Frank de Boer – What went wrong in Georgia?

Although he was revered for his consistent performances as a player at both Ajax and Barcelona, former defender Frank de Boer’s managerial career has been anything but steady.

The 50-year old enjoyed a fair amount of success in the Dutch capital, yet he has been unable to settle outside of his homeland, and following his latest sacking at Atlanta United, we look at how it has all unravelled once again for the former Crystal Palace boss.

First season

De Boer was always going to struggle to match the achievements of the outgoing Gerardo “Tata” Martino, who guided The Five Stripes to an unexpected MLS Cup victory in just his second season in charge.

Despite an inauspicious start which saw the holders pick up just five points from a possible 18, the former Dutch international finally made the breakthrough, managing to steer his side to the Eastern Conference Final, a game in which they came unstuck against Toronto FC.

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They also played some superbly entertaining football along the way, although they often looked calamitous at the back, with record-breaking Mexican winger Carlos Vela just one of the many players who enjoyed the freedom of the penalty area during his side’s topsy-turvy 4-3 victory in July 2019.

A US Open Cup and Campeones Cup success also suggested that brighter things were on the horizon, and with an entire off-season to work with his players, the supporters were understandably looking forward to seeing further progress in 2020.

Second season

De Boer’s side got off to the perfect start with back-to-back victories over newcomers Nashville SC and last season’s expansion side FC Cincinnati. However, it all began to go awry following the enforced break, with the Five Stripes putting in a series of disappointing displays in the inaugural MLS is Back Tournament in Florida. Atlanta lost all three games by a 1-0 score-line and looked bereft of ideas in the final third.

Although their recent form has been extremely disappointing, supporters have also been requesting a radical change of style, with the Dutchman’s recently installed safety-first approach being criticised by fans and pundits alike. With the swashbuckling performances of 2018 and 2019 still fresh in the mind, this was a far cry from the free-flowing football that the club’s followers had become accustomed to.

What went wrong?

The loss of Josef Martinez is the obvious place to start, with the 2018 MVP having sustained a knee injury at the start of March. However, even without their talisman, de Boer’s men routinely failed to create clear cut chances.

As successor to the hugely popular Argentine, the former Inter boss was always going to struggle to fill Martino’s sizeable boots, and despite his achievements in 2019, he made very little effort to win over the passionate fan-base in Georgia.

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De Boer may also have been a victim of the ever-evolving nature of Major League Soccer. The popularity of the sport has increased tenfold in the United States in recent years, with an ever-increasing number of games being televised, a growing number of fan sites being created, as well as the best US online sports betting sites expanding their markets to offer a wider range of wagering opportunities on the competition. That has seemingly resulted in club owners becoming increasing hungry for success.

Five years ago, it was fairly uncommon for a manager to be dismissed midway through the campaign, however, with supporter dissent escalating due to social media, and a number of expansion teams creating a far more competitive division, club hierarchies are now often forced into making snap decisions.

There were also rumblings of discontent in the dressing room with several senior players reportedly questioning the former defender on his seemingly negative tactics. His tendency to upset influential squad members, and rub his players up the wrong way is also unlikely to have helped his cause.

The Five Stripes immediately returned to winning ways under interim coach Stephen Glass against Nashville SC on August 22nd. Time will tell whether the club have made the right decision to dismiss de Boer, although the players appear to be delighted with the decision, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this talented bunch of individuals reach the end-of-season play-offs despite their tumultuous start to the 2020 campaign.

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