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Toronto FC's Julian de Guzman battles for the ball with Chicago Fire's Logan Pause (R) during the first half of their MLS soccer match in Toronto May 8, 2010. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Toronto FC's Julian de Guzman battles for the ball with Chicago Fire's Logan Pause (R) during the first half of their MLS soccer match in Toronto May 8, 2010. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Paul James

De Guzman not living up to status as designated player Add to ...

In a sports era in which star status has replaced the class system of yesteryear, it is becoming more and more difficult to hack through the spin of soccer clubs, agents, players and even some kowtowing fans.

And all in the name of creating an unrealistic Utopia where criticism, directness, and honesty are all too often avoided to protect poor decisions, poor play, or just plain mistakes.

And why?

Well, in the case of players or managers, it's because it threatens their star status and their livelihood.

That's why it was refreshing to read statements last week by Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo chastising his players for poor performances. It would have been better if his coach or technical director had made the comments, but what the heck, it is a good start.

A lack of accountability for managers making poor decisions, players playing poorly or organizations getting their strategies wrong only perpetuates a cycle of underachievement or wastefulness.

If we consider Julian de Guzman, Toronto FC's first designated player signing in September of 2009, there has been plenty of discussion as to his on-field displays since his arrival at the club.

But surely it is not complicated. His on-field performance to date has been poor. If it was Tomas Kaberle from the Toronto Maple Leafs, then it would not be complex and it would be reported that way from the fans, the media, and even sometimes the coach.

But apparently there's confusion on the soccer front.

There are two basic reasons why de Guzman has not performed at the level of a $1.7-million (U.S.) player. (Only three other players in Major League Soccer make more.) The first is his attitude. It is obvious to the educated eye that he is frustrated by the approach of TFC head coach Predrag (Preki) Radosavljevic and the club. His body language, facial expressions and comments from the outset suggest this is the case.

But why should a player have such strong opinions on leadership when, in a global soccer context, he has still achieved very little. We are not dealing with Thierry Henry here or even Preki, the player. Soccer players of de Guzman's ilk will only truly get to understand what it is to have the right approach once they coach for a living. But there again, in the era of today's riches, most can avoid that eventuality anyway.

The second reason why de Guzman has so far underperformed is that his athletic abilities fall short of what is ideal in the MLS. At 5 foot 7, with limited pace, he often gets beaten in one-on-one duels. In addition, as a supposed defensive midfielder, he lacks the technical proficiencies when actually defending.

Some observers suggest de Guzman has performed well but his teammates need to catch up on a technical level. But then surely this leaves him as a luxury player. Wouldn't everyone like to play with better players?

It is not that de Guzman has evolved into a poor player overnight. His strengths revolve around showing for the ball and keeping his team in possession. He is also a good worker with generally plenty of effort. But judging a player thoroughly requires assessing the impact he's had on the game and so far, as a designated player, it's been negligible.

The challenge for de Guzman, Preki and even TFC director of soccer Mo Johnston is to come to terms with the situation quickly and react accordingly.

The days of catalogue shopping for players by Johnston must now to be replaced by thoroughness and due diligence. Otherwise the roundabout of inefficiency will continue.

Meanwhile the challenge will be for de Guzman to change his attitude and for Preki to find a position more conducive to him having a greater impact.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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