Gian Piero Gasperini at Inter. Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea. And…Aron Winter at Toronto FC?

A few weeks ago, Duane Rollins penned an interesting bit of hearsay from unnamed sources within TFC on CSN (this was before their fifth straight loss of the season). The pertinent bit:

It’s being suggested that there is a fatal conflict between [Director of Player Development] Paul Mariner – and those within the organization that have a MLS or English background – and Aron Winter, along with the Dutch thinkers. There is a personality conflict involved, but the root of the issue is about player Personnel decisions.

For simplicity sake let’s call the divide the 4-3-3 idealists versus the MLS pragmatists.

It’s interesting that the same Barcelona-fueled dichotomy springing up in Europe between grandiose tactical/aesthetic ambition and the day-to-day business of grinding out points totals—a conflict that has already cost the jobs of two high-profile managers—has found its way to BMO Field and Major League Soccer.

I’ve tended to side with the former camp in most cases because I’m a wild idealist who picks flowers and hopes for a better day because the children are our future. But the fact is that while Swansea are great and Barcelona are the prettiest little thing in football since perhaps ever, the former is a very specific case of “right players at the right time,” and the latter is a thiry-plus year project that started in the early eighties with Johann Cruyff mentioning the idea of building a youth academy. These things take time, and you need good people.

When you have neither, the reality is that you can only polish a turd for so long before the restaurant manager calls the police and barricades the bathroom door until they arrive. Which isn’t to say the rather considerable talent at both Chelsea and Inter are “turds” exactly; perhaps the better metaphor here is the one about teaching Old Guards new tricks. Gasperini landed at Inter with plans to foist his 3-4-3 used at Genoa onto a team unfamiliar with the approach. He promptly lost four and drew one to start the season, and was sacked.

Similarly, Villas-Boas came to Chelsea from Porto with plans for a 4-3-3, high-lined attack, and the club slumped to their worst record since Jose Mourinho took over in 2004. Except in Chelsea’s case, Di Matteo waited in the wings with an approach perfectly suited to the existing strengths in the so-called “Old Guard,” as I wrote about this morning. Luis Enrique has kept Roma stable in Serie A with his own take on the Barca 4-3-3, but, as Not Just the Bottom Line succinctly put it, “As much as Enrique has tried to bring in the Barcelona-system (2-1-4-3), he has been let down largely due to the parts (players) not fitting the system as quickly as he would have hoped.”

Sound familiar?

To that end, the similarity between Toronto FC’s current situation and Chelsea’s toward the end of AVBs reign for example prompted me to Tweet this this morning:

The difference of course is that Mariner was never a head coach in MLS while Di Matteo had experience at the helm with West Brom. There also isn’t an “Old Guard” in Toronto, but there is a history of obnoxious dressing room revolts.

Mariner however did serve as an assistant to Steve Nicol during the latter’s highly successful mid-naughts run with the New England Revolution. He did serve as an interim coach at Plymouth Argyle but failed to save the club from relegation from the Championship to League One. MLS being what it is, if in the weird hypothetical world where MLSE replaces Winter with Mariner, he could either be great or terrible.

In any case, it’s worth thinking about as a hypothetical merely to give the beleaguered TFC fan hope there might be a way out of this mess that doesn’t involve BMO Field getting burned to the ground. I want Winter to be right, but I also want humanity to come together to fix global warming. As nice as that sounds, eventually you have to start planning to live in an underground bunker during the everlasting global heat wave. We’re getting closer to that moment at TFC.

Comments (17)

  1. “Mariner however did serve as an assistant to Steve Nicol during the latter’s highly successful mid-naughts run with the New England Revolution.”

    Perhaps that is part of the problem. Steve Nicol is available, afterall.

  2. but but but Jürgen Klinsmann told us we wanted a free flowing attacking 433 type of football to watch and then got the coach to fit the model he told us we wanted?

    I’m so confuzaled.

  3. I suggest anyone who still cares should read David Winner’s book “Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer.” Getting “W”s instead of “L”s probably isn’t as big a concern to AW as it is to TFC supporters. That book does a very good job of explaining why that is.

    During last year’s doldrums, many people wondered if AW would be given the time to complete whatever it is that he is trying to complete, ie, would the peeps tolerate a work in progress playing less than satisfying football. The period between now and the summer window might be a true test of that.

  4. I’ll own up to being a pedant right off the bat: isn’t it supposed to be “Is Paul Mariner to Aron Winter as Di Matteo is/was to Andre Villas-Boas?”

    And, no, simply because this question is being asked. Mariner is assumed to be the logical replacement to Winter. Di Matteo wasn’t (and still isn’t, barring an actual answer from Roman) much more than a stopgap until the next high-profile manager steps in.

  5. I would rather watch a 4-3-3 that creates opportunities to score rather than the past seasons of shit football we’ve been subject to by that early october seasons renewal deadline.if we do 10 years of shit football and try to play pretty, it’s going to take a lot longer than starting in year 4 and slowly growing the player base that can deliver. You want long term success or boring air ball?

  6. I would rather a team that wins ugly than ones that loses constantly but plays eye-catching soccer. I am sick to death of the losing

    • What about a team that loses ugly vs a team that loses playing eye-catching soccer but stands a chance of winning in the future?

      • Completely disagree with McGuire. Would rather watch eye-cathcy soccer with the hopes of developing into a long term winning organization, then ugly soccer and earn a few more points in the short term. I really like the way we play now. If you go back and watch a game from two seasons ago, the quality was horrible compared to today. We could barely put together 3 passes a year ago. Now we move the ball much better.

  7. I have no desire to see AW fired midseason only to be replaced by yet another British hoofball merchant playing 442 long ball to the target man. Lets keep playing this out. SKC is proving you can win with a 433 in MLS.

  8. Richard ran with my post yesterday. Well fleshed out. (Taking full credit, that’s right)

    It all gives me a headache. How does TFC exist perpetually in a zero-sum game?
    Both sides think they’re untouchable. Someone needs to smack everyone involved in the head and tell them to sort this shit out now.

  9. I question the crude image that is portrayed by a debate between “4-4-2 vs. 4-3-3″, at one side it is true that their is a complex tactical difference but on the other is a less knowledgeable understanding that where players names are marked on a piece of paper is the be all and end all of the tactic. Formations are a piece of the problem, but without really getting into the what the style differences really are, the supporter culture is not going to be advanced. Those who have understand act high and mighty and those who are ignorant believe that they have the information they need. In reality, we don’t have great discussions about the tactical differences and what players are needed, we participate in simplistic discussions because of this.

    Does TFC have the players to play a 4-4-2 either? Kovermans is a big target striker, but does he have the classical number 9 to play alongside? Plata and Soolsma will be wingers? Plata likes to cut into the box too much, and Soolsma is too slow to race down the wings. Eks is going to be contained to defensive duties?

    While the midfield has been a let down – I don’t know if this is because the pieces are wrong or if they are still misfiring. I’d argue that with the players that TFC does have, they are better oriented towards the compact midfield of a 4-3-3; especially if Frings and de Guzman can play together in the middle. Toronto does lack the 10 needed to play above those two, capable of generating the ‘fear’ of creative balls that pushes defences further back into their own end.

    From this perspective, I would say that TFCs problem is not that the players they have don’t fit the 4-3-3, or rather would benefit from switching to 4-4-2, but that they rarely seem to come into a match as a team. Few players are consistently on form – a problem of concentration, training, and psychology.

  10. I’m not going to dispute that there is an element of this in people’s expectations … however, at the same time I it’s not like this coaching staff has a deep track record of success.

    If TFC continues to flounder, it should be questioned whether Winter / deClerk are capable of doing the job, not just attacking football vs. pragmatism. We can still play attacking football with another coach.

    • The style of play Winter has brought in has me excited about the future. More so then any other time in TFC’s short history. I am proud of our style of play, even though we havn’t been able to implement it successfully. I think the pieces we have put together are a huge improvement.

      We are just a player or two away from success. I have the passience to see this project out, hopefully the rest of the fan base does as well.

  11. Tfc/mlse should bring in nkajima-farran in the summer, his style of play would fit us like a glove.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *