Martino who? That’s what most football fans were thinking when Gerardo “El Tata” Martino was announced as FC Barcelona’s new manager.
The truth is the 50 year-old Argentine is practically unknown outside of South America, given he has only ever managed in his home continent.
So how did he get the job? Well, in my opinion, there were three factors which led the reigning Spanish Champions to appoint Martino: the influence of Leo Messi, the coach’s football philosophy, and the lack of other alternatives.
So let’s start with Messi and his influence at Barcelona.
From various sources close to the club, I have heard repeatedly that the Argentine star calls a lot of shots behind the scenes.
For example, his desire for the team to play around him was one of the reasons the club sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o and David Villa.
All of them were world class strikers who had to tip-toe their way around Messi before being shipped out of the Camp Nou after being considered surplus to requirements.
As far as the role Leo had in the new manager’s appointment, it is easy to find links between Messi and Martino.
First of all, they are both from Rosario, in Argentina. Second of all, Leo’s dad, Jorge, idolized Martino in the 90’s when he played for his local club, Newell’s Old Boys.
And thirdly, one of Martino’s assistants once coached little Leo when he was a 10-year-old back home.
Perhaps the clearest indication of Leo’s influence at the Camp Nou came from Martino himself, who said on Tuesday, “I know the Messi family spoke with the Barcelona board about me and I appreciate that.”
So onto Martino’s football philosophy. Those who know him well say he believes that the best defence is a good attack.
During his early coaching days, his mentor was Marcelo Bielsa and there is little doubt he sings from the same hymn book as "El Loco," meaning he is a fan of attacking, free-flowing football.
That will be music to the ears of Barcelona fans since this team is built to play that way. I expect Martino to keep the 4-3-3 formation which is familiar to the players and continue to encourage the team to play a high pressing game.
Considering the team will keep a similar playing style to the one deployed by former Barca coaches Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova, I believe Martino’s big challenge this season will be keeping Messi and new signing Neymar happy.
The Brazilian may have arrived at Barcelona knowing it’s all about Leo, but he will still expect to play an important role in the team, and finding a balance between both superstars may be trickier than the new coach is expecting.
I am curious to find out how he will manage their egos, especially considering the fact he has never dealt with such high-profile players in his career.
So was "El Tata" the right choice? Barcelona will argue they didn’t have many people to pick from.
To be fair, the club’s directors had to make a move quickly after Vilanova announced he would have to leave his post to continue his battle against cancer.
With the season just a couple of weeks away, most if not all of the top managers were taken, so they really didn’t have much choice.
Former player Luis Enrique was linked to the post, as was Dutch veteran Guus Hiddink, but neither confirmed they had been officially approached.
In the past, Barcelona had elected to appoint someone from within, but at this moment there was no-one with the capacity or charisma to take over.
We all saw what happened when Jordi Roura had to fill in for Vilanova last season. There was lack of leadership, lack of direction and lack of inspiration from the sidelines.
The jury is out on Martino. On his side, he has one of the most skilful teams ever assembled. Against him, he has the pressure of making them win, and win in style.