In his years at the helm of the club the owner has, on occasion, savaged underperforming players and technical staff in public.
Last off-season, he hired a new head coach who would rapidly become a suspension magnet known as the “Swiss Volcano.”
With that coach prowling the touchline last Thursday in the frustrating finale of the Montreal Impact’s second season in the top flight of North American soccer, two of the team’s players were red-carded after an ugly outburst of 89th-minute violence.
Emotion and passion are the braided threads that run throughout the Impact organization – now president and owner Joey Saputo has evidently concluded it’s time for some deep, cleansing breaths.
Calling the sending off of midfielder Andres Romero – who kicked out at Houston Dynamo defender Kofi Sarkodie as he lay on the ground – and the subsequent red card to leading scorer Marco Di Vaio in the fracas that ensued “embarrassing,” Saputo apologized to fans, the city and Major League Soccer.
“It’s not who we are,” he said Tuesday, “we always do things in a professional way.”
As if to emphasize the last point, Saputo and sporting director Nick De Santis are undertaking a lengthy, dispassionate analysis of what worked and what didn’t in a season that culminated, narrowly, in the franchise’s first postseason berth and the all-time-best point total for a Canadian MLS club.
It was also a decent season on the financial front, the Impact averaged 20,603 fans per home game, the league’s fourth-highest attendance.
Last year, Saputo’s end-of-season postmortem was followed a few days later by the unexpected ouster of coach Jesse Marsch, reportedly over philosophical differences.
Questions once again hover over the coach – Marco Schallibaum, who was suspended four times in his inaugural MLS season – but Saputo insisted now is not the appropriate time to answer them.
“We don’t want to make any impulsive decisions … it’s too early to say if he’ll be the man for the situation in 2014,” he said.
The team’s brain trust met last Monday to sift through the ashes of a dismal second half – after sitting atop the league standings as recently as August, the Impact lost seven of their last nine games – and to hear from Schallibaum on how to account for the collapse.
Saputo called the swoon “less than acceptable,” and De Santis listed a few of the factors he’ll look into: Inexperience, an inability to handle the pressure of being a front-running team, and the strain of competing both in MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League.
“We’ve made a step forward this season, now we have to get better,” De Santis said, adding that while he’ll look to bolster the team, “most of the players will be back.”
Though reports emerged after the split with Marsch that the American was unhappy with the influence Saputo and De Santis wielded over tactics and the team sheet, Saputo pushed back at the suggestion management has in any way meddled with Schallibaum’s decision-making this season.
“I’m insulted that people would think otherwise,” he said.
However uncomfortable the final weeks of the season have been, Schallibaum was adamant last week about wanting to return; Saputo confirmed he is under contract through next season (the playoff berth activated an option in his deal), all the concerned parties understand that’s no real barrier to changing course.
It seems clear if the Impact do decide to part ways with the 51-year-old former FC Basel and Grasshopper Zurich manager, he won’t be replaced by newly-retired Impact defender Alessandro Nesta. (Rumours surfaced last week the former Italian international would shortly be appointed the Impact manager – Sports Illustrated called it a done deal.)
“There’s absolutely no foundation to the rumour,” Saputo said.
So for the time being, Schallibaum remains in place, and storm winds surrounding the team have died down.
It’s anyone’s guess when they’ll pick up again.