There was an air of excitement at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Training Ground Monday, the start of a new chapter in the club’s history. With players trickling in to get ready for their first day of training on Tuesday, their new leader, head coach Frank de Boer, got to meet the Atlanta media for the first time.
“We’re very proud of what this club did for this city last season,” said VP & Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra to kick things off. “It was an excellent time for the city and the club. But now it’s a new year, a new era, and we’re looking forward.”
And the man to lead that new era is a man who’s played and coached at the very top level in Europe. But this is a new challenge for him, and while he says he had other options overseas, Atlanta United was a club he couldn’t turn down.
“I’m very excited to be here,” he said, switching seamlessly between English, Spanish and Dutch. “When a club comes like Atlanta United, you have to be interested –– I was immediately. Especially the philosophy of the club, the structure of the club, the core values which to me are very important.”
That structure and ambition were two things he brought up several times over the course of the morning. He says he’s coached title-winners and relegation candidates, and the difference was always the organization within the club –– and it was something he was impressed by with Atlanta right away.
“Everything here is clear and structured. For me that’s so much easier, because now I can focus on the first team. The five and a half years as the Ajax head coach cost me less energy than the eight months between Inter and Crystal Palace. I started getting gray hairs! I want a positive vibe, and to keep it when it’s there. That’s one thing I’m really looking forward to, getting to focus on the things I’m good at.”
But more than anything, he could see all the way from Europe the rate at which MLS was growing, and knew joining a club like Atlanta United –– one of the leaders pushing the league forward –– was an opportunity too good to pass up.
“I immediately had a good feeling because MLS is an upcoming star in the leagues. [Atlanta United] have already proved that last season with their play, the attendance of the fans and everything. And the quality is rising every year, so I wanted to be part of that. At the end they decided to go for me, I was very proud and eager to start. I had other options, but I had such a good feeling here that I can do what I think I’m good at, and that’s why I chose Atlanta United.”
And it looks to be a perfect fit. For Carlos Bocanegra and the rest of the front office, de Boer was someone they felt ticked all the boxes as far as what they were looking for in a manager.
“We looked at his mentality, what his culture’s like, what his philosophy’s like. How does his style of play fit into what we like to do here? What’s his attention to detail like? All of those things across the board told us that Frank was our guy.”
De Boer listed some of his tactical influences, like Louis Van Gaal, who was his manager in the Ajax as well as Barcelona. He also named Pep Guardiola and Frank Rijkaard as legends he played with that helped formed his tactical style. But he stopped short of giving too many hints at how he will line up Atlanta United.
“You can play a 4-3-3 but if you don’t have those players then it would be foolish to play that type of style," he explained. "Tata Martino saw that. So I still have to experience the players themselves. Everybody likes to play dominant football, I like that style. Of course we want to make it as attractive as possible for the fans, but the fans also want to see us win. So it’s a combination of those two.
“Tata did a fantastic job,” he continued. “After two years he won MLS Cup. You have to be very humble toward him because that’s not an easy thing. I will not try to change everything because what’s good is good. Of course there are small things we can change. We will update a little but we won’t change a lot.”
But de Boer is looking forward. Past achievements are in the rear-view mirror, and with international play coming this year and a target on the team’s back that comes with being the reigning champion, there is a new challenge for this year. But he’s taking it one step at a time, and says he can’t wait to play in front of the famous Atlanta fans for the first time.
“From what I’ve seen they really are the twelfth man behind the team,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to playing our first game in front of our fans. Atlanta is a fantastic city, all cultures are here. From what I’ve seen so far I’m very happy I choose this city and I’m very happy to be here.”