As players, Aron Winter and Paul Mariner weren’t a million miles apart.
They played for some of the biggest clubs in the world, had playing styles that were more gritty than pretty and both achieved the heights of playing in the World Cup finals.
As managers, they couldn’t be further apart.
Winter is a dreamer; Mariner a doer.
The Dutchman deals with playing philosophies; his English counterpart is more into real-world results.
In ending the Aron Winter era Thursday after just 17 months and seven Major League Soccer victories – from 44 games – team owner Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. accepted that while the idea of attractive, possession-based “total” football has its merits, particularly when it comes to grooming the next generation of players through the Academy, it just couldn’t stand up to the true acid test – bums in seats.
Average attendance at BMO Field this season is officially 18,889, above the league average, but down 4.11 per cent from a year ago, and the true figure is certainly a far cry from the heady days of the first couple of seasons. With the playoffs already looking out of reach less than a third of the way through the league program – TFC is 15 points back of the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference – the need to inject some optimism into the rest of the season was of paramount importance.
In succeeding Winter, Mariner has stepped up from his role as director of player development and now has the chance to pull the strings and put into practice everything he learned over five years as an assistant coach with the New England Revolution, including three campaigns that ended in MLS Cup final appearances.
“We’ve got to get results, it’s very simple,” Mariner said upon introduction. “I think the philosophy of most fans throughout the world is that if we’re getting points, getting wins, style is not that important.”
Before panic sets in again – the former England and Arsenal player is now Toronto’s seventh coach in six years – Mariner emphasized that this team only needs “minor adjustments” to get back on track. Based on the success this team had in cup competitions under Winter – winning back-to-back Canadian championships and reaching the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League – he may have a point, and a little more motivation, something Winter struggled with in his broken English, may be all that’s needed to turn things around.
And Mariner is certainly not about to get bogged down in systems of play – “I’m sick of talking about systems,” he said, especially when Winter’s preferred 4-3-3 formation and philosophy at times seemed to confuse and bemuse the Toronto players as much as help them.
“To me, it’s whatever works. ... It’s all about putting players in the right position to succeed,” he said. “You take any role that you’re in; if you ask me to go behind the computer ... and do some spreadsheets it’s laughable. It’s not my game. I’m very uncomfortable. But you ask me to do another part of my skill set then I’m pretty decent at it and that’s my basic coaching philosophy.”
Midfielder Terry Dunfield, who, like Mariner is no stranger to the English game having come up through the Manchester City youth system, certainly seemed excited at the prospect of a different approach to the game.
“For me, straightaway his playing career stands out and as a manager he’s been to three Cup finals and knows what it takes to win in this league,” Dunfield said. “From what he said he’s going to simplify things and if we go out on the day and are better than the other team and win our battles, I think playing the system he’s going to implement we’re going to be okay.”
Mo Johnston 6-17-7
John Carver 11-15-10
Chris Cummins 12-11-8
Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic 11-11-10
Nick Dasovic 3-4-3
Aron Winter 18-25-21
Records are for MLS, Canadian championship and Champions League games