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By Alexander Netherton

There’s a particular kind of hot air being expelled by football humans across the world. That hot air is the discussion about David Moyes at Manchester United which is being pushed out by people across the world, who are using their vocal chords, mouth, teeth and lips to make it into words. Some of the same people are also putting these thoughts into written words, in much the same way as this article is doing.

There is no denying that this has been a notably bad start for Moyes at United. He’s lost to Liverpool, a disaster, to City, a catastrophe, and to West Bromwich Albion, very funny. He’s made a number of faux pas in the media, and a number of inexplicable decisions. Decisions which were obviously wrong at the time – removing Shinji Kagawa and replacing him with a child, for example – and a number obviously wrong in retrospect – waiting until the last minute to buy a midfielder.

Now, Moyes might still turn the job around. He might eventually prove himself to be a worthy successor to Alex Ferguson, capable of taking over the biggest club in the country from the best manager in the world (no arguments, please). But right now, it’s too soon to call for his sacking, but certainly not too soon to examine the differences with other managers who changed clubs in the Summer. There were three other options available in the year before Ferguson’s retirement. All of them were linked with the job, some more heavily than others, but it appears the decision made was relatively swift and decisive. The following requires that we assume the job was available before they chose their alternative destinations, but it nonetheless highlights the skills United missed out on by either choosing incorrectly, or failing to properly plan for his exit. United may soon look at Moyes and realise there are no good alternatives now available – that wasn’t the case over the last year.

If Moyes is sacked within 18 months, we can suppose that things will have gone badly. No trophies and no hope of trophies. Things will be a real mess and only a manager of real quality would be needed. People would be calling for the return of Alex Ferguson. Not so, Jose Mourinho. The man has reliably finished within the top two of every league he has managed in for the last decade. David Moyes hasn’t. For all his faults – and there are plenty – Mourinho would deliver success, or at the very least, be relied upon to sidestep failure.

Mourinho has won the Champions League twice, and come close to winning on other occasions. David Moyes is already talking down his team’s chances: what a thrill. He is no tactical expert, nor is he experienced in Europe. On the other side, Mourinho can charm the press, even if it gets tedious for some when he waxes histrionic. Mourinho has Jorge Mendes on speed dial when he needs to reinforce in the summer – he would not have stood for signing a single midfielder. For more than his release clause.

Even then, and this goes with the rest of the other managers listed here, he has credibility. If the exact same results had occurred under his watch, there would be little hesitation to expect and improvement, and crucially his players would not doubt that would be coming, too. Under Moyes, there is little achievement to base trust upon. Why, fundamentally, should players as good as Rafael, Kagawa and Robin Van Persie believe in his advice?

That’s not to say Mourinho is without drawbacks. Along with positives comes the disrepute he brings every club. Bringing UNICEF, the Mounted Police, the actor Kenneth Branagh and Interpol into arguments whenever he wants to invent a conspiracy. Given Manchester United’s focus is on bringing on board valuable sponsors, it is still understandable to give the warring Portuguese motherfucker a wide berth. Just as Moyes might leave the club without success and in a mess, it is certainly possible Mourinho will leave the club in the middle of a civil war. At Chelsea, he fell out with executives, owner, technical and playing staff. At Inter Milan, he chinned a journalist. At Real Madrid, he went after the club captain, Pepe, Sergio Ramos, both his strikers, executives and board members, more journalists, Catalonia in general, Barcelona the club, UNICEF, UEFA and others. You can understand why David Gill and Bobby Charlton (at a guess) might not have been desperate to see what trees he could tear up, and then set fire to, at Old Trafford.

Counterintuitively though, even this holds a positive. If Mourinho leaves an absolute shitstorm behind, with people balancing anvils atop ajar doors, waiting for their colleagues, then at least nobody will be thinking of Ferguson. They’ll be too busy sorting out Mourinho’s mess. That can’t be said at United now.

There are also rumours that Carlo Ancelotti was offered the job, only to disclose to United that he had already decided to replace Mourinho at Real Madrid. There are no rumours that this was in part because Madrid offers better culture, food and people than literally anywhere in England, but they cannot be discounted – even if the rumours do not exist – because the reasoning is utterly valid.

However, there is an overlooked argument that suggests that Carlo Ancelotti was a golden opportunity for the Glazers, and United on the whole. Of course, getting rid of the Glazers for a group of people who would prioritise the club would be the greatest advance for the club, but that’s not going to happen, because nothing good happens anymore. However, Ancelotti offered qualities for both parties, and fewer problems than Mourinho.

He is, though, a company man. He does not go out of his way to attack those above him, he accepts the sack as an inevitability. He is stoic of spirit and solid of ass, secure that they will both comfort and protect him, and survive through any scrapes. He would not embarrass the club or damage the money-making brand.

And on the pitch, he is reliable. At Milan, PSG and before, he delivered Champions League football with the occasional title or European success. For the club, that earns enough beans, and for the fans, it gives them what they want and what they are accustomed to. It might not have been what Ferguson was capable of, but nobody could achieve that.

Particular to the United squad, too, he has qualities they need. With Michael Carrick, Robin Van Persie, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand all in their thirties, Ancelotti’s expertise in getting the best out of older players is vital, particularly when transfer funds are not sufficient to overhaul the squad. If they were, United would have been able to buy at least one of Leighton Baines, Ander Herrera, Thiago Alcantara, Luka Modric or any of the other 500 players they were linked with. But they weren’t, making this and the previous sentence moot. He is, as his discovery of 4-3-2-1 and his pragmatism at Chelsea showed, able to build a team out what he is given. At PSG, he ultimately found the balance of a team made of also-rans and superstars. As is evident, Manchester United certainly need someone to build them into a team again.

He’s able to deal with superstars. At AC Milan he had Kaka and Paolo Maldini, and at Juventus he had to deal with Alessandro Del Piero. Now, at Real Madrid, few seem to be as het up as they were under Mourinho. With players as capable of insurrection as Patrice Evra and Wayne Rooney, he would have been ideal to manage these and other egos. David Moyes, of course, ended up suing Rooney and humiliating Evra with his pursuit of Baines and Fabio Coentrao.

Of course, he has his drawbacks. He only won one league title in Italy, had a sophomore slump at Chelsea, and was unable to take an enhanced PSG to a title in his first year – despite taking over the side at the top of Ligue 1. It’s looking unlikely that Real Madrid will succeed this year, and there’s a chance that Atletico’s form could see him finish third. While he is well capable of trophies, managing egos and behaving as the corporate side demands, the pay-off is regular fallow years.

Finally, the scarf-wearer. No, not Roberto Mancini. For one, he’s useless, for two, he’s about to prove again how useless he is at Galatasaray. No, the last option was Pep Guardiola, who met Alex Ferguson at Christmas to discuss something. Whatever it was, he then took the Bayern job. Now we can do the cons he offers quite quickly: He’s a bit annoying, and doesn’t necessarily excel at the top end of the transfer market. But then again, Manchester United don’t operate at the top end of the transfer market at all anymore. Whether he might ultimately have wanted the job at United, with Bayern still on offer, is moot.

We can to the pros swiftly too: he defined, and possibly invented, a strain of football that is only now being challenged, the hegemony in the Champions League for a significant period of time. He understands youth football, something Manchester United need, having only produced Danny Welbeck of late. Adnan Januzaj – who’s had a look at Moyes and by coincidence is supposedly looking around for other options – and Rafael do not count, because they were bought. He is attractive to almost any player except Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and he was the man who signed Thiago in the end. He also perfected possibly the greatest club side of all time. David Moyes appears unlikely to do the same.

David Moyes still has his chance. In all likelihood, it will be for at least a year unless things go shocking. Despite that, when his time comes, and there are already reasons to suspect it will be this summer, Manchester United will have reason to wonder just why they appointed him in the first place, and just how damaging the timing of the change was.


By Alex Netherton

There are six-pointers, and then there are six-pointers. It’s not really ever been necessary to check what a-six pointer is, because it’s an irrelevant word-jazz bebopped into the mics attached to the oversized, shiny lapels of football-chatting idiots. Football-chatting idiots like Jamie Redknapp, Harry Redknapp, Louise Redknapp, you and, of course, as the quality of the work demonstrates, this author. But what a six-pointer the Manchester United – Chelsea match is. It’s a veritable six-pointer. A real six-pointer. It is a real shame, then, that it will remind us of everything that is wrong with a certain strand of feminist blogging. Hang on, this introduction has come across all Helen Lewis. Let’s get it right – it will be everything that is wrong with some aspects of football.

This is it. This will have all the tired journalistic clichés you could hope to find. Will it have narratives? Will it have tropes? Will there be intriguing and ironic subplots, that are neither intriguing nor ironic? Will a certain writer make the same jokes he does on Twitter throughout the match, all in the dead-eyed chase for more followers to peddle his ever more prevalent guff? Yes, yes, yes and yes, but Ethan Dean-Richards refuses to stop, no matter how much money and threats are alternately offered and promised.

This match sets the standard. The Gold Top of unwarranted fervour and anger. It has so much riding on it, none of which matters. This could be the first chance to put clear distance between the teams. It doesn’t make a jot of difference, it’s so early in the season. While it it will be said that these performances are shows of strength, laying down a marker or psychological dominance, they don’t really. These players have done this hundreds of times before, and if it really affected them that much, they’d be playing for Arsenal.

Chelsea have won the Champions League through sheer personality. Jose Mourinho drove Barca to distraction and intimidated Alex Ferguson. United have extracted the most from their abilities and relatively limited finances in the face of ever increasing demands from fans and other, richer teams. For all concerned, this is not a time they’ll crack for good, but just wait til you hear the papers talking about it. They’ll have to imbue it with meaning, because writers at broadsheets need something to be sesquipedalian about. They need something to render hackles raised.

There will be references to the Wayne Rooney story promising insight and delivering no insight. We’re all aware what will happen. Chelsea won’t bid until after the game, then he’ll either go, or not go. If he stays he’ll continue to under-perform and look resentful, scoring about 20 goals a season but doing little else. He’ll probably get a new contract for his trouble, and football will be just as fetid as ever. If he goes to Chelsea, he’ll have a spark of enjoyment and will become fitter under Mourinho. Just as things are looking exciting, he’ll injure himself again, or self-sabotage with another piece of off-field indiscipline, and he’ll under-perform and look resentful. Exciting? No. Inevitable? Yes. The future is mapped out in a very limited array for this man, yet the indignation keeps frothing.

[Discussion of relative merits of Mourinho and Moyes goes here, and how Moyes is working in both the shadow of Ferguson and of Mourinho’s obvious desire for the job. You can feel the life sapping out of the writer and supporters as they read on. For that reason it has not been written, merely implied in these parentheses.]

And the fans of course will need something to be furious about. It’ll be the journalists, obviously (and please do say hi in the comments) and the events of the game, which will be dealt with in the same irrational manner. There’s nothing like the joy of a big match to be so quickly reminded of just what we were all missing from the partisan amongst us. Typical ABU journalists and typical anti-Chelsea “bias [sic] journos”, all with their minds shot from years of writing the same thing and asking the same questions, far too jaded to summon up any kind of passion, let alone some cock-eyed bias favouring one team or another.

The referee will make a huge mess of something, and instead of treating it as a simple reminder that we all fallible, like a Roman mosaic with a deliberate mistake to assuage the gods, it’ll be all pumps on the radge deck, flinging handfuls of their own anger shit at each other.

As it is, the world will be treated to the #MUFCfamily proclaiming the team is the strongest it’s ever been, and that Michael Carrick is world class. Similarly, the Chelsea massive will be booing Rio Ferdinand for… it’s never clear what, exactly, beyond the fact that some Chelsea fans possibly quite like racism. If they didn’t, after all, they would stridently encourage authorities to tackle it and victims to report it, even if they weren’t John Obi Mikel. An edifying discussion will follow from parties relevant and irrelevant.

All this does a disservice to what might actually be the most interesting thing happening on Monday night. That is a match involving players like Robin Van Persie and Eden Hazard. There will be the excellent David De Gea and the infuriatingly reliable Frank Lampard. On Monday, let’s remember that. This should still be a time of jaunty relaxation. Keep it in mind. It’s still August, the sun is still out and we’re already on the verge of nervous breakdowns and death threats. There’s a place for both psychological disintegration and wishing end times on other people, and that’s April and May.


By Alex Netherton

There’s a great tradition of over-analysing celebrities and sportsmen through an intellectual lens that probably does a disservice to everyone. For one, it flatters the writer into getting to show off with big words and psychobabble (or more accurately makes him or her look like a git). For two, it’s guesswork. And lastly, it’s possibly damaging to how the subject is perceived and how he or she may feel. However, it’s possible, when talking about Wayne Rooney, to avoid all that, and still wonder why exactly he has arrived at such a miserable position.

Rooney played football like a savant. The game came naturally to him, with the arrogance of youth, made special by the ability to justify it. His instinct was supremely imaginative and the result was an English footballer who was genuinely thrilling, able to excite the country in the rarest of ways—he played like a foreigner. These days, there’s no higher compliment for an Englishman as simply ‘not seeming English.’

Excuse the crap music for a moment, and watch:

A ridiculous player. Newcastle United put in the first bid for him, which put Craig Bellamy in an almighty strop, which was fantastically entertaining, but more importantly lead Manchester United to buy him a year earlier than they might have planned (this was back when United were still capable of buying players).

It wasn’t just his debut season; he impressed until 2010. But that’s not really the point. Most fans have functioning eyeballs and memories, and even those who don’t, know he’s falling apart. The question is, why has it gone like this? Here’s why it has gone like this!

Because he got stitched up

Superbly stitched up. When Wayne Rooney decided he wanted to leave in 2010, it was because Manchester United couldn’t match his ambitions. Essentially, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez had gone without being replaced, and it had been three years since they bought a midfielder. You could argue Gabriel Obertan, Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen were replacements, but you’d be making a really sick joke by doing so. Manchester City and Chelsea had money, United didn’t. It looked like the jig was up.

Ferguson played the wounded granddad, and Rooney got the new contract that was apparently commensurate to his ambitions. Everyone was happy enough to go along, and Manchester United and Rooney won the league. Obviously though, you don’t get to cross Ferguson and win. Roy Keane got turfed out. Ruud Van Nistelrooy got put on the naughty step in Real Madrid. Jaap Stam got Lazio’d. You don’t get to cross Fergie without paying for it.

With Rooney, things were different. Ferguson needed Rooney to win the league, and so he stayed to that end. Then a couple of things happened. United bought Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie, and Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck could increasingly hold their own. Rooney was replaced as a number nine and ten, and was no longer needed as meat in the squad. To win the league, they didn’t need Rooney, they needed RVP. As a certain genius pointed out in October 2012, things were possibly over for Rooney at United.

At his retirement party, Ferguson decided that Wayne Rooney had handed in a transfer request. It doesn’t matter what actually happened, because that’s what he said happened. And given he simply moved upstairs, it was made clear to Rooney that life might not get any easier.

Because he’s not the player he thought he’d be

Although hugely talented, Ronaldo eventually overtook him in ability, but the two of them combined well. With Carlos Tevez, the side would often feature all three, all on a similar wavelength. They all clearly enjoyed playing together. Eventually, Rooney became relied upon as the winger in the formation, as 4-3-3 became 4-5-1. His discipline meant that United could rely on him to double up at at left-back against Barcelona, and Rooney could rely on genuine success in the Premier League and Europe.

When Ronaldo and Tevez left, things again changed. No longer an energetic spark amongst three exciting players, and no longer indulging Ronaldo’s genius while suppressing his own. No, now he became a traditional number nine. A combination with Antonio Valencia led United to the title and 34 goals. His ability has meant that wherever he plays, he can still do things like this

but it has its drawbacks. By playing such one dimensional football on the wing or as a striker, the joy of football has disappeared entirely.

Rooney can, in part, lay blame at Fergie for making him play this way for so long that he can no longer rely on what made him such a great footballer. How galling must it be that having made the decision to serve the team instead of his talent, that the team no longer need him? That doesn’t justify the mardy behaviour on or off the pitch, but it goes some way to explaining it.

Because of his lifestyle—pictured boozing and smoking more than you might wish from your average professional footballer—and the injuries, which are perhaps linked, he is no longer as athletic as he once was. Before, his size and speed made him a force, now it’s more of a slow bulk, neither mobile nor lithe. Injuries have dulled his abilities. His first touch is shot, he has no explosive quality to his play. He might be angry at himself for allowing his body to get to this, or he might simply be angry that his body is letting him down. We all decay, of course—you’re decaying right now, and now, and now—but not all of our fortunes depend so directly on our bodies. Rooney would be right to be frustrated with his body, but he might be increasingly angry at himself for causing the trouble with his own carelessness.

Because he’s English

The English are an angry bunch, and more than that they’re a self-loathing people, with utterly good reason. We are awful, totally irredeemable. For all the specifics of his circumstance, Rooney just can’t escape his destiny. To resent his lot, and to be the cause of it. Fergie played his part, as did life itself, but nowhere else can you end up so miserable without the root cause simply being born in England. He might have played like a foreigner, but he thought like an Englishman.


By Graham Ruthven

“When United came calling and Sir Alex was on the phone you got a buzz from it,” Dwight Yorke, who was once the subject of a tempestuous transfer window raid by Manchester United revealed when asked about the club’s dealings this summer. “Does David Moyes have that though? That’s my one question.”

It would seem United manager David Moyes has made plenty phone calls since assuming the self proclaimed biggest job in football, updating the press with every twist and turn his transfer market strategy takes.

Yet Yorke’s question is a pertinent one. Are United struggling to attract players without the man who came to embody the club? Is Old Trafford still the appealing arena it was with Alex Ferguson on the sidelines? Read the rest of this entry »

psg-footballBy Alex Netherton

It’s nice to know that it’s not just the Premier League whose ceremonial opening game is taken as seriously as it deserves. On Saturday night, Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux played in their version of the Charity Shield, the Trophee de Champions. As you’d expect from what is fundamentally a friendly, the line-ups we patchy and the commitment to performance was even less than that.

With Edinson Cavani and Marquinhos not starting, and with the use of such stellar substitutes as Hervin Ongenda, a five-feet, eight-inches tall eighteen-year-old, it was clear that this was a match being used as practice, and little else. Bordeaux, equally, are adjusting after changes made to their squad, losing Anthony Modeste and Benoit Tremoulinas for 11 million euros, and reinforcing with a 33-year-old Jeremie Brechet and little-known Lucas Orban. Despite taking the lead, the match in Gabon ended with a 96th minute PSG winner for Alex, who one would assume will be sat on his buttocks sooner rather than later now that Marquinhos has been bought.

So, while the match was a friendly, it continued the kind of story we’re used to from PSG. Not hugely impressive given the massive amount of petrodollars they’ve been heaving around with gay [Paris] abandon, but still with such an advantage in resources and talent that victory was almost certainly inevitable. PSG have added again this summer, and were it not for Monaco one would assume that Ligue Un was theirs for as long as they wanted it, and that the focus could be shifted to the Champions League.

Read the rest of this entry »


By Alex Netherton

Post is a word-forming element which means, ‘after’. Pre is a word-forming element which means, ‘before’. Post-season is what we were doing a few weeks before now. It was ‘after’ the season. Now we are in pre-season. It is the time ‘before’ the season. There is an argument as to whether post-season is in fact also pre-season, because post-season is before, or ‘pre’ the season, too. It’s a question of perception, and one for the semiologists to discuss, because there’s football on. Let’s talk about pre-season football. Umberto Eco be damned!

Pre-season is an odd time. There’s a lot of hooha about a lot of friendlies, which nevertheless have almost zero meaning. The amount of coverage given over to them is more an indictment of how valuable any kind of Big Club football is to keeping a necessary turnover of rags, and delivering a necessary amount of clicks and, vernacular ahoy, dwell time. Pre-season has taken on meaning only because the football industry needs pre-season to take on meaning, not because of any inherent worth. We are at the stage, even if we thought it had happened before, where football will eat itself.

It happens for money. Given the obvious, although not absolute, link between money and success in football, clubs will do almost anything to get £ and $ and € and ฿ and ¥ and, you would assume eventually, Bitcoin. It is, after all, a currency associated with shady dealings, which might suit the globalised football touring circus. Friendlies are a whirligig of cash money, all there at the end of a long haul flight. Nobody points out the downsides. Or, okay, if they do, repetition will not do you any harm, so here they are again.

For one, it is still notionally supported that a club should have local roots. If a club decides that its pomp and nonsense is to be done, it seems odd that the people who are indulged with the flattery, PR and walkaround tours are those who live furthest from the club. That’s not to say that foreign fans cannot support Manchester United or Real Madrid, but it seems odd to reward most simperingly those people with the least meaningful emotional connection. It is also exploitative. Fans in far off corners of the world are being tricked. They are sold an emotional connection to a group of brands which are more excited by their monetising potential.

Second, it is plainly fatuous for the clubs to talk about the training plans for the next season. The teams are on the move every three days, spending ever increasing time on, or providing, corporate jollies, afflicted by jet-lag and holiday rustiness. The quality of the pitches, and the vulnerability to the extreme weather in some of the venues, is possibly linked to injuries and poor preparation for Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Jan Vertonghen. Other games may be called off due to the unsuitability of the pitch, further reducing the opportunities for players to prepare for what they’re actually meant to do. You know, win league and cup matches in their country and Europe. While Raymond Verheijen might be conspicuously unemployed, his argument that Premier League clubs take a cavalier attitude to their players’ fitness is borne out by the strain they put on them in these tours.

The weight of the analysis and coverage of these games is inexplicable. There have been minute-by-minute reports of almost every single friendly played by the top four clubs, and Liverpool, in the Premier League. Let’s spare a minute for the poor, downtrodden hack. Now not just required to put a spin on tired transfer rumours, they are now asked to imbue meaning into Manchester United versus a select Malaysian XI. Looking for valid tactical analysis in a game between sides of such disparate quality is like looking for the magic eye element in a painting by Mondrian. When journalists start smashing up their screens with their keyboards, a maniacal glint in the eye, but with a calmness in the actions, this is why. Not content with having to tell us that every possible club is buying every possible player, they now have to engage doublethink to believe that Luis Suarez’s handshake with Brendan Rodgers before coming on as a sub, is yet another Important Handshake In Modern Football. Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!

And it’s the same for the fans. Primed to the edge of fury throughout the season – your player dived, our player exaggerated contact, your player said this, our player has been traduced because you can’t grasp the vagaries of cultural relativism, your player is an idiot, our player was wrongly snubbed for a Nobel Prize – they’re now not allowed a moment’s break. They have to now appraise the hunger of superstars coming back from an exotic holiday. They have to seriously consider how their millions of pounds of resources compare to the best a country with stretched resources and little footballing history can muster. They have to consider flying out to watch glorified training sessions. They have to read the nonsense in the websites and in the papers, because they’re told it means something.

It’s in our power to put this to bed. Remember, there are burgers to grill. There are pints to drink. There are third wave feminists who you could give platforms to. Football is from August until May. Enjoy your break, and fling your laptop, tablet, phone and newspapers into the nearest canal.

Newell's Old Boys v Boca Juniors - Copa Bridgestone Libertadores 2013

By Nick Dorrington

When Gerardo Martino announced in March that he intended to leave Newell’s Old Boys at the end of the season and seek out opportunities in Europe, he could hardly have imagined that four months later he would be announced as the new coach of Barcelona. June job offers from Malaga and Real Sociedad had been put to one side as he concentrated on steering Newell’s Old Boys through the Copa Libertadores and any realistic hope of migrating to Europe ahead of the 2013-14 season appeared to have vanished.

The manner in which the position became available would certainly not have been Martino’s choice, but with Tito Vilanova forced to resign to concentrate on his battle against throat cancer and Martino free from any constraints after watching his Newell’s side lose out to Atletico Mineiro in the Libertadores semifinals, the pieces fell neatly into place. Martino now finds himself thrust into the Camp Nou limelight in his first coaching position outside South America.

It is a move that makes sense for both parties. The Newell’s side that Martino led to the recent Torneo Final title played attacking, possession-based football with plenty of movement and incision in the final third. Out of possession they pressed aggressively, preventing opponents time and space on the ball. Aligned in a 4-3-3 with a fluid forward three, they were by far the most attractive side in Argentina over the course of the 2012-13 season.

Martino appears well placed to continue Barca’s gradual shift towards a more vertical style which utilises possession as a vehicle for attack rather than mere control that Vilanova initiated last season. Martino’s intention is for the player in possession to always have at least three forward passing options, an aim that is achieved through constant, varied movement in the final third–onrushing full-backs, midfielders moving between the lines and forwards switching positions.

It is highly unlikely that the static horizontal passing that has at times accompanied rigid defensive performances from opponents in recent seasons will be replicated under Martino. His constant desire for verticality plays to the strengths of Cesc Fabregas, who, with Xavi slowing down, could, if he elects to stay, receive more playing time and a more central role next season.

Martino played under Marcelo Bielsa at Newell’s in the early nineties, but despite the clear ideological similarities, the characterisation of Martino as a devout Bielsista is wide of the mark. He has spoken of the strong influence his first three coaches at Newell’s – Juan Carlos Montes, Jorge Solari and José Yudica – had on his approach, and while Bielsa remains dogmatically welded to his philosophy, Martino is not above pragmatism when necessary.

Off the pitch, Barcelona have secured a coach whose easy-going, polite manner is likely to win him many friends in the Spanish press, friends who could prove vital if there are any slip ups in the early weeks of the season. Refreshingly honest and often self-deprecating, he refused to take credit for leading Santa Fe to victory in his first match in charge in 2005, asking the assembled journalists: “How can I take the credit when I have only just arrived?”

His strong communication skills also translate to the training pitch, where he is renowned for his ability to foster strong team spirit and keep even the marginal members of his squad involved and interested. At Newell’s he leaned on a strong local core – seven of the Newell’s team who lost to Atletico Mineiro in the Libertadores semi-final were born in the club’s home province of Santa Fe or the neighbouring Entre Rios – to emphasise the importance of the club to the community and engender a culture of mutual sacrifice.

Martino will have a fellow Rosarian alongside him at Barcelona in the form of Lionel Messi, whose public and private support is reported to have played a role in the club’s decision. Martino was the favourite player of Messi’s father, Jorge, but although factions of the Spanish media are sure to package Martino’s appointment as the opening shot in an imagined battle for supremacy between Messi and new signing Neymar, it is hard to imagine Martino as anyone’s puppet.

The one question mark, of course, is whether a coach without any previous experience outside his home continent can adapt to the demands of one of the highest profile positions in world football. Yet while Martino does not have a background in Europe, he does (unlike Luis Enrique, his closest competitor for the position) have a history of success, with four league titles in Paraguay and one in Argentina to his credit.

He also did fantastic work with the Paraguayan national team. Taking over in 2006, his side stormed through the qualification process for the 2010 World Cup, defeating Brazil and recording a first ever official victory over Argentina on route to becoming the first South American team to qualify.

The attempted murder of Salvador Cabañas in a Mexico City bar robbed Martino of the link that held together the offensive and defensive portions of his side, but Paraguay still took their qualifying momentum into the World Cup and gave Spain a run for their money in the quarter final. The dying embers of that side battled their way through to the final of the 2011 Copa America, where they lost to Uruguay.

Most recently, at Newell’s, Martino turned a side who were struggling against relegation into league champions. They began the 2012/13 season level with Independiente in the last two relegation spots in Argentina’s promedio system, where the points gained over the last three seasons are averaged out on a per game basis. They shared an average of 1.184 points per game. By the end of the season, having recorded the best overall points total, Newell’s average had jumped to 1.439 points per game, while Independiente were relegated on an average of 1.132.

Wherever Martino has gone he has made a difference. He may not be a household name to those outside of South American football, but he has the necessary tactical wherewithal and communication skills to prove himself on the world stage. Given time, what at the moment appears a choice based more on circumstance than considered thought could well turn out to be an excellent long-term appointment.