Shortly after being named to his first head coaching job, Carl Robinson was on the phone with Camilo Sanvezzo to talk about getting the Vancouver Whitecaps’ star striker a new contract.
Robinson said that December conversation was cordial, with Sanvezzo expressing excitement about what lay ahead for the Whitecaps in 2014.
“Three days later he was in Mexico with an opposition shirt on,” said Robinson. “So obviously that put the cat amongst the pigeons and then we needed to address that situation.”
The Whitecaps finally did that on Friday, selling Major League Soccer’s top scorer to Queretaro F.C. in what it called a “multi-million dollar” deal that ended a messy, two-week long soap opera.
Last season’s Golden Boot winner with 22 goals, Sanvezzo had turned his back on the Whitecaps, practising with Queretaro and posing for pictures in the team’s kit, even though the flashy Brazilian was still under contract with Vancouver.
When Robinson travelled to Mexico to sit down with the 25-year-old Sanvezzo last week to see if anything could be done to heal the relationship, he knew there was no way back.
“It surprised me and I’ve been in football 25 years,” said Robinson. “Hopefully we can put it to bed and move forward.”
That could prove to be a challenge.
The Whitecaps — who will get the majority of transfer fee, with MLS pocketing the rest — tried to put a positive spin on a situation that can only be described as a disaster both on and off the field with pre-season training set to start next week.
Sanvezzo joined Vancouver in 2011, scoring 39 goals in 92 league games, including 75 starts. The Whitecaps scored 53 times in MLS play last season, with Sanvezzo playing a part in 28 of them.
He even told reporters after the Whitecaps missed the playoffs and fired head coach Martin Rennie that Robinson — then an assistant with the club — would be a good candidate for the job.
“It’s a frustrating situation because we believe we did what we needed to do,” said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. “We talked about sitting down with him and doing a new deal ... prior to getting to that, he was in Mexico in another team’s jersey.”
While the Whitecaps could have gone the legal route and forced Sanvezzo — who had two option years left on his deal — back to Vancouver, Lenarduzzi said his mind was already made up.
“When we sat down with Camilo, he said he was done,” said Lenarduzzi, his voice raised as he met with reporters at Vancouver International Airport after arriving back from the MLS SuperDraft in Philadelphia. “He had given Queretaro his word that he would be going there.
“Why are we going to battle someone that doesn’t want to be here, that’s actually reneged on his word when he signed a contract with us and then turned around and says he’s given a club that he’s going to, who he doesn’t have a contract with, his word?
“He doesn’t want to be here, obviously, so on you go.”
Queretaro president Adolfo Rios apologized in a brief statement released by the Whitecaps for the way in which the situation was handled.
“On behalf of our club, we sincerely regret our misunderstanding in regards to Camilo’s contract earlier in the process,” the statement read.
Sanvezzo made US$247,500 last season, which put him third on the Whitecaps, but that number paled in comparison to fellow striker Kenny Miller’s salary of nearly $1.25 million.
Robinson said Sanvezzo never asked for a raise and was made aware that no contracts talks would take place until a new coach was named.
The loss of Sanvezzo creates an obvious hole up front for Vancouver, but perhaps more importantly, the spectacular departure also leaves the Whitecaps looking weak from a public relations perspective after the player simply refused to honour his contract.
Trying to find a silver lining and with the regular season less than two months away, Robinson and Lenarduzzi both said that the money from the sale will be invested back into the club — perhaps a creative midfielder that the Whitecaps have been lacking.
Vancouver fans have watched Canadian cousins Toronto FC make major moves this off-season, including the signings of striker Jermaine Defoe and midfielder Michael Bradley.
“There will be a number of signings coming in. Over the last few weeks we’ve had a lot to deal with,” said Robinson. “Hopefully in the next few days and weeks there will be a lot of new players coming in.”
Lenarduzzi added that Sanvezzo’s departure opens up a spot for some of Vancouver’s younger players, including strikers Darren Mattocks, Omar Salgado and Kekuta Manneh.
“We have some guys that are ironically enough pretty excited that Camilo’s not coming back, not for the fact that they don’t get along with him but (because) it’s going to provide opportunities,” said Lenarduzzi.
The off-season was anything but quiet for the Whitecaps before the Sanvezzo soap opera took centre stage in the new year.
The team took six weeks to name a new coach, with Vancouver striking out in its attempt to hire former United States national team boss Bob Bradley before settling on Robinson. Mattocks also went on Jamaican television and expressed his displeasure with how he was used during the 2013 campaign.
The 37-year-old Robinson, just past the first month at the helm, said the Sanvezzo saga has been a learning experience.
“I’ve dealt with it professionally and honestly and the club has done the same as well,” said the Welshman. “I’m sure I’ll be a better person for it and a better head coach moving forward.”
Notes: The Whitecaps said that midfielder Andre Lewis, who was drafted seventh overall on Thursday, is their property despite a report that said he had signed with the NASL’s New York Cosmos. Both Lenarduzzi and Robinson said MLS and the Cosmos are dealing with the situation and that Vancouver expects that Lewis will take part in pre-season training. ... Lenarduzzi said the Whitecaps are nearing a deal that will keep captain Jay DeMerit with the club.