Barcelona picks Argentine Gerardo Martino as coach

July 23, 2013 - 2:36 PM
Spain Soccer FC Barcelona Martino

FILE - In this July 17, 2011 file photo, soccer coach Gerardo Martino of Argentina gives instructions to his players during a Copa America quarterfinal soccer match in La Plata, Argentina. Barcelona has said Tuesday July 23, 2013 it has reached an agreement to sign Martino as coach for two seasons, replacing Tito Vilanova. Martino is expected to sign a contract and officially be presented to the club later Tuesday.(AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

Gerardo Martino, a relatively unknown Argentine league coach, reached an agreement Tuesday to coach a Barcelona team led by Lionel Messi that is one of great clubs in soccer history.

Martino will be given a two-year contract, the team said. He is expected to travel from Argentina to sign the contract and be presented to the club.

The 50-year-old Martino will follow two of European soccer's most successful coaches — Tito Vilanova, who succeeded Pep Guardiola.

Despite having no European coaching experience, Martino received the backing from Messi before the club's sporting director traveled to Buenos Aires to negotiate the deal. Messi spoke glowingly of Martino, better known in Argentina by the nickname "Tata."

"I like Tata Martino," Messi said recently. "He is a great coach," adding that "his teams play well and we all respect him."

Martino acknowledged Messi's influence in landing the job.

"I have no doubt that Jorge (Messi's father) and Lionel have had importance," Martino said at a news conference in Rosario, Argentina. "They surely have spoken with the club officials. Surely they were asked their opinion."

Martino coached Paraguay in 2010 to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time. Barcelona praised him on its website for his "clear commitment to the passing game" and the attacking style that has become the Spanish power's trademark.

Barcelona is to travel to Germany on Wednesday for a preseason game against Bayern Munich, now coached by Guardiola. Barcelona said Martino will not accompany the squad.

Vilanova began as Guardiola's assistant, 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 a possible 19 titles from 2008-2012, including two Champions League trophies.

During Vilanova's single season in charge, he led Barcelona to the Spanish league title with a record-tying 100 points. He stepped down as Barcelona coach last week following a recurrence of throat cancer.

In what he called an "open letter" released Tuesday, Vilanova said his doctors had advised him to give up coaching.

"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, without specifying further.

Martino played as a midfielder from 1980-1996, including a short spell in 1991 at Spanish club Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He is to be joined by his assistant from Newell's Old Boys last season, Jorge Pautasso, fitness coach Elvio Paulo Rosso and coach Adrian Coria, who once was in charge of Messi at the Argentine club.

Martino will become the fourth Argentine to coach the club, after Helenio Herrera (1958-60, 1980 and 1980-81), Roque Olsen (1965-67) and Cesar Luis Menotti (1983-84).