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Ex-Atlanta boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino officially introduced as Mexico manager

Gerardo "Tata" Martino celebrates Atlanta United's MLS Cup win during a parade and pep rally on Dec. 10, 2018. (Mitchell Northam / Pro Soccer USA)

The worst kept secret in soccer was finally confirmed Monday, when Gerardo “Tata” Martino was officially introduced as the Mexico national team’s next manager during a press conference in Mexico City.

Martino begins his reign over El Tri after coaching Atlanta United FC for the past two seasons. During that stretch, he guided what was an expansion side in his first year at the helm to an overall record of 42-20-16 across all competitions.

“I am thankful for this new project here with the Mexican federation,” Martino told reporters. “I am grateful for doing this process respectfully between Atlanta and Mexico. I thank you for being patient.”

Under the guidance of Martino, the Five Stripes became the first team in Major League Soccer history to score 70 goals in back-to-back seasons, they qualified for the 2019 Concacaf Champions League and won the 2018 MLS Cup.

The Argentine manager announced he was leaving Atlanta United in October, after declining an option on his contract to stick around. He coached the Five Stripes through the playoffs and last publicly appeared as the team’s head coach at a parade in December, celebrating their MLS Cup victory. Martino was voted MLS Coach of the Year in 2018, coached the MLS All-Star team and guided a side that featured Golden Boot winner and MLS MVP Josef Martinez. Atlanta has since hired Dutch manager Frank de Boer as its new coach.

Before Atlanta United announced Martino declined the option on his contract, ESPN and several other outlets reported that the 56-year-old would be taking over as the next boss of Mexico. While coaching Atlanta United, Martino mostly refused to comment on reports or rumors linking him to other jobs, but he had plenty to say at Monday’s press conference about El Tri.

“I saw Mexico as one of the teams that has evolved the most in the last 20 years. To be able to play right up there with some of the best in the world shows how far Mexico have come,” Martino told reporters in Mexico City. “The main characteristic is the level of talent that the Mexican football players have and that sets the team apart. There is a mix of veterans and young players not just in Liga MX but also playing in Europe. I am not here to make demands. I am here to share my opinions.”

Over a managerial career that dates back to 1998 and spans clubs and teams across several countries, this will be the third national team that Martino has managed. In one of his longer stints as a manager, he coached Paraguay from 2006 to 2011, going 16-18-13 across all contests. Paraguay qualified for the 2010 World Cup under Martino’s direction, and beat Japan on penalty kicks in the Round of 16 before losing 1-0 to eventual champion Spain in the quarterfinals.

After leaving his post at Paraguay, Martino coached his boyhood club Newell’s for two seasons in Argentina, then coached FC Barcelona for a year, where he went 40-11-8. Between his stints at Barcelona and Atlanta, Martino guided his native country’s national team from August 2014 to July 2016. Argentina had a 20-5-4 record during Martino’s tenure and climbed back to the world’s No. 1 FIFA ranking.

One thing Mexico doesn’t have that Argentina does is a player like Lionel Messi.

“This will be like working with a normal team,” Martino said. “There are not too many players like Messi, teams (with him on them) are the least common. In no other team have I ever worked with anyone at Leo’s level, so I don’t see anything inconvenient here. I am coming here to work with an institution that has very good football players and where I will work just as I would anywhere else.”

Mexico finished second in their group at the 2018 World Cup under the direction of Juan Carlos Osorio, and lost to Brazil in the Round of 16. Mexico has made it out of the Group Stage in every World Cup since 1994, but hasn’t appeared in the tournament’s quarterfinals since 1986.

Osorio is now coaching Paraguay and Martino takes over as Mexico’s manager from interim coach Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti.

According to The Athletic, Martino will take Atlanta staff members Jorge Theiler, Rodolfo Paladini, Damian Silvero and Manuel Alfaro with him to Mexico.

Martino will reportedly return to Atlanta in 2019 as Mexico’s manager as El Tri will play a pre-Gold Cup friendly at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in June, according to a report from ESPN in December. Martino will make his debut as head coach of Mexico on March 22, in a friendly against Chile in San Diego.

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