43-year-old Gabriel Heinze won just two of his 13 matches before leaving Atlanta in 10th position in the MLS Eastern Conference.
“This was certainly not a decision we wanted to make at this point in our season, but it was the right one for the club,” Atlanta president Darren Eales said of the decision to sack Heinze. “We are grateful to him for his service and wish him all the best in the future,” Eales added.
In a statement published on its website, the club referred to the reasons behind Henze’s dismissal, writing that “a variety of issues relating to the day-to-day leadership of the team led to this decision.”
Heinze joined Atlanta United in 2020 after two-and-a-half years at Argentine club Velez Sarsfield. The former Real Madrid and Manchester United defender capped 73 times for Argentina, scoring three goals. He started coaching in 2015 at Godoy Cruz before moving to Argentinos Juniors, then to Velez.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) July 17, 2021
Quoting anonymous sources inside the club, Fox Sports dug deeper than the official explanation given by Atlanta, saying the rupture between Heinze and his players was beyond repair.
The relationship was so bad, that the MLS Players Association filed a petition to the league on behalf of Atlanta’s players, who were unhappy with Heinze’s methods. Among others, the Argentinean and his staff were accused of being too hard on the roster.
“Heinze’s staff limited the amount of water players could drink during preseason practices, to the point that the club’s doctors were forced to intervene,” Fox writes.
Heinze allegedly refused to grant players their normal days off and asked them to make themselves available to answer their phones or report to training outside the settled schedule.
“The tactics and soccer side are one thing, but there was so much going on off the field that players were mentally drained on a daily basis,” a club source revealed. Recently, forward Josef Martinez was asked to train away from the club, a gesture which aimed heavy criticism at Heinze.
In July 2020, Atlanta fired another big name, Frank De Boer, who went on to become The Netherlands’ head coach at Euro 2020. Heinze will be temporarily replaced by assistant coach Rob Valentino. Heinze leaves Atlanta with a record of 2-4-7 in the 2021 MLS Regular Season.