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Tom Anselmi, Toronto Maple Leafs Executive Vice President and COO speaks at a news conference announcing the NHL Winter Classic hockey game at Comerica Park in Detroit, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. The Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 1, 2013. (PAUL SANCYA/AP)
Tom Anselmi, Toronto Maple Leafs Executive Vice President and COO speaks at a news conference announcing the NHL Winter Classic hockey game at Comerica Park in Detroit, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012. The Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 1, 2013. (PAUL SANCYA/AP)

Jeff Blair

Toronto FC’s woes sealed Anselmi’s fate Add to ...

The broom finally caught Tom Anselmi on Friday.

Fittingly, he was swept out just 24 hours after Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. honcho Tim Leiweke made Kevin Payne the eighth major executive or coach fired in the seven-year history of Toronto FC – because it is Anselmi’s stewardship of the MLS franchise that effectively ruined his chances of getting Leiweke’s job on a full-time basis.

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Anselmi, who headed MLSE on an interim basis between Richard Peddie’s departure and Leiweke’s hiring, resigned from his position as chief operating officer after 17 years with the organization.

It has been a summer of change within MLSE, what with Leiweke firing Toronto Raptors president/general manager Bryan Colangelo, extending David Nonis’s contract as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, cleaning house at TFC and letting go of, or reassigning, several mid-level executives.

Anselmi, whose status had been a subject of discussion and innuendo since Leiweke was hired June 30, announced his resignation via a press release.

Leiweke was not available for comment, beyond a line in the release that stated: “The entire organization, including our ownership group, is grateful to Tom for his many contributions to the success of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment over the years.”

There is no doubting Anselmi’s popularity both within the MLSE framework and within the local media community. He was an accessible, thoughtful sports executive and did good work for the company in the area of facilities development and management.

But for most fans, Anselmi has remained scarred by his experiences atop TFC – a franchise that went from being a jewel of Major League Soccer, complete with a season-ticket waiting list, to a no-hoper on the field, surpassed quickly by Canadian cousins Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps and playing in front of increasingly empty sections at BMO Field.

Anselmi had responsibility for TFC in his position as MLSE executive vice-president and COO, and his tenure was marked by a seemingly never-ending series of poor administrative decisions.

TFC went from misplaced faith in a storied Scot (Mo Johnston) and augmented him with an old North American hand: Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic, who was the third head coach to work under Johnston.

Then, it was soccer’s version of a bad acid trip: German icon and current U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was hired as an adviser and he, in turn, suggested TFC turn to Aron Winter, who cut his teeth in the storied AFC Ajax development system in the Netherlands, and who was clueless when it came to the reality of both the travel and talent level in MLS.

Then, came Payne: four MLS titles with other teams, an international pedigree – done after just nine months.

The stain followed Anselmi even as he kept the president/CEO’s seat warm for Leiweke.

Maple Leafs? Raptors?

Anselmi was the TFC guy, on whose watch it was at one time more expensive to see a professional soccer match in Toronto than it was to watch Manchester United play a Premiership match at Old Trafford.

Anselmi remained the personification of the lost hope that is TFC. Despite the sizable amount of currency he had among MLSE employees, whispers were he had no chance of being the permanent successor to Peddie. Anselmi, it was thought, was an okay technician but not a big-picture guy.

History will not be entirely fair to Anselmi, just as it won’t be fair to Peddie: They had a hand in building MLSE into an economic powerhouse, replete with real estate properties, and made fistfuls of money for the owners – but that matters naught to fans interested in championships and banners.

And while Leiweke’s still in the ascendency in these parts, he knows as well as anybody that he, too, will ultimately be judged by titles won.

 

@GloBlair

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