The Score television network's recent interview with Chris Cummins, the former interim coach of Toronto FC, is a microcosm of what we face in Canada as we aim to build a soccer culture to compete with the United States and other parts of the world. As it is now, we appear way off course.
TFC supporters should be positive and hopeful for the future, based on Sunday's positive result and performance against the Seattle Sounders. Instead they are being lead along another unsavoury path of mudslinging as the undermining and political elements of our soccer industry continue to rear their ugly head.
Why on earth should Chris Cummins have a voice that resonates at any level of significance when he was in charge of the 5-0 debacle in New York at the end of last season? Chris, who by all accounts is a very nice guy, was, clearly out of his debt for the job from the first minute. There is no doubting from his answers and statements that he was as malleable as he could have been during his time in Toronto.
Admitting there was a rift and disharmony within the team was fine, but then to assert players Adrian Serioux, and Carl Robinson were the "good guys" is a stark contrast to the decisions Preki has made in removing them along with 10 or so others. The reality is a cull had to be made. It should be quite apparent even to the lay person that new coaches do not move out quality characters or individuals if they are good enough as players. It simply does not happen.
So who is right here? Preki, Cummins or Mo Johnston?
Lay blame in the lap of Johnston for assembling the group of players in the first place, but you have to hand it to him, he is the one who has made the decision to hire Preki. In supporting him, he has allowed the new coach to remove 12 of the players he brought to the club. Whether right or wrong, Mo has facilitated Toronto FC moving into a new direction. It in many ways could be construed as good leadership - well, assuming they make the playoffs.
The other issue with the recent Ali Gerba and now Cummins interviews - along with the resulting furor - is the clear appearance of an attached agenda, which should be troubling because it replicates what goes on in our soccer culture way too often. Whether disgruntled former employees in the form of ex players have anything to do with this one cannot know for certain, but it sure has a nasty smell to it.
If the modus operandi is to have the removal of Johnston applied immediately then hopefully MLSE (Tom Anselmi, Paul Beirne) have enough mettle to not buckle or cave to such tactics. Making the right decision is what is important here and timing has a lot to do with it.
The more important decision for Tom Anselmi and Paul Beirne to make is who do they bring in? Not necessarily to replace Johnston, but initially anyway, for Johnston to report to. A headhunting firm should be hired to find a top soccer executive similar to Vancouver's recruitment of Paul Barber from Tottenham Hotspur. Then let that person run the technical soccer side of things. If he/she deems anyone surplus to requirements then they will make the decision.
When Toronto FC entered the MLS it was a very positive sign that soccer in Canada could move forward. While it has in many areas - increased awareness and interest in the professional game being two of them - it has obviously fallen short on the technical side of things.
Pulling the game forward requires careful listening to the important stakeholders in the game (including the fans) without being duped into naive conclusions and then succumbing to agenda mongering or crass information.
Toronto FC need to lead. They cannot be pushed they need to pull which requires forthright direction. Anselmi and Beirne have used their expertise magnificently by placing TFC and the city of Toronto on the global football roundabout.
They now need to take a step back and recognize that on the technical side of things they need to recruit similar excellence.
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