Gabriel Heinze has been relieved of his duties as Atlanta United FC head coach, the club announced Sunday.
Heinze did not make through one season with Atlanta after being hired in December 2020, finishing with a 2-4-7 record in Major League Soccer. The team is on an eight-game winless streak, the club’s longest since joining MLS in 2017.
He also went 2-1-1 with Atlanta during CONCACAF Champions League play.
Assistant coach Rob Valentino will take over as interim head coach with the club saying in a statement “a variety of issues relating to the day-to-day leadership of the team led the club to this decision.”
“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 United president Darren Eales said in a statement. “Gabi is a talented coach and is undeniably passionate about his craft and the sport of soccer. We are grateful to him for his service; and wish him all the best in the future.”
A source confirmed to ESPN a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the MLS Players Association had filed a grievance to the league on behalf of Atlanta players in which multiple violations of the Collective Bargaining Agreement were cited.
ESPN can also confirm a report from The Athletic that the violations included exceeding the threshold of training hours ahead of the season opener. The source told ESPN that other violations included not enough days off during a certain period, as mandated by the CBA, as well as Heinze not providing a training schedule far enough in advance.
Heinze had come under pressure after he benched star forward Josef Martinez and had him training away from the club.
On a call with reporters on Sunday, Eales added that the relationship between Heinze and Martinez “didn’t play a factor in our decision.”
“That was two big personalities. You get that in soccer. You get that sort of clash. Josef and Gabi had a chat yesterday, they’re actually training today,” Eales said. “Josef was doing full training today here at the training ground. So that was not something to do with the decision we made. Obviously the timings overlapped, but that wasn’t a factor.”
Atlanta technical director Bocanegra said the relationship between Heinze and the front office was “professional” but didn’t want to reveal more details.
“I don’t think there was anything, you know, odd or strange about that. As far as some of the issues that were raised or that have come to our attention, I’m not going to go into detail here. That’s just not how we are. Again out of respect for Gabi,” Bocanegra said.
On candidates for the permanent position, Eales said: “We want to move quickly, but I want to be clear as well we want to get the right person. So you know there’s gonna be a factor there of making sure that we move as quickly as we can, but not without undue haste and I think you know we’re going to cast the net wide and we’re not going to narrow down any, any options.”
Heinze’s last game in charge came in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution, where he talked about the club’s struggles under him.
“In this moment we are right now, it makes me want to keep working more. I don’t want to leave this path,” Heinze said. “Why? Because I know it. It’s happened before to me. The path was the same and I give it everything I have, all the effort. Let me tell you that this is a good group of players. Possibly, the coach is bad. I truly believe in what I’m doing and I will continue to do the same.”
Heinze was hired by Atlanta after Frank De Boer was fired in July 2020, with Stephen Glass having served as interim coach for the rest of that season. De Boer also struggled during his nearly two-year stint in Atlanta, which had won the 2018 MLS Cup under inaugural coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino.
Heinze came from managing Argentinian club side Velez Sarsfield, leading the team to a third-place finish during the 2019-20 season. His previous stops include Godoy Cruz and Argentinos Juniors. He led the latter to promotion to Argentina’s top flight during the 2016-17 season.
The ex-Argentina international and 2004 Olympic gold medal winner won numerous honors during a club career that saw him suit up for the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain. He won league titles in England, Spain and France, the latter of which was with Marseille.