REUTERS - Gerardo Martino admits he was only there to make up the numbers when he pulled on the Argentina shirt for his one and only cap in 1991, but he now has the chance to leave a lasting impression on the national side after being named coach on Tuesday.
After a disappointing season as coach of Barcelona, Martino takes the reins of an Argentina side that came agonisingly close to World Cup glory a month ago, losing the final to Germany under Alejandro Sabella.
It will be the 51-year-old’s second spell in charge of a national team after he steered Paraguay to the quarter-finals at the 2010 World Cup, their best-ever finish.
Martino has always coveted the top job with the Argentina team.
“To be your country’s national team coach is a dream,” he told local media during his spell in charge of Newell’s Old Boys in 2012-13. “When you’re a coach that’s one of the goals.”
Martino, affectionately known as ‘Tata’ (granddad), is a well respected coach who emphasizes good football with plenty of possession and creative attacking, carrying on from his playmaking days as a midfielder.
“The nicest thing for a trainer is the work on the practice field, that’s where you can see your influence,” he said before taking charge at Barcelona in July last year.
An unknown quantity in Europe, Martino quickly won over fans and critics as Barcelona got off to a good start.
But after six brilliant months, Barca’s injury problems began to mount and they finished the season without a major trophy for the first time in six years.
Martino, regarded as a methodical coach who plans matches down to the smallest detail, resigned shortly after Barcelona drew with Atletico Madrid to finish second to them in La Liga.
A disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, who coached him at Newell’s in the early 1990s, Martino will now look to get over last season’s disappointment and get the very best out of Messi for Argentina, something he failed to do at Barca.
Born in the city of Rosario, Martino was 10 when he joined Newell’s Old Boys, also Messi’s first club.
He played 15 years for Newell’s followed by brief spells at Tenerife when they were in the Spanish top flight, Lanus in Buenos Aires, Chile’s O’Higgins and Barcelona of Ecuador.
His time at Newell’s left him as one of the all-time favourites at the club and he has a stand named after him at the Marcelo Bielsa stadium.
He managed less than one full international for Argentina, a friendly against Hungary in 1991, after making about 20 appearances for the under-20 team.
“What I did in the national team was nothing, just making up the squad’s numbers,” he told the Argentine sports magazine El Grafico in 2007. “Maybe I wasn’t good enough to be in the national team, but also they never invested time in me.”
He began coaching in 1998, first with minor sides in Argentina, before moving across the border to Paraguay where he won four league titles with two different clubs - Libertad and Cerro Porteno.
Martino then took charge of Paraguay for five years, guiding them to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in 2010 and the Copa America final in Argentina in 2011.
While Martino is renowned for his focus on possession football, his Paraguay side played to their strengths of high balls to tall strikers in the box.
He returned to his roots at Newell’s in 2012, steering them clear of relegation before taking them to the championship in June last year and a place in the semi-finals of South America’s Libertadores Cup.
“The biggest challenge is always to be good enough for the position,” Martino said before starting at Barcelona.
He will be keen to show he is up for the challenge of leading Argentina to success.
Writing by Rex Gowar; Editing by Peter Rutherford