Known for his reliability, low-key approach, love of tactics and reputation for hard work, 44-year-old Argentinian coach Gerardo Martino now faces the biggest challenge of his career: masterminding Paraguay's bid for glory at the Copa America Venezuela 2007 and qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ .
"He's the perfect man for Paraguay," confidently proclaimed Juan Angel Napout, President of the Paraguayan Football Association (APF) when El Tata was unveiled as the new Guaraní supremo. Read on as FIFA.com brings you everything you need to know about the Argentinian tactician now shouldering the hopes of Paraguayan football fans everywhere.
Smart decisions, on and off the pitch
It was former Newell's Old Boys and Real Madrid front-man Jorge Valdano who once said that "You play football the same way you live your life", and Martino, another man to have worn the Leprosa colours with distinction, is a case in point.
As a player he was admired for his astute tactical brain, decision-making ability and passion for the game, qualities that the former Tenerife and Argentina star has used with notable success since taking the step into coaching. The results have been nothing short of remarkable: two league titles with Paraguayan heavyweights Cerro Porteno, and three with Libertad, the team he guided to a historic first semi-final appearance in the Copa Libertadores, in 2006.
"In football you need to know how to listen, and be able to continually absorb ideas. There's no one absolute truth, which is why it's always good to take the best of every coach you play under," he said back in the 1990s. A firm believer in the value of analysing video footage, his methodical approach has been likened to that of former Albiceleste coach Marcelo Bielsa, the man whose methods had the most impact on Martino during his time in Argentina.
Clearly someone who chooses every word carefully, Martino did offer a glimpse into his feelings on being officially welcomed into his new role. "It's a position I was hoping for and actively seeking, although unfortunately the whole process was delayed by the elections at the APF. Now that's everything's been signed and sealed, I can say that I've achieved what I set out to do."
El Tata takes up the reins as the replacement for Anibal Ruiz , the Uruguayan-born coach who failed to guide the Guaraní past the group stages at Germany 2006. First up for the new man in charge is a friendly clash against Hugo Sanchez's Mexico on 25 March, which could prove vital preparation with this year's Copa America just four months away. "In that aspect, we're lagging behind the other nations [involved in the Copa America]. They've already got some friendly matches under their belts, but we're only just beginning," admits the former Libertad boss.
With the Albirroja set to share a group with Argentina, Colombia and the United States in the first round of Venezuela 2007, time is very much of the essence for Martino's side. "We're not scared about any of the games. We've been observing players for some time now and we think that we've got what it takes to put in a good performance, although we mustn't ignore the fact that we've let a significant period go to waste."
Having carried off the continental crown in 1953 and 1979, the team's upcoming friendly games could indicate whether Paraguay are serious contenders for completing their hat-trick on Venezuelan soil. "The idea is to play two friendlies in March and another two before the Copa America. We'll be trying out new players and aiming to build a compact and competitive team," says Martino, who is faced with transferring his considerable club success to the international stage. Widely accepted as the fan's choice for the coveted position, the man himself has no doubts about his ability to do the job: "This is what I've prepared for. I've got complete faith in the Paraguayan players."