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Inside FutbolInside Futbol

06 October 2018

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Spain

Barcelona Still Unsure On Gerardo Martino Shaped New Era




Joel Amorim


Barcelona’s latest performances, rather than results, indicate that coach Gerardo Martino and the Catalan giants are perhaps not a match made in heaven. The 51-year-old Argentine head coach arrived at the Camp Nou to replace Tito Vilanova, with Pep Guardiola’s assistant having to stand aside to battle cancer. But Martino has so far not managed to convince the club’s supporters that he is the right man for the job. That may seem fanciful given that they top the league, but Barcelona's style of play is changing.

Martino’s honeymoon at Barcelona ended when the team suffered their first blow at the hands of a brave Ajax side in the Champions League. The Dutch champions are a quality team, but they are miles away from the football superpower status that Barcelona hold. But if one defeat wasn’t enough to question Martino’s work, Barcelona suffered a second just days after the Amsterdam upset, being unable to hold out against a well-organised Athletic Bilbao side and leaving the San Mames on the back of another fiasco.

Now Martino’s work in Catalunya is being picked apart and criticised, with speculation even having surfaced that he will leave the club at the end of the season regardless of the team’s achievements. It has also been claimed the Argentine tactician is unsettled in Spain.

 

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The coach has done what had been demanded for some time: namely develop an alternative to tiki-taka when that system is not working. However, tiki-taka is now slowly disappearing altogether, with the possession-based style of football Guardiola implemented withering. It has not been unusual to see Barcelona resorting to a more direct style of play under Martino, with many long diagonal balls played during games. High pressing of opponents and long periods of possession don’t appear to fit Martino’s style and Barcelona have often looked like a team that keep relying on individual efforts from their players rather than the superiority of the collective. Often Barcelona's players seem to want to do things their own way, with no connection between the different sectors of the team.

Martino’s arrival is now being viewed as the comprehensive end of the project Guardiola started in 2008. When Guardiola left in 2012, things changed for the Catalans and even Vilanova presided over a worsening of the possession statistics clocked up by the team. However, Vilanova did stick to tiki-taka, extending the project into 2013. Martino has different ideas, and while they are not necessarily wrong, they represent a different philosophy and approach to the game.

Supporters had become used to a special Barcelona that feared no one and hardly ever had serious competition at home and abroad. Now though the landscape is very different. Atletico Madrid are some way along the Diego Simeone project and have now somewhat replaced Real Madrid as the Blaugrana’s number one rival in La Liga at present. And in Europe, the Catalan team only managed to win away from home in the Champions League group stage at the expense of the section’s weakest opposition, Scottish champions Celtic.

There are hopes in Barcelona that Martino might yet become the man who reshapes the team and, while waving goodbye to tiki-taka, does not compromise their ability to continue winning trophies at the top of the game. Change is often necessary for a team to continue their development, with all eras having to end at some point. Only time will tell if Martino is the man to begin a new but different era at Barcelona and whether the undoubted changes he has already implemented result in something positive for the Catalan club.


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