Gerardo "Tata" Martino is not a big name in Europe, but if insider sources are correct, he could be FC Barcelona's next manager. The front office has to find someone to take over this late in the offseason due to Tito Vilanova's extremely sad - but inspiring - fight with cancer.
Martino, a native of Rosario, is the coach of the Argentine club Newell's Old Boys. Newell's are, to give an only partially apt comparison, sort of like Valencia or Athletic Bilbao - teams with lots of history, lots of culture, a few championships and a few good continental runs... but with a trophy case that pales in comparison of other domestic neighbors.
Newell's are perhaps better-known for the players they produced. Namely Gabriel Batistuta, Argentina's all-time leading scorer, and one Lionel Messi (though only up to 12 years of age, of course.)
They are now league champions for only the sixth time in their history, thanks in large part due to Martino. They also made a great run in the Copa Libertadores, going out in the semifinals on penalties.
They finished the league as the best-scoring team, with 40 goals in 19 games. Striker Ignacio Scocco finished as the tournament's top scorer and earned himself his first few national team caps alongside Messi, as well as international interest for his services.
Besides fostering Batistuta and Messi, Newell's is the home of Marcelo Bielsa, who managed them to two Argentine league trophies. Bielsa is so loved at Newell's, in fact, that they play at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa.
Martino was the cerebral midfielder who pulled the strings for Bielsa's Newell's. His Xavi, if you'd like. Like Pep Guardiola, Martino is a disciple of Bielsismo. That is perhaps what tempts Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta and Club President Sandro Rosell most.
Like Bielsa and Guardiola, Martino prefers to press high up the pitch and gain the ball back quickly. This strategy, when done correctly, is both defensive (not allowing the other team to advance) and defensive (creating quick scoring opportunities.)
He favors a shifting formation, that at its core can be described as a 4-3-3. In attack, the wingers push up to play like wing-forwards. In defense, the holding midfielder can drop in and become a third centerback while the two wingers can help form a middle four.
However, there are risks. If the opposing team can get past the first wave of pressure, they will have relatively clear sailing ahead. This has been part of Barcelona's problem for a long time now.
The other problem is fatigue. Bielsa's sides have a history of running out of steam. Athletic Bilbao played brilliantly for most of one season only to fade down the stretch. This year, they've been very disappointing.
Would a Barcelona still putting out Xavi and Carles Puyol be able to handle that type of demand? The only way is if they were rotated enough, and then, lack of rotation has been a concern of Barcelona's as well.
What's especially interesting about Martino is that, rather than being an idealist like Bielsa, he is in essence a pragmatist. While coaching the Paraguayan national team in World Cup 2010 and Copa America 2011, Martino opted for a defensive approach as he felt he did not have the players to play any other way. His formation was 4-4-2.
In South Africa, Paraguay won their group, drawing twice, winning once, and conceding only one goal. In the knockout rounds, they drew 0-0 with Japan and progressed on penalties. The South Americans took the eventual champions Spain to the brink, with David Villa's 83rd minute goal taking La Roja to a 1-0 victory.
In the 2011 Copa America, Paraguay amazingly did not win a single game and yet finished runners-up - their best result since 1983.
Paraguay advanced from the group stage after three straight draws. In the knockout stages, Martino stifled Brazil and advanced on penalties after a 0-0 draw. Against Venezuela, he did the same: 0-0 and advance on penalties. He lost the final against Uruguay, but Paraguayans were happy with their overall display.
In addition, he is well-respected in Paraguay for having won a total of four Paraguayan leagues with two different teams.
Martino is a good coach with a lot to be proud of. Still, Barcelona would be a big challenge, especially taking over this late in the off-season.
He's never managed in Europe. And while he has managed in big tournaments - the World Cup, Copa America, and Libertadores - he's never been the favorite in any of them. He's had some license to accept "glorious defeat" a la Athletic Bilbao. That wouldn't be the case in Catalonia.
Stylistically, there are good reasons he is under consideration. His Bielsa association will impress some people. On the other hand, the bad parts of Bielsismo could worry others.
It would be interesting to see what Martino could offer Barcelona, and if he has enough tactical acumen to adjust the team's strategy as needed.