Perception versus reality are two completely different states of mind. After guiding Inter Miami to become 2023 Leagues Cup champions, Argentine coach Tata Martino was lauded by Apple’s Taylor Twellman as “one of the best managers in the history of the game.” But how does the Tata Martino record look in his games without Lionel Messi? After all, Messi was the game-changer for Inter Miami, and someone that previous manager Phil Neville didn’t have the luxury of having on his team.

Martino replaced Neville at Inter Miami after a dismal first half of the campaign under the Englishman. At the time of his sacking, Phil Neville had 36 wins, 43 losses, and 11 draws in all competitions with the Herons. That is a points-per-game ratio of 1.32. Inter Miami replaced him with Martino, the Argentine manager who had experience with Atlanta United. There, he won the MLS Cup and the US Open Cup. Also, Martino previously managed Barcelona for one season, leading the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, and Jordi Alba.

Without those three, Tata Martino has faced the same struggles that plagued the early portion of Inter Miami’s season. Martino’s record with Inter Miami is worse than what the club had at the end of Phil Neville’s reign.

It is a remarkably small sample size. Martino has only been at the helm since July 16. That was his first game with Inter Miami against St. Louis CITY, a 3-0 loss. However, without Messi on the field, Martino has coached six MLS games for Inter Miami. The club has amassed just five points in those games with one win and two draws coupled with four losses. That is a points-per-game ratio of 0.83.

By comparison, Neville’s last six games in charge of Inter Miami brought two wins and four losses. While not a strong record by any means, it is marginally better than Martino at one point per game. Again, Neville’s overall record with Inter Miami yielded 1.32 points per game in all competitions. With Messi featuring in games, Martino’s points-per-game ratio is 1.65. The stunning run in the Leagues Cup certainly buoys that number.

Regardless, Twellman identifying Martino as “one of the best managers in the history of the game” in the new Messi Meets America is a stretch. Arguably, Martino isn’t even one of the best managers in the history of MLS. Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, and Sigi Schmid had more success in MLS.

Dependency on Messi to boost the record of Tata Martino

But, again, that Leagues Cup run saw Messi dominate. Inter Miami was scoring goals at ease. The former PSG winger scored or assisted on half of Inter Miami’s 22 goals in that competition. His 10 goals included late winners and equalizers in that competition, too. Since Messi has been out, Inter Miami lost that goal-scoring form. Inter Miami scored nine goals in the six games without Messi in the squad. That is not a bad ratio, but it has not been enough to quell the defensive inefficiencies in the Miami backline.

The fact remains. Tata Martino has benefitted from the arrival of Messi, Busquets, and Alba to bring Inter Miami success. Neville did not have the stars at his disposal. The nearest comparison would be Gonzalo Higuain. With the Argentine in his squad, Neville led Inter Miami to the MLS Cup Playoffs last season. Fittingly, Higuain retired, and Neville struggled mightily.

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Seeing a similar dip in the record of Martino without Messi should therefore come as no surprise. Martino assuredly has his tactics set up in a way that allows Messi to play at his best. Losing Messi to injury forced a player without Messi’s capabilities to fill that role, which is a major ask of any player. Inter Miami players have risen around Messi when he plays, but they need the World Cup winner on the field to pull the strings.

Tata Martino still has time to adjust to Inter Miami, Phil Neville did not

Even if his record is comparable to Neville’s, Tata Martino does not deserve to be under any criticism. There are rumors of the Argentine shaking up his squad ahead of his first full season in South Florida. In doing so, he can align players that may be able to replace Messi, or at least play without him, should the superstar come down with an injury. Therefore, his record without Messi may hypothetically improve. Martino has shown that with time, he can assemble a winning squad. He did it with Atlanta United just over five years ago.

In Martino’s perfect world, he does not have to think about his record without Messi at all. Missing the playoffs affords him and his teammates time to rest and recover ahead of a busy 2024 season. Inter Miami will have sights set on an improved record in Major League Soccer. Moreover, it will compete in continental competition for the first time with the CONCACAF Champions Cup.

PHOTO: IMAGO / ABACAPRESS.