ATLANTA — Frank de Boer is a “step up” from Gerardo “Tata” Martino as manager of Atlanta United. At least one person has voiced this opinion: Martino himself.
The former Atlanta manager returned Monday for a press conference promoting Mexico’s June friendly versus Venezuela at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Martino took over as the Mexico men’s national team manager in January. There was some talk of Mexico-Venezuela during the English-language portion of the session, but most local reporters in the Venetian Ballroom of Buckhead’s InterContinental hotel wanted to hear El Tata reminisce about his old club and city — and ask for his assessment on the team as it stands today.
To the chagrin of Atlanta’s more reactionary supporters, who have been calling for de Boer’s job with social-media hashtags for weeks, Martino did not pile on his successor.
“First of all, we all know of him for being an extraordinary player and also what he’s been able to do as a coach in Holland [with Ajax], England [Crystal Palace] and Italy [Inter Milan],” Martino said through an interpreter. “He has a top resume, and he’s definitely a step up for Atlanta United.”
The Five Stripes are coming off a 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids that left some fans dissatisfied. Colorado had allowed 23 goals entering the game, the most in Major League Soccer. Atlanta’s struggling attack — the story of its season so far — did not generate many high-quality chances. The defending MLS Cup champions currently sit 10th in the Eastern Conference on eight points from seven games. After scoring 140 goals in MLS regular-season play under Martino, the de Boer era has thus far produced six goals against league competition.
Martino, who led Atlanta during its first two campaigns, guiding the club from its inauguration to a league title, said he has watched many Atlanta games this season. He did not, however, want to comment on the team’s performances in 2019. The manager has stayed in touch with a few of his former players, naming Leandro González-Pírez, Héctor “Tito” Villalba and Miguel Almirón, who is now starring for Newcastle United in England.
“Yes, I have had the opportunity to be in touch with them,” Martino said. “It’s very hard after you spend a couple of years with a team that has so much success not to be in touch with them.
“Whether it’s in the near term or the long term, I’m always going to have great memories of my time here in Atlanta, whether it’s the fans, the team, the management of the team. It’s always going to be great memories.”
The Argentine went further, proclaiming that had he crossed paths with Atlanta earlier in his career, the city might have been his final destination.
“I always say that if I would have been coach here 10 years earlier, I probably would have remained living in Atlanta, which is the biggest compliment I can give to the city,” Martino said wistfully. “So, yeah, I miss it.”