While English football sorts out its latest encounter with allegations of racism on a football pitch (Barney Ronay’s take is the most concise and the most relevant), Canadian soccer is left dealing with the decidedly more boring (and arguably more benign) issues of institutional dysfunction.
While most fans in this country have managed to keep a sane dividing line between the problems at the national team level and the disgrace of an MLS club that calls BMO Field home, the sad fact is the ill-health of the one directly affects the other.
This is not to rile the other Canadian MLS entries. Whatever your view with regard to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ supposed disdain for the Canadian player quota, they made the big show of the playoffs first. Meanwhile Montreal has fared reasonably well in their inaugural MLS season. Joey Saputo has built a successful football franchise before; Impact fans should be confident good times will come once again. But the club’s move to heavily court Serie A (and in turn its Italian fan base in MTL) perhaps doesn’t bode well for future developmental ties with the Canadian national mens team.
Toronto FC however was Canada’s first club in Major League Soccer, and produced the first fruits of its youth academy for the national team in Canada’s most populated city. It shares its home—and arguably the larger part of its fan base—with the Canadian national team. The two organizations share a certain level of professional overlap.
Right now, the club is setting up to debrief the assembled press on its worst season ever in MLS, following a trail of mediocrity forged five years ago. Chances are, fans will hear nothing particularly substantial on how the organization will seek to improve its fortunes next year, or over the next five years.
Much of the truth as to why Toronto has failed to produce a team capable of making the playoffs is known only through a glass darkly. There are rumours of a sour trading relationship with the rest of the league. There is hushed talk of an absence of core leadership on sporting matters from the club co-investors Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. There is also a culture of unnamed sources within the team feeding sometimes vague conflicting messages (always deferring blame of course) to a local press all too happy to help Toronto FC tow its version of the party line in return for “access.” Former players merely hint at Front Office mismanagement, but rarely address it head on.
It’s the same insider-y culture that for too long has marked another paramount organization in Canadian soccer—the Canadian Soccer Association. If it wasn’t for Ben Knight (yes, a single, solitary reporter working for an independent news website), we would arguably know almost nothing about the inner machinations of the CSA board in the lead up to the reform process last year. That in of itself reflects just as poorly on the efforts of the fourth estate as it does on the footballing institutions themselves.
Part of the problem is football is still a niche sport, despite, as evidenced by Sportsnet and TSN sharing the spoils of a renewed Premier League rights deal, the clear interest among a key demographic in this country. That lack of wider, mainstream interest means clubs like Toronto FC are comfortably immune from major press scrutiny. It’s a small group at those pressers, and everyone knows each other. Managers send warm text messages to beat reporters, and beat reporters boast of having the ear of “those in the know.” There is less incentive to dig deep and ruffle major feathers.
I am also very much to blame for this. Long content to wear a blogger hat, it’s easy for me to sit and criticize those on the TFC beat, some of whom are doing some incredible work. But that’s going to change over the next few months on this blog as I do my best to pick up on some threads on the culture of blame within the club. Stay tuned…
Part one of Duane Rollins’ look at why Toronto FC failed this season [Canadian Soccer News].
Good luck sorting out the myriad, nauseating ‘developments’ in the Mark Clattenburg story [Daily Mail].
Steven Gerrard plays the “long ball” card, rather ridiculously, in criticizing Everton [The Independent].
Juan Mata claims he didn’t hear anything about being called a “Spanish twat” by Mark Clattenburg [The Telegraph].
Zdenek Zeman says Daniele De Rossi hasn’t been a true regista for “eight years” [Football Italia].
A good week for the Bundesliga [Bundesliga Fanatic].
Gary Neville gives his considered views on ‘diving’ [YouTube]. God, he’s found his second calling, hasn’t he?