Paul Mariner is not short of confidence.
The embattled Toronto FC manager does not back down from criticism, nor does he try to project fake humility. Actually, he’s brazen. When asked at the season ending press conference why Toronto fans should trust that he can turn TFC around he glared at the asker and grunted an answer that only the most shameless could muster.
“Because I’m very good at my job,” he spat back.
Toronto fans can be forgiven for being skeptical. This wasn’t Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson talking, after all. Hell, it wasn’t even Roberto Mancini or Tony Pulis.
No, it’s a guy coming off a 14-game win-less streak who counts an unsuccessful stint at Plymouth Argyle as his only previous managerial experience. It isn’t clear that he’s earned the level of arrogance he projects.
Of course he’d probably call it confidence. MLSE should hope that it isn’t misguided because it’s unclear how much patience fans have left for Mariner or the club. In today’s hurry-up-and-wait society, clubs cannot expect fans to remain loyal for generations as they try and figure things out. That’s especially the case in a town like Toronto where entertainment options are plentiful, the baseball team that plays at the same time as TFC is grabbing headlines and most fans maintain European or South American football loyalties.
Management is lucky right now—TFC still makes a lot of people angry. That’s not good, but it’s a lot better than indifference. If Mariner’s attempts at shaping TFC’s seventh re-build go as poorly as the majority fans seem to think it will that’s exactly what MLSE will be facing at this time next year.
Should we have any confidence that he can prove the detractors wrong? Unfortunately, we can’t know for sure until he is given more time. That’s not a message his harshest critics like to hear—they want him gone yesterday—but MLS history suggests that a half a season (or even two seasons, if you are prone to believe Mariner must take responsibility for the players that played under Aron Winter) is not enough time.
There were plenty of fans screaming for the necks of Sigi Schmid in 2007, Peter Vermes in 2010 and Frank Yallop in 2011. All three men are the toast of the league now and TFC fans would be doing back flips at the news that any of them were coming to Canada to manage the Reds.
Fans, by their nature, tend to be reactionary. Toronto as a club has been reactionary throughout its history and look where it has gotten them: as the old adage goes, the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.
So, Mariner won’t be fired anytime soon. Until 2013 starts fans can only lament his perceived failings in man management and tactical thinking.
With the former, Mariner has been accused of calling out his players in public, even, allegedly, during games when fans called on him to make substitutions during games.
At this week’s townhall meetings, fans have reported that he has called Reggie Lambe and Joao Plata “one in sixers”, meaning that they can only be counted on to show up in one of six games.
The fans argue that this will erode these players confidence and be counterproductive to their development. The counterpart to that argument is that Winter treated them with kid gloves and was rewarded with nine straight losses in 2012 (see above point about the folly of repeating behaviours and expecting different results).
Tactically fans have pejoratively called Mariner a “hoofball” manager, suggesting that he wants to turn TFC of 2013 into Watford of 1983 (the argument tends to ignore that Watford finished second in the First Division that year). Marnier counters by saying that he had no choice but to play a simple game in 2012 because his players weren’t good enough (which brings the argument back to how he manages players).
And the argument goes round and round as fans express their frustrating and Mariner remains steadfast in his opinion that he’s the right man to lead TFC out of its funk.
The debate will be settled on the pitch, of course. In the meantime only one thing is certain: The future relevancy of TFC is solidly in the hands of a man that few fans like and less trust.
Fans don’t have to like Mariner, but if they still care about TFC they must cheer for his success.