Culture counts. It just does.
The Montreal Impact wanted someone who could speak the language and several more besides. They got him.
Linguistically, Marco Schallibaum is tough to beat. Take your pick -- French, English, Italian and his mother tongue, German, to boot. The new head coach will talk to you in your language of choice.
But wait a moment. Soccer is a global sport with an international language. It shouldn't matter whether you speak one language or four. And yet it does.
You just can't have a rookie American in charge of a dressing room full of battled hardened Italians. Jesse Marsch could have been the next Bruce Arena or Sigi Schmid for all we know. Maybe one day we'll find out.
But not here. Not in Montreal. Not in a foreign country where the language police could be lurking around the next corner waiting to trip you up and expose you as an imposter. The hard-working, passionate Marsch lacked just one thing. Credibility.
Over time, he may have earned it. But he was not given time. He was never going to be given time. All the French lessons and poutine in the world could not have saved his bacon. Marsch made it as hard as he could for the Impact to fire him. Twelve wins as an expansion team is not to be sniffed at. But ultimately, he did not fit in.
No such cultural barrier for Schallibaum. No one needs to explain the club motto to this passionate, articulate campaigner who has more than three decades of playing and coaching experience on which to call. He looks and sounds the part. He ticks the unique Montreal boxes and he's prepared to do it on their terms. His initial contract covers only the coming 2013 season, so his commitment to "attacking play" had better pay dividends from the get go.
Will it work? History suggests not. Major League Soccer has become a graveyard for European coaches in recent years, with the exception of Gary Smith and his 2010 Colorado Rapids, so why should this appointment buck that unimpressive trend?
Impact owner Joey Saputo is unmoved by the argument that a European cannot be successful, stressing this is what the club and its fans want and need, regardless of Schallibaum's lack of MLS knowledge. The assertion that "soccer is soccer" is a dangerous assumption as others before him have discovered only as the team bus was careering over the cliff.
Reputation precedes him
Schallibaum's reputation precedes him. He is almost certainly on a collision course with MLS referees. Officiating in this league is significantly different from what he's used to and he's not going to like it. There's nothing wrong with passion on the touchline. But his volatile nature
is bound to cause friction along the way.
His energies should instead be focussed on what he can control. Dressing room harmony is essential if he is to have a chance of success and, while his arrival should appeal to the European contingent, I think Schallibaum must also recognize the effort and importance of the North Americans on his roster.
Names like Arnaud, Warner and Bernier all earned their stripes in 2012. These were the players who ate up the miles allowing the Italian stars to shine. Schallibaum will rightly look forward to working with Di Vaio and Nesta, for example. But it is of paramount importance that he treats the team as a unit while man managing individuals without fear or favour.
Communication will not be a problem in 2013. How could it be with a man who speaks four languages? It will be fascinating to watch what Marco Schallibaum says and how he says it.
Results, unlike sound bites, need no translation.
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