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The Italian Job, Montreal style: What to expect during the Impact’s first MLS off-season

The team is back from Italy. The lockers have been cleaned out. The players have taken off for their real homes or on vacation. The Saputo Stadium field will soon be covered by snow. The first off-season of the MLS Montreal Impact has now begun.

Francois Laplante

The fans must now wait until the end of January to see their team back on the field. Until then, the front office has a lot of work to do. Before we even begin to think about the all the drafts or training camp, the number one question is:


Before we go on, I will say that I believe Jesse Marsch deserved at least another season. With all the changes and different situations he had to face, I think he did an excellent job. Was he perfect? No. He did do his best and showed some great promise. It is obvious that the front office wants to bring in an Italian manager so that the team can play more of a Euro style. Will it succeed? It didn't work for TFC or the Red Bulls. Will it work for the Impact?

Logic would suggest that it is easier to get 3-5 European players to learn how to adapt to a North American style than it is to get 20 North American players to learn a European style. When you have to consider the salary cap, international roster spots, injuries, depth, schedule and so much more, you may be simply asking too much out of your squad.

Do Joey Saputo or Nick De Santis have the right recipe for success? Only time will tell.

Who will be the new manager? Will it be Alessandro Nesta as a player-manager? Will it be someone established? No one really knows. One thing is certain; fans can expect plenty of changes.

More Italian players

Whether fans like it or not, whether fans want to admit it or not, as long as Joey Saputo and Nick De Santis are in charge, the Italian pipeline will never shut down. Fans will have to get used to a revolving door of older, still talented Italian players coming to Montreal, perhaps for a year or two at a time, only to be replaced by other Italians when their contract runs out.

If this philosophy is followed with extreme care and as long as the front office is willing to make the tough decision if a player doesn't pan out, it could be a very successful formula. The margin for error is extremely small. Last season, the front office brought in three Italians with mostly positive results.

Everyone noticed that Alessandro Nesta, despite his mainly stellar play, had some difficulties at the end of the season. His knee issues are well documented. How will he be after a full two months of rest? Will he be able to perform and survive throughout a long, physically abusing MLS season? No one has the answer. All we know is that when he is on his game, he is one of the best defenders in the MLS.

Marco Di Vaio, once he put his betting scandal issues behind him, was a constant threat. A full season of MDV may see him net 15-18 goals. The key for Marco is to not get disappointed on the field when things don't go his way. He showed too much negative emotion on the field last season. Starting with the team as of training camp should, hopefully, cure any issues.

Matteo Ferrari was just great all season long. Everyone knows what to expect from him next season.

There are definitely ongoing negotiations between the Impact and various Italian players. The rumors of who will join the team are sure to heat up between now and the opening of the January transfer window. The one current rumor involves current Fiorentina forward Luca Toni. For the most part, they have not been well received in Montreal. However, if he can come here and be productive for a season or two, why not sign him? He would at least deserve half a chance, right?

At the end of the day, this ‘Italian Job' philosophy is one that the current management has decided to implement. Every management group of every team implements their own philosophy. If this mindset works and brings a championship to Montreal, Saputo and De Santis will look like geniuses. If not, they will simply go back to the drawing board. It is a dangerous game to play but, in my opinion, it deserves a chance. Chances are, the Impact will at least still be better, year in and year out, than TFC.

The Armband

Here is where I will ruffle a few feathers.

I believe that a European manager will want to choose one of his own as Captain. If that is the case then obviously Davy Arnaud will be asked to give up the armband. Unfortunately, it also means that the francophone Impact fans will be disappointed as local boy Patrice Bernier will not be asked to takeover. The only way I can see Bernier taking over the armband is if the front office gives in to fan pressure (which isn't necessarily their style) and forces the decision on the new manager.

Now, before I start getting hate mail, you should know that I am a fan of Bernier's. I do not hold him up on the pedestal that so many fans do but I do agree that he is a key member on this team and crucial to its success.

In my opinion, the new Captain would more than likely be Marco Di Vaio with Matteo Ferrari acting as vice-captain. Many will ask... why not Nesta? Call it a gut feeling. Or the fact that I believe that he will be too busy with his unofficial role of assistant Sporting Director to also be Captain.

Margin for error / big risk

Playing more of a European style with mainly North American players is a major risk. This is not the Italian Serie A. In Italy, when one of your key players goes down to injury, there is usually another talented player, who has spent his entire life playing in a European system, waiting to take his place. The talent level is not the same but he knows the system!

Let's say, for argument's sake, that the Impact were to get Andrea Pirlo from Juventus. He would automatically come in as the team's star and would be a dream addition from Di Vaio, Luca Toni (if signed), Andrew Wenger or any other forward. If Pirlo were to go down to injury and Justin Mapp were to take his place, there would be a significant drop off in communication and the level of play.

We saw this issue last season when Nesta, Ferrari and Nelson Rivas were not available. Yes, Shavar Thomas and Hassoun Camara are talented players, but they are not in the same category as those previously mentioned.

The big risk with this ‘Italian Job' is depth. If or when one of these key Italian players goes down, will the Impact have the necessary depth to cover for one game? Two games? 15 games? Or will they have to change their playing style to make up for that lost player? In an MLS world of salary caps and international spots, it is simply impossible to provide the kind of depth that an Italian manager would like to have.

One thing is certain, Joey Saputo and Nick De Santis want to win the MLS Cup in 2013. They are gamblers and they are playing at the big boys' table. They will spend whatever money is necessary. They will shakeup the roster whichever way they see fit. Just making the playoffs isn't enough. They need to win it all. Anything less will be considered a failure.