Image courtesy of MLS
After the departure of former Atlanta United Head Coach Frank De Boer, there was much speculation about who would take the wheel to drive the club in the right direction. Stephen Glass was appointed as Interim Head Coach following De Boer’s exit, but the team still failed to make the 2020 MLS Playoffs. Impatience began to grow amongst the fanbase because there were still no signs of a new head coach announcement. All of the unrest and impatience would turn into excitement and hope when in January 2021, the club announced the hiring of Argentine soccer legend Gabriel Heinze as the new Head Coach. This move has brought back memories of the Tata Martino era, but who exactly is Gabriel Heinze?
Gabriel Heinze is a native of Argentina who played as a center-back and left-back during his playing days. His career on the pitch took him to many prestigious clubs, including Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Paris Saint-Germain. During his spell at Manchester United, he earned the Player of the Year award for the 04/05 season for the Red Devils. His trophy cabinet includes Premier League, La Liga, and Ligue 1 titles, to name a few. Heinze also represented Argentina on the international stage with 73 caps. Those appearances included playing in the World Cup, Confederations Cup, and Copa America. Heinze is remembered as a player for his tough, aggressive style of defending that brought him much success. Without a doubt, Heinze had a vastly respected playing career that has led him into coaching. So what can the Five Stripes expect from Heinze in the managerial role?
Before signing a two-year deal with Atlanta United, Heinze was in charge of Velez Sarsfield in the Argentine league. He managed to take Velez from fighting relegation to becoming league title contenders. His results are not the only appealing aspect of his coaching, though, as his style and philosophy are crucial, as well. Under Tata Martino, Atlanta played expansive, fast-paced soccer with quality possession spells. De Boer’s critics pointed to his lack of exciting soccer and the vast difference from the beloved identity that Tata gave the team. Many fans thought his tactics were boring. Heinze’s signing is a step in the right direction to regaining the positive identity that Atlanta United once had.
Heinze is known for typically playing in a 4-3-3 formation. His style of play includes high pressing the opponents constantly. His goal is to press high up the field with many players, thus outnumbering the opponents and forcing them into an error so that his side can regain possession of the ball. Offensively, he believes in a possession-based style that allows his team to dictate the game and create several goal-scoring opportunities. The build-up play starts at the back with the defense. His holding midfielder will be vital in playing out from the back. The holding mid typically drops back into the defensive line between the two center-backs in a Heinze team. The goal is to spread the field wider, creating more passing options, making it harder for the opposition to press. The holding mid must possess great technical abilities and be able to pick out passing lanes. Heinze is very offensive as he allows his front three to remain in the attacking portion of the field and create strength in numbers. When attacking, his wingers must stay wide to create more space. Many other players rotate spaces during play to create space for teammates. This creates a cycle of filling in and moving after completing a pass. Heinze has proven to have a very attacking style of soccer, something the fans will be eager to watch.
Heinze is also known for placing a high level of importance on the development of youth academy players. He has guided academy players in the right direction and put the trust in them to be successful. During his time at Velez, he made visits to the youth academy to see the growth of the players and provide them with some advice. This is a positive sign for the Atlanta United II squad, as many of them could potentially fall into Heinze’s plans and thus take the next step in their development. Atlanta’s youth academy has already proven to develop quality players such as George Bello and Tyler Wolff. Heinze should be more involved with the academy, which will allow players to earn an opportunity to break through in the first team under him.
Overall, the signing of Gabriel Heinze has brought back much-needed optimism to the Five Stripes. Without a doubt, there is plenty of talent and depth in the squad. Heinze will have the services of Josef Martinez, Marcelino Moreno, and Ezequiel Barco, along with several other creative, highly skilled players. New signings, such as defensive midfielder Santiago Sosa, have been made to give Heinze all the tools needed to succeed. Gabriel Heinze is tasked with the challenge of implementing the team with the DNA and identity needed to thrive once again. His strong personality traits should lead Atlanta United into a rebirth in 2021. There are many expectations for him, yet the fan base must be patient and trust that the results will come along with an attacking style of soccer. There is much hope for the future of Atlanta United, but only time will tell if Gabriel Heinze was the right man for the job.