Toronto FC's message not matching its actions | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerToronto FC's message not matching its actions

Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 | 11:49 PM

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Toronto FC president and general manager Kevin Payne took over his role just under six months ago. (Chris Young/Canadian Press) Toronto FC president and general manager Kevin Payne took over his role just under six months ago. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

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Soccer executives are a lot like politicians, and those at the helm of Toronto FC are sending mixed messages to fans and supporters alike.
Soccer executives are a lot like politicians. 

They set the policies that will lay the foundation for the direction of the team. Their vision and communications become the message of how people view the club. And, as the face of the organization, they are expected to create trust among their constituents - or, in soccer's case, the supporters. 

Trust is a tricky issue, but more often than not, it's accomplished by being consistent. People may not always agree with your policies but as long as you're not flip-flopping around all the time, they'll at least respect you. 

By the time Toronto FC next takes the field against Columbus in 10 days, it will have been just under six months since Kevin Payne, the president and general manager took over the beleaguered franchise. 

The general consensus has been that while the product on the field isn't garnering much better results than previous years, the organization itself is in a healthier place. 

That may be true, but Payne, who was sold by MLSE CEO Tom Anselmi as an excellent leader and their first true soccer mind, is having trouble backing up his messaging with his actions.  

And in some cases, in typical political style, even resorting to full-on doublespeak. 

Look back to his initial press conference. After all the platitudes were done, the inevitable question arose on whether then head coach Paul Mariner would be staying on. 

Payne endorsed the unpopular coach with full force, making reference to the "outstanding job" Mariner had done in leading the club through transition and dating his success back to a time when he was as an assistant at New England. This was his guy. 

"Paul Mariner is the coach of Toronto FC. He's a person I have a lot of respect for," Payne said that day.  

Mariner fired

Mariner was fired 40 days later. 

The move itself is not one many will complain about. Supporters and upper management alike roundly disliked Mariner for his, at times, buffoon-like actions - but how do you go from "outstanding" to standing outside waving goodbye? 

Another example came from the same press conference.   

Prior to his arrival, Toronto had been plagued for years by backroom sources leaking anything and everything to the press. From the famous arrest of former player Nick Soolsma, which the press in Toronto got wind of before even the PR team in Houston did; to the personal animosity between Mariner and Aron Winter, which inevitably led to both their firings. Everything was on display for the public to see. 

Payne promised to change all that; insisting that he would plug the holes in this leaky boat and ensure that they would keep things in house. 

"I believe there should be one message coming from the club," said Payne. "I believe very strongly in that. That is something that we will be talking about at the team staff and the business staff level. I don't expect leaks. I don't expect people voicing their own opinions in some sub rosa way as a source." 

It worked initially. Transfer rumours dried up. So did the gossip. But it didn't take long for something to waft from the so-called smoke-filled room and once again choke the club's operations. 


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In early March, it was all but confirmed that Toronto were chasing Maximiliano Urruti  - a talented young Argentinian player who was expected to be coming in on a designated player contract. With the leak, the press pumped the signing heavily as one Toronto not only wanted but also, for a club short on talent, needed. 

By the beginning of April, the story had evolved into Urruti to Toronto was a done deal. But where was he? 

Behind the scenes, Argentina's Newell's Old Boys, who owned Urruti were playing hard to get. They'd seen the buzz around their commodity in Toronto and were attempting to drive up the asking price. 

By the end of April, the club finally spoke on the record about the player and admitted the deal was dead. 

In 50 days, the player was linked, strongly linked, signed, done deal and then dumped. 

The club and Payne admitted, at that time, that it had thrown their plans for a loop. 

Transfer signings

That's fine. Transfer signings fall through all the time. Most understood this was always going to be a rebuilding year. The important thing was that they didn't start throwing players at the proverbial wall to see if they would stick. 

Toronto has made four signings since then. One is Matias Laba, another Argentinian player, brought in on a designated player contract. The early reviews are mixed. A second is Jeremy Brockie, one of head coach Ryan Nelsen's kiwi countrymen. No comment. 

The other two are defenders in Stephen Caldwell and Tal Ben Haim

"We're not interested in 33-year-old halfway-over-the hill EPL [English Premier League] players," Payne said in January when asked of their intentions for future signings. 

Caldwell is 32-years-old. Ben Haim is 31. So, technically, they're not 33-year-olds but the pair collectively has played for 14 English clubs over their careers and no one is saying their best days are ahead of them. 

For those counting, that was 98 days between Payne declaring they had no interest in signing over-the-hill players and adding the latest pair to their roster. 

He added this quote, rich on embellishment, for good measure: "Tal Ben Haim has been one of the top defenders in the EPL for nearly a decade."

Defender? Yes. In the EPL for a decade? Yes. Top? Not even close. 

Admittedly, too often it's easy to pick and choose quotes like these, said at one time and play them against another. They can easily be taken out of context and misconstrued. 

In this case however, they are specific comments on the direction of the club that are being blatantly contradicted by their actions. 

The club, which is now being colourfully referred to as the Toronto Loan Arrangers, a nod to the Kiwi coach's penchants for bringing in Queens Park Ranger's players on loan, is walking a dangerous line. 

As this 2013 season quickly devolves into an extended 2014 pre-season, messaging, and as a result, trust, become tremendously important if they're going to keep the dwindling constituents of BMO Field engaged.

Otherwise, as it is, politicians will often get four years - soccer executives should be so lucky.      

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