Barcelona have agreed terms with a relatively unknown Argentine league manager, Gerardo Martino, to follow in the footsteps of two of European soccer’s most successful coaches.
According to a club statement on Tuesday, Martino will sign a two-year contract. He will replace Tito Vilanova, who succeeded Pep Guardiola.
Vilanova began as Guardiola’s assistant manager, providing the tactical know-how that helped his then-boss forge one of the best teams in the history of the sport, winning 14 of 19 possible titles between 2008 and last year, including two Champions League trophies.
During Vilanova’s single season in charge, he led Barcelona to a La Liga title with a record-tying 100 points. He stepped down as the team’s manager last week following a recurrence of throat cancer.
Despite having no experience coaching a European club, the 50-year-old Martino received backing from Barca star Lionel Messi before the club’s sporting director traveled to Buenos Aires for the deal.
Messi spoke glowingly of Martino, better known in Argentina by his nickname, “Tata.”
“I like Tata Martino,” Messi said recently.
“He is a great coach,” the forward said, adding that “his teams play well and we all respect him.”
Martino acknowledged Messi’s influence in landing the job at a press conference on Tuesday.
“I have no doubt that Jorge [Messi’s father] and Lionel have had importance,” Martino said. “They surely have spoken with the club officials. Surely they were asked their opinion.”
The club praised Martino on their Web site for “his clear commitment to the passing game” and the attacking style that have become Barcelona’s on-field trademark.
However, in a poll published on Tuesday by Catalonia’s leading newspaper, La Vanguardia, under the headline “Do you approve of ‘Tata’ Martino signing?” 58 percent of readers answered “no” and only 32 percent approved.
Barcelona said they will specify plans for the Argentine’s arrival “in the coming hours.” Martino is expected to travel from Argentina to sign a contract and be presented officially to the club.
Martino played as a midfielder from 1980 to 1996, including a short spell in 1991 at Spanish club Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He also led Paraguay to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time in 2010.
Martino is due to arrive with his assistant manager at Newell’s Old Boys last season, Jorge Pautasso, fitness coach Elvio Paulo Rosso and coach Adrian Coria, who was once in charge of Messi at the Argentine club.
Barcelona say Martino is to be the fourth Argentine to coach the club, after Helenio Herrera, Roque Olsen and Cesar Luis Menotti.
Barcelona were due to travel to Germany today for a pre-season friendly against Bayern Munich — who are now coached by Guardiola — but Martino is not going to be able to accompany the squad, the Spanish club said.
In what he called an “open letter” released on Tuesday, Vilanova said his doctors had advised him to give up coaching, but said he would not be leaving the club altogether.
“I will continue to be very close and will carry on working at this club that I love so much on other tasks within the area of sports,” Vilanova said.