Tata Martino – The Great Experiment at Atlanta United

Tata Martino – The Great Experiment at Atlanta United

Manuel Veth –

The signing of Gerardo Tata Martino as the first manager of the Major League Soccer expansion franchise Atlanta United has been a major coup. In fact, Atlanta United’s project could easily be described as the most interesting football project in Major League Soccer at the moment.

As reported by TopEsportsBettingSites.com the complicated salary cap system of the MLS limits the ability of clubs to spend freely—clubs are allowed to sign three Designated Players (DPs), whose salaries count only fractionally against the salary cap. The DP rule was originally introduced in 2007 to allow clubs to make marquee signings such as David Beckham, who was later signed by the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Since then, MLS has expanded the DP rule to the extent that allows clubs to sign three designated players—although the third DP spot has to be purchased if the player is over 23-years-old (for more on the complicated MLS salary cap read here). The salary of the manager, however, does not count against the salary cap, and it was, therefore, a brilliant move by the Atlanta ownership to sign a successful and expensive coach as the club’s first manager

Tata Martino and the power of a big name manager

The former head coach of FC Barcelona, Paraguay, and Argentina, Tata Martino brings a wealth of experience to Atlanta United. When signed by Barcelona in 2013 he was brought in because of his tactically outstanding work with Paraguay and, on a club level, with Newell’s Old Boys, who were guided by him from the second division to a 2013 semi-final appearance in the Copa Libertadores, in Argentina.

Now at Major League Soccer, he will, however, face an entirely new ballgame. The above-mentioned salary cap setup makes MLS not only a hugely confusing league to follow, but also a nightmare for managers who are new to the league. But Tata Martino’s first signings indicate not only that he understands the rules, but also that he intends to make the most of them.

One of his first marquee signings, for example, was the 22-year-old Paraguayan midfielder, Miguel Almirón. Several big clubs in Europe tracked Almirón, but Tata Martino’s reputation meant that Atlanta United could beat the likes of Zenit Saint Petersburg and London based Arsenal to the signature of the highly talented midfielder.

This signing, in particular, highlights the power of signing a big name manager in the highly restricted salary cap world of MLS. Almirón has been adamant that he wants to work with Tata Martino. Tata Martino, on his part, expressed pleasure at landing the talented Paraguayan.

Speaking to Sport’s Illustrated, Tata Martino said: “Miguel is a player I’ve long admired. He is a very skilful player with excellent technique and great vision. He is currently one of the best players in Argentina’s top league and we’re really excited that he’s joining Atlanta United.”

Miguel Almirón and the changing of the guards

As a 22-year-old, Miguel Almirón is one of the youngest designated players in Major League Soccer. For Atlanta, signing the 22-year-old Almirón means that his salary will count less against the salary cap then would that of an older and less motivated superstar from Europe. It is indeed a bit of a loophole, and Tata Martino’s other major signing, the Argentine winger Héctor Villalba—signed from San Lorenzo, Villalba was loaned out to the Liga MX side Club Tijuana Xoloitzcuintles de Caliente to receive playing time—also falls into that category.

The 22-year-old Villalba has been considered a major talent of the Primera Division Argentina and is, therefore, considered a major steal for the newly founded Major League Soccer franchise. Here, as with Almirón, it was Tata Martino’s name that attracted Villalba to the United States, rather than the opportunity to sign with a club in Europe.

Miguel Almirón

Miguel Almirón signed for Atlanta because of Tata Martino

Finally, Atlanta also signed 22-year-old Argentine attacking midfielder Yamil Asad from Vélez Sarsfield of the Argentine Primera División on a loan deal. Here, as with the other South Americans, Tata Martino and his chief scout, the Chilean Jorge Alvial, were the driving forces behind the agreement. As with the other two South Americans, it was Tata Martino’s name that persuaded the player to sign in the United States.

Finally, Tata Martino was also able to land the promising U-19 United States forward Brandon Vazquez from Tijuana. A native of California, Vazquez has already featured in the highly competitive Liga MX for Xolos. The Mexican competition is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in the Americas at the moment, and prying away a talent from a club of the stature of Tijuana is a major sign of intent.

Tata Martino is building for the future

More importantly, however, the Vazquez story also indicates that Tata Martino is determined to build a team that is young, fast, and, most importantly, can form a unit that can play together for years to come. Having a core of young native players will be important in this regard, as together they can forge the South American brand with the North American football mentality.

Gerardo Tata Martino was able to attract Miguel Almirón to Atlanta United – Image by rubénortegavega CC-BY-SA-2.0

The signings of Almirón, and Co. represent a new trend in MLS. Clubs increasingly tend to sign younger designated players rather than overpriced stars from Europe, who see the MLS as their last step before retirement. Furthermore, many of the players are now coming from South America.

Prompt regular payment in MLS, together with the poor economics of football clubs from countries like Argentina, Brazil and many Central American countries, means that MLS has developed as a strong alternative for players from the Americas, who not only want to advance their careers but who also look for a stable income.

Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist,  writer for Bundesliga.com, and podcaster for WorldFootballIndex.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada.  Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.