MEXICO CITY -- Atlanta United coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino has a verbal deal to take over as Mexico's next national team boss in December, sources have confirmed to ESPN.
Martino, the former Argentina and FC Barcelona manager, will assume his role as El Tri's newest full-time manager in December, after the MLS season is over.
Terms have been agreed to, though no contract has been signed yet due to restrictions on Martino's ongoing deal with Atlanta. ESPN Deportes' Hernan Pereyra and Jose Ramon Fernandez both stated last month that Martino would be the coach.
If, for whatever reason, Martino and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF) cannot complete their verbal agreement, it has two fallback options in Liga MX: Club America coach Miguel Herrera and an unnamed second.
Due to his contractual status with Atlanta United, Martino cannot officially sign a new contract with Mexico until after the MLS season concludes, according to sources. Doing so beforehand would expose him to an undisclosed financial penalty, according to TyC Sports.
Martino, who has two regular-season games left with Atlanta before the MLS playoffs begin, on Friday declined to discuss the reports linking him to the Mexico job.
"Nothing to say," Martino said. "I don't have to clarify things that I haven't said. This is always the same thing. Whenever there is some news, we will be sure to tell you. Until then, nothing has changed since the last time we spoke."
He added: "As I've said, when there's any kind of news to clarify I will let you guys know. I haven't talked to Darren [Eales, club president] this week. I haven't had a chance. We are focusing on Chicago. The most important thing is these two remaining games and whatever is left in the season."
Atlanta midfielder Julian Gressel said the MLS team had seen the reports but did not know what Martino would do after the season.
"We read it. We see it and we recognize it, but we'll know when people tell us for sure-when the right people tell us," Gressel said. "Right now, we're all focused on one goal, which is to win our next two games and win a trophy and then focus on the playoffs. It'd be a waste if we didn't focus on that right now and throw it all away."
Sources said Martino has been interested in the Mexico job since he was first approached in July.
Wanting to see out his contract with Atlanta United, Martino would not commit then to taking the post, prompting the FMF to reach out to other candidates. In recent weeks, and with others either declining or becoming unavailable, Martino once again emerged as the clear favorite. Recent talks advanced to the point of a verbal agreement.
In response to the financial agreement, the FMF requested an increase in its hiring budget in order to cover Martino's salary in 2019 and beyond. Such a request was approved. Prior to talks with Mexico, the Argentina-born coach was also mentioned as a candidate for other national team jobs recently, most notably the United States and Argentina.
The goal is for Martino to not only coach Mexico past the 2022 World Cup cycle, but through 2026, when the country will share hosting duties with the United States and Canada, earning it an automatic bid.
The Mexican squad is currently in the midst of a generational shift, and part of the allure of the job, sources say, was the opportunity to Martino to work with an exciting group of young talent that includes PSV attacker Hirving Lozano, Club America midfielder Diego Lainez and LA Galaxy forward Efrain Alvarez, among others.
Martino, 55, has coached two of the most prestigious teams in world soccer. After alternating between Argentinian and Paraguayan clubs for the first decade of his managerial career, the former attacking midfielder landed his first national team job with Paraguay in 2007. He led La Albirroja to the 2010 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals, and the 2011 Copa America final, which he lost to Uruguay. Following a successful stint at his boyhood club, Newell's Old Boys, he was selected to be Barcelona's manager prior to the 2013-14 season, linking him with Argentina legend Lionel Messi in the process. Martino was only able to win the Spanish Supercopa, finishing second in La Liga and losing the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid.
He continued his association with Messi by taking the reins of the Argentina national team just a month after resigning from Barcelona in 2014. There, he coached La Albiceleste to two consecutive Copa America finals, losing both. In 29 matches with Argentina, Martino only lost three times.
After departing in 2016, he was named Atlanta United's first-ever head coach, leading them to the MLS playoffs in their inaugural season.
Mexico has been without a full-time manager since July, when outgoing coach Juan Carlos Osorio declined to extend his contract with the national team after leading them to the round-of-16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Later that summer, Tigres coach Ricardo "Tuca" Ferretti assumed his post as interim manager. Following weeks of negotiations with the Brazilian, Ferretti announced he would not be taking the permanent job.
In September, reports said the FMF had conducted 24 interviews with various candidates in the hopes of filling the job. Candidates mentioned at the time were Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa, former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas, ex-Colombia coach Jose Pekerman, and Jurgen Klinsmann, who coached the United States from 2011 to 2016.