MIAMI, Fla. (November 1, 2019) —
Marcelo Daniel Gallardo ticks most of the boxes on two teams’ managerial checklists.
He’s one of the front runners to be the first manager of Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, he is reportedly a front runner to take the helm of a much larger, more famous club. A club whose tag line is “More Than A Club.” For 43-year-old Club Atlético River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo, whose baby-faced appearance has earned him the nicknamed “El Muñeco – the Doll,” it’s an enviable position to be in no doubt.
Manchester City coach Pep Gallardo thinks very highly of Gallardo.
“Lo que ha hecho Gallardo en River es increíble. A nivel resultados, de darle consistencia, y otro año y otro año. Y se van jugadores pero sigue estando a nivel”.
“What Gallardo has done with River is incredible,” Guardiola told an Argentine TV station. “Some things are inexplicable. Every year three coaches are named as the best in the world, and he’s never among them. I can’t understand it. It’s as if there’s nothing else in the world apart from Europe.”
Recently he has been linked as the successor to Ernesto Valverde at Barcelona. Valverde’s contract is expiring on June 30, 2020 and it’s all but certain he will not be back. It is also certain that Lionel Messi approves of Gallardo as a replacement, having already referred to him as “one of the best.” Leo voted El Muñeco the third best coach in the world at FIFA’s The Best Awards, and that vote surely was heard by the Catalan club’s board. Having Messi’s ‘approval’ would be an important factor in deciding whether to hire a new coach. Another Blaugrana great, Andres Iniesta, who is currently playing for Vissel Kobe in the J-League, said “El trabajo que está haciendo Gallardo es sensacional.” (“The work Gallardo is doing is sensational.”)
What are Gallardo’s credentials that have him to linked to one of the most storied clubs in the world? In short, it’s his combination of youth, experience, a commitment to attacking football and an impressive CV as a player.
Now in his sixth year in charge, he has experienced great success at River; he has won the Copa Libertadores twice, and will have a chance to make that three in this year’s final later this month against Flamengo. Managing a club for six years is extremely rare in South America. Demands and needs change quickly due to the fact that the best players are continuously being sold off, mostly to Europe. As Guardiola pointed out, at River Plate “every year the players leave, but the work continues.”
Compensating for this has given Gallardo a depth of experience beyond most coaches of his experience.
Gallardo is credited with being proficient at reading the opposition, accurately assessing his own resources and making adjustments to the tactical plan, all without confusing his players. When he first took over at River, he used a 4-4-2 formation, featuring the old-fashioned Argentine diamond — a holder in front of the centre-backs, two mixed midfielders either side and the traditional No. 10, the position Gallardo had played.
On occasions he has even shifted to a back three — the first leg of last year’s Libertadores final against Boca being a prime example.
He was a top-class attacking midfielder in his playing days, subtle and skillful, with over 40 caps and two World Cups for Argentina to his credit. His playing career is mostly associated with River Plate, but he also played in Ligue Un (France) with Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco. He also played in MLS and at Nacional de Montivideo. where he ended his playing days and promptly started coaching the side, taking them to the Uruguayan league title.
The next test will be the Copa Libertadores final, now a one game final. It should be a tough challenge, as Flamengo is an attacking team under Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus.
If River prevail they will once again head to the FIFA Club World Cup — the one tournament where Gallardo has always come up short. In 2015, his side scraped by with a 1-0 semifinal win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima of Japan, before being overwhelmed in the final against Barcelona, 3-0. Last year, River did not even make the final, falling on penalties to Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates.
Regardless of the Club World Cup, a tournament that is not widely followed, Gallardo is the “in-demand” coach of the moment. Spanish press call him “El director técnico de moda.”
Both Barcelona and Miami have maintained contact with people connected to Gallardo, according to Argentinean publications. It was also reported that Miami Sporting Director Paul McDonough had been to Argentina during the past few months. Whether this was to talk to people connected with the coach or to talk to potential players is not known. For his part, Gallardo has been very smart, with indications that he will not sit down and talk about a possible exit until after River’s last game this year. Strictly speaking that would be in December when the Argentina Superliga season ends.
For Miami, hiring an Argentine coach makes sense, seeing that the first two players the club signed are both from Argentina, making for an instant cultural connection for two promising players. It is also a strategy that worked well for Inter Miami Sporting Director Paul McDonough when he was with Atlanta United. It was clear from early on indicated that the Five Stripes were going be very ambitious by building top-of-the-line training grounds, spending significant sums in MLS terms to acquire players and hiring an internationally well-known coach in Tata Martino, who had once led FC Barcelona and the Argentinean national team.
Inter Miami CF is overdue for announcing its head coach. Managing owner Jorge Mas previously said he was expecting to have a coach named by the end of September, later changed to October. That date has now come and gone. As each day passes without a coach being named, the most plausible explanation I can think of is that the head coach is someone who is still busy. Marcelo Gallardo clearly fits that description. What else would explain the hold up?
I’ve written before about the shortlist of top coaching candidates for the new club. While only those inside the negotiations can say for sure (which obviously they won’t), if the first head coach was going to be Santiago Solari or Gennaro Gattuso, or any other manager not currently employed, it’s hard to understand why that person is not already in Miami helping to plan for the inaugural season.
The Copa Libertadores Final is November 23. If you ask me, there will be a coaching announcement at the end of this month.