His team floundering with eight straight league losses, Toronto FC manager Aron Winter shook up his coaching staff Monday to take a more active role on the practice field.
Bob de Klerk leaves his post as first assistant coach to become the Major League Soccer franchise’s newly minted technical manager. The Dutchman will do everything from advance and international scouting, to being the bridge between the academy and the first team, and working one-on-one with young players.
Jim Brennan, TFC’s first signing and captain, moves up from the academy to become first assistant coach. Paul Mariner, the team’s director of player development, will spend more time on the pitch coaching the team’s strikers.
While the 0-8-0 MLS club called it promotions for all concerned, the major change seems to be shifting the fiery de Klerk away from the first team.
Winter confirmed he will have a more hands-on approach in training. De Klerk often ran first-team practices with Winter watching from a distance, stepping in when he saw fit and addressing the team as a whole.
Jason Bent, the other assistant, usually looks after the non-first-team players in practice.
Last week, it was de Klerk yelling commands at the first team.
On Monday, Winter was running the show under the sun at BMO Field. De Klerk was watching from the stands with other front-office officials.
Winter, who came to the club as a package deal with de Klerk, denied the changes were made because of the team’s dismal record.
“I want to use everyone’s strengths,” he said. “And Bob is a very good assistant coach but he has also done the job that he is going to do now with Ajax [before]”
Winter went to great pains to depict the changes as positive. He said it was his decision to shuffle the coaching staff, making a point of calling his relationship with de Klerk “perfect.”
One wonders if all his players shared that view. If Winter is icy cool, de Klerk is a blowtorch.
His tough love may not have been appreciated in all quarters.
Monday’s move gives Winter two Canadian assistant coaches, both of whom have played in MLS.
TFC’s last game saw de Klerk being separated from Montreal manager Jesse Marsch at the end of a 2-0 Toronto win at BMO Field.
De Klerk said it was just two coaches showing their passion.
“That’s football. A big coach in the past, Rinus Michels [the former Dutch coach and player credited with inventing Total Football] said ‘Football is war.’ … [Marsch]wants to win and I want to win. It’s not a big deal.”
Winter said the near scuffle – not the first for de Klerk – had nothing to do with the changes.
Asked why the moves were made, de Klerk politely referred the question to Winter.
But de Klerk also looked to paint a positive picture.
“We thought about it – what’s the best for Toronto FC.
“There’s a lot of work to do. … If we help each other at that moment and can support each other and use each other’s strength, we can be a better organization,” he added.
Asked if he would miss working with the first team, de Klerk said no doubt sometimes. “But it’s not gone for always.”
Despite his omnipresent smile, it did not seem like a job change he had requested.
Brennan, a Day 1 member of the franchise, has spent the past 15 months coaching Toronto’s under-17 academy team. He also served as assistant general manager.
The former Canadian international, who retired as a player in 2010, and former striker Danny Dichio were the first two players to be named to the franchise’s Wall of Honour at BMO Field.
“I think everyone kind of knows how much this club means to me and if I can do my part for the first team, that would be fantastic,” said Brennan, who expects to work on the club’s defensive side.
Striker Danny Koevermans had little to say about the coaching changes.
“We heard it before training and now we continue. That’s soccer,” he said pithily.