The Ryan Nelsen Gambit

This is about as insane as it gets in Major League Soccer. Hiring a 35 year-old New Zealander to be head coach at a Canadian soccer club in who is still under contract as a player in a relegation-threatened West London team in the Premier League during the January transfer window.

Everyone knows how batshit crazy this sounds, particularly other MLS markets. My DCU followees on the old Twitter machine were practically cackling with laughter, all save Washington Post beat guy Steven Goff, who surmised the move for Nelsen was in part to avoid the issue of a “front office ego.”

Everyone’s currently bandying about the thing about Toronto FC being a terrible club because they’ve hired 8 managers since 2007, and have made the playoffs a total of no times at all. But that in and of itself isn’t an indication that Ryan Nelsen will work out terribly for Toronto FC. It’s interesting that many who were eager to trust in Paul Mariner were equally quick to consign not only Nelsen, but ex-DC United president Kevin Payne to the dust bin of history.

Jaws also dropped when it became clear that Nelsen was still under contract with QPR as a defender. No one asked the question, but surely one has to believe that QPR will be looking for a defender by the end of the transfer window and Don Garber and others will be working with Tony Fernandes and Harry Redknapp to secure Nelsen’s arrival. It was likely Garber after all who glad-handled Payne into TFC; he’ll want to get this sorted ASAP before the inevitable PR shitbag that will be Fran O’Leary as first team coach in April—he who earned his coaching license not 48 hours ago, and whose experience is limited to coaching a little known NCAA side.

In the end, this move poses an enormous risk for both Payne and Nelsen. The latter’s managerial career hangs in the balance, and the former’s reputation as a durable MLS president is on the line. Tom Anselmi was in attendance today but didn’t take the microphone, but this will all eventually land in his lap should this turn out as badly as many think it will. Which as MLSE slaves will know, means absolutely nothing.

It also smacks heavily of the gritty old NASL days. Interestingly enough, the US afforded Nelsen’s current manager Harry Redknapp joined the Seattle Sounders in 1976 as player coach. He’ll likely have some advice for the defender on making a rapid transition from pitch to technical area.

The whole lack of UEFA badges thing…I don’t know. We often have a very Football Manager-esque view of coaching that fits a very elite paradigm (i.e. Barcelona), but Major League Soccer is something else, a league in which possession is normally conceded by teams on the way to victory. As much as the technical ability in the league has progressed, many winning sides have discovered you don’t necessarily need a Rhodes scholar to teach high school algebra.

Do I think it will fail miserably? I have no idea. Maybe it will be an enormous success, Payne will be hailed as a genius, and MLSE can take pride it did something right. Certainly Kevin Payne’s assurance that the philosophy of personal accountability and work ethic sounded a little encouraging, but those are vague Platonic concepts that don’t have a clear causal relationship with points or table position.

If anything, it’s really, really weird.

Comments (17)

  1. “It’s interesting that many who were eager to trust in Paul Mariner were equally quick to consign not only Nelsen, but ex-DC United president Kevin Payne to the dust bin of history.”

    I guessing these people are a little upset that their source in the club has gone straight to the bin and the past 8 months they have spent backing up Mariner looks a little foolish now. Just a bunch shit journalist trying to cover their own asses.

  2. …..and don’t forget, all TFC games and press conferences will now be shown exclusively on the Comedy Network.

  3. Well, at least TFC got that elite center back fans have been clamouring for years after. #zing

  4. I have no idea how this will work out, but I wonder if Nelsen will be physically a part of the drills/condition regime? I know that when I coached U12 boys, they couldn’t complain when I was out leading the laps, and I think it built the team comraderie a bit. Now one could point out that TFC is not a 2nd diviision U12 team, but I think the mentality/skillset is sufficiently close to allow the analogy to stand. Either way, I suspect that it is hard to call out a coach that just handed you your ass in a drill.

  5. And just when TFC looked like they couldnt pull anything out of their half assed planning draw they throw a hail mary ( sorry for mixed sports terminology)

    So lets get a Pres with credentials and then balance that by a manager who has zero experience just in case there was the slightest chance we could make two decent decisions on the trot !!!

  6. I wholeheartedly admit that I have lost touch with this Edmund Fitzgerald of MLS franchises, a franchise so heavily laden with gross ineptitude that its only trajectory has been to sink to the nether regions of the table every season, so maybe my comment is not the most enlightened.

    This hiring seems both inspired and mildly insane at the same time. The only thing that could possibly top this hiring in its unfathomableness is if TFC hires Rene Higuita as Goalkeeper coach and maybe ropes in Carlos Valderrama as conditioning coach for good measure.

    I’m all for thinking outside of the box, but maybe TFC should first try and understand what the ‘box’ is before they think outside of it. But, I suppose Payne knows that more than anyone. Really, it’s hard to celebrate any decision by TFC since, in the main, MLSE has been spectacularly/clinically stupid when it comes to managing its football arm of its sports/entertainment money making apparatus.

    I guess I’m cheerfully skeptical, but wish Nelson well.

  7. “and whose experience is limited to coaching a little known NCAA side.” Again, not true. You and Duane Rollins really are quite a pair.

  8. Worth noting on the coaching licenses: O’Leary just finished the UEFA pro badge, so he’s held the A and B for some time and not exactly freshly minted.

    Overall, I’d say the take in the article is fair though. Fair call out on those with their PM hats on. He’ll never be anything but an assistant for the rest of his days.

  9. it stuns me how many people seem to think this is a good move. it seems the glee in firing Mariner has clouded the fact we just hired a ‘manager’ with no certificates, no managerial experience, and at least right now, no availability to actually manage the team.

    Toronto FC is nothing but a fucking joke. not only do i not want to spend one more penny on this ‘club’, but i want a full refund of 5 years of season tickets.

  10. If he’s serious about the TFC job, why can’t Nelsen just announce his retirement as a player? He wouldn’t be playing for us (or so I’ve read), so there really shouldn’t be any legal difficulties involved.

    If he’s worried about looking bad publicly or abandoning his team, why didn’t he and TFC get this all sorted out prior to the announcement? Surely they could have waited until the end of this month’s transfer window to see if a replacement could be found and then make more defined plans. This process and announcing at a news conference that his contract status is unresolved doesn’t seem all that bright.

  11. WTF is going on? Convinced MLSE is a poison.
    Pretty sure they should use a variation of the infinite monkey theorem. Let 1000 monkeys manage the clubs and they’ll probably get it right before the current management system does.

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