Toronto FC's signing of Queens Park Rangers defender Ryan Nelsen as its
new head coach is clearly a ruse. A well thought out ploy -- a troll
even -- by the TFC front office and its president Kevin Payne to throw
people off the scent of what's really happening.
Toronto FC's signing of Queens Park Rangers defender Ryan Nelsen as its new head coach is clearly a ruse. A well thought out ploy -- a troll even -- by the TFC front office and its president Kevin Payne to throw people off the scent of what's really happening.
Let's try and look at this objectively.
Toronto FC wanted to fire Paul Mariner. So unhappy was new president Kevin Payne with the now former coach that he was willing to bring in Nelsen on short notice. Nelsen has zero formal experience, zero coaching certificates and is still under contract with another organization entirely. A team that's right around the corner? No, one that's a seven-hour cross-Atlantic flight away.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but one that, on its own, should be looked at as quite the condemnation of Mariner's abilities.
Last season, towards the end of the year, Mariner was involved in a little publicized spat with supporters where he challenged a number of them to a fight following a game. It was absurd and reactionary, in a season that had long since gone down the drain, but given the personal problems that Mariner was going through at that time (health issues with family) it was left alone.
There were a number of those small stories that would occasionally pop up involving the former coach -- those that did little to engender him to his team or the fans. From publicly dressing down a player at a team social event, to the day that Aron Winter left and he reportedly celebrated wildly by high-fiving members of the staff. On their own they were just strange events by a passionate man, but cumulatively they added up to an unstable personality.
Still QPR property
Payne said today that they wanted to send a message to the supporters that they were moving on and they were ushering in a "new era" of stability and sustained success.
Well, according to QPR, that new era could start as late as June. That is when Nelsen's contract runs until. Both Nelsen and Payne have said they will respect the wishes of his current team as they battle to stay out of relegation in the English Premier League. But Nelsen intends to negotiate with the current management for an early release. If the tide towards relegation takes a turn towards the drain, or if by some miracle away from it, he could be here earlier.
To be safe, let's just assume he won't be here at the start of the year but should arrive sometime before the Canadian Championship for the Voyageur's Cup finishes in May. He'll have missed most of the pre-season, including the SuperDraft and a few months of league play.
In the meantime it's expected that Nelsen's assistant Fran O'Leary, who just received his UEFA pro license this weekend, will helm the squad in his absence.
So, someone with experience will at least be around? Sort of.
O'Leary's last job was at Bowdoin College -- a private liberal arts school located in Maine. He's been there for the last seven years. They play in NCAA Division III. Some of those players play in the USL-PDL division -- around league 4 in terms of the North American pyramid. Unfortunately, the Bowdoin College Polar Bears had a rough end to their year last season. They lost four of their final six games.
Do you see how ridiculous this all sounds?
Pep to the rescue?
The only thread that is holding this all together is that Kevin Payne has a history of identifying coaching talent. He plucked both Peter Nowak and Ben Olsen from relatively obscurity while at D.C. United. Neither had coaching experience before Payne tapped them to lead squads. Nowak would win a championship and a supporters shield in his first two seasons -- albeit in a different era for the league. But Olsen has made D.C. United an immediate contender in the current incarnation.
Payne has built a reputation on being ahead of the curve, so enter the speculation.
Did Toronto just hire a coach (well, more specifically, a player -- he hasn't coached anything yet) that will join them about a quarter of the way through the season, and in the meantime the North American top-flight squad will be managed by an assistant who last coached at a school with about 2,000 students?
Or is something else going on?
If you hadn't noticed, Josep "Pep" Guardiola, he of Barcelona and Spanish football fame, popped up in the news again recently. Perhaps the most sought after coach in recent memory, he told the assembled press that he would indeed return to soccer management again this summer. He would give no indication of where he was going, but that's right around the time that Nelsen is supposedly coming to Toronto.
Coincidence? Sadly, no.
And if the idea of Pep coming to Toronto seems absurd, you're right. It is. There is no chance in whatever soccer hell Toronto has been living in these past six seasons that Pep Guardiola would ever come to TFC.
But it's no more a ridiculous, outlandish and completely out-of-left-field suggestion than what just played out at BMO Field today.
Ben RycroftBen Rycroft covers the world's game from a Canadian perspective. An authority on the Red and White, he is the founder of Canadian Soccer News, the host of the popular podcast It's Called Football and a regular on soccer shows across the country. When he's not covering the beautiful game, he can be found singing in the stands, hacking legs on the pitch or cooking up BBQ at the post game pub.