had a season at Lanus in Buenos Aires, then saw out his career with brief stints back at Newell’s and, perhaps a premonition, Barcelona of Ecuador.


Began coaching in the Argentine lower leagues before moving to Paraguay where he made his name, winning four league titles in six years, three with Libertad and one with Cerro Porteno.

His club success in Paraguay earned him the appointment as coach of the country’s national team in 2006.

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His side reached the 2010 World Cup in South African, their fourth finals in a row, and qualified for the last eight for the first time, losing 1-0 to eventual champions Spain.

Martino steered Paraguay to the Copa America final in his home country in 2011 but then quit and also turned down a lucrative offer from Colombia to return to Newell’s, where there is a stand named after him at the Marcelo Bielsa ground, to help them avoid relegation.


Much more than just steadying a rocking boat, the 50-year-old steered Newell’s clear of relegation a year ago and then led them to second place in the “Inicial” championship, first of two in the Argentine season, before winning the “Final” last month.

They were the most consistent side in 2012/13, playing the best football in Argentina along similar lines to those at Barcelona.

This success caught the eye of the Catalan giants where Martino will link up with Lionel Messi, who also comes from football hotbed Rosario.

Martino is the fourth Argentine to take charge at Barcelona after Helenio Herrera in 1958, Roque Olsen in 1965 and Cesar Luis Menotti in 1983.