BARCELONA: Gerardo Martino is new coach of Barcelona – and superstar Leo Messi played a decisive role in helping ensure that his fellow Argentinian landed the job at the Spanish champions.
The 50-year-old, who led Newell’s Old Boys to the Argentinian Clausura title last season but recently severed ties with the club, has agreed a two-year contract at Barca where he will replace Tito Vilanova.
Barca announced on Friday night that 44-year-old Vilanova was stepping down as he continues his battle with cancer.
A club statement read: “FC Barcelona have reached an agreement to appoint Gerardo Martino as the new coach of the football team for the next two seasons . This agreement is pending the drafting and signing of the contract.
“In the coming hours [a programme will be planned for] his arrival in Barcelona, signing the contract and the subsequent presentation.”
Martino said: “The details of how the situation developed I don’t know. I have no doubt Jorge (Messi’s father) and Lionel had some influence. I’m sure they were asked their opinion and we’ve come to this outcome.”
Coaches linked with the role included Luis Enrique, Andre Villas-Boas, Marcelo Bielsa, Michael Laudrup and Guus Hiddink who has just resigned as coach of Anzhi Makhachkala.
Martino had been in charge of Newell’s in his native Rosario for the last two seasons, having previously also represented the club in three different spells as a player. He also played for Spanish side Tenerife as well as Lanus in his homeland, Barcelona SC in Ecuador and O’Higgins in Chile.
Before taking over at Newell’s, Martino spent four years as coach of Paraguay, from 2007 to 2011. He led them to the quarter-final of the 2010 World Cup – the nation’s best-ever performance in the competition – before losing 1-0 to eventual champions Spain.
The following year, Martino guided Paraguay to their first Copa America final since 1979 but were beaten 3-0 by Uruguay. He stepped down from his post later that month.
Messi has spoken in glowing terms about his compatriot. Both hail from Rosario and many in the media see the appointment as deliberate move from the Barcelona board to keep the four-time Ballon d’Or winner happy.
Speaking a year ago, Messi told Diario Ole: “I like ‘Tata’ [‘Grandad’] Martino. He is a great coach . . . He gets his teams playing well and we all respect him.”