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.”
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:
Morning troll – Is Paul Mariner to Di Matteo as Aron Winter is to Andre Villas-Boas?
— Richard Whittall (@RWhittall) April 19, 2012
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.