So, what are the chances? History will tell you, “Very slim!”
One only needs look at Montreal Impact’s trending history with head coaches to bear that out: the Frenchman becomes the fifth, as Montreal prepares for only its seventh MLS season. Stability at the top of the technical side of things in Montreal East has been as rare as an unconverted Bernier penalty, but the selection of the latest incumbent to the hot-seat looks like a statement of intent by the club’s hierarchy.
Remi Garde and his bunch of merry coaches, won’t have come cheaply. It includes the recent former coach of Olympique Lyonnais “B”, Maxence Flachez, and Joel Bats, a goalkeeping coach who should need no introduction. In 17 years at OL, the former World Cup semi-finalist has coached three ‘keepers who’ve each graduated to national team level; Gregory Coupet, Hugo Lloris (both France) and Anthony Lopes (Portugal).
But what of Garde himself? A close associate and admirer of Arsene Wenger, he’d even once been tipped as potential successor to the long-serving Arsenal boss, but that was all before a disastrous 147-day spell in charge of Aston Villa, in the Midlands of England.
Indeed, it was to Wenger, the mentor, whom Garde turned when the chance to manage “The Villains” arose. Given Villa’s precarious life at the foot of The Premier League and an American owner who’d lost interest, Wenger rightly highlighted the potential risk, but at the same time it was an opportunity, and said the Arsenal boss, “ . . . when you get an opportunity, you take it. The right job may never come along.”
Remi Garde walked into a hopeless situation, wasn’t given the resources to strengthen his team in the January window of 2016, as he believed was promised, and the rest, really, is history. Things went from bad to worse. Complaining publicly after the window closed didn’t help. The players, some of whom had been publicly criticized, knew their manager lacked faith in them, the board were made to look bad, and the fans became ever more disillusioned with the goings-on at their club. Perhaps the public criticism was an attempt to galvanize a squad that certainly needed it. It didn’t work! Villa had been a mess for far too long, and general malaise had set in. Long-time observer of the club, BBC’s Pat Murphy -
”I think it’s just the usual cock-up, yet another farcical period in Villa’s recent history.”
Remi Garde didn’t think much of the players and the feeling was mutual. He was promised players when he signed, but Lerner (the owner) turned the tap off and he felt badly let down.
”I don’t think Villa could go any lower. But the players who got them into this situation are still standing. They should be looking over their shoulders.” Consequently, given the facts, Remi Garde’s three-year spell as Lyon head-coach is probably deserving of greater consideration than the torrid time experienced in England.
After succeeding Claude Puel, he had reasonable, rather than spectacular, success. He did win the Coupe de France in his first season, however one top three finish in three years for a club that had not been out of the top three for a decade, and had won seven Ligue Un titles in that time, was modest enough. It must be noted however there was a new, constrained, financial reality descending upon the club.
When he decided to call it a day for family and personal reasons at end of 2013/14, he was given a positive and appreciative send-off by the OL fans. Owner Jean-Michel Aulas did all he could to try persuading Remi to stay on. Remi Garde had a long association with OL, won back to back titles there, as assistant to Gerard Houllier, and was part of the coaching staff under Paul Le Guen, who generated similar success earlier at the club. His work as Director at Tola Vologe, the club’s academy and training center, also ensures there’s know-how when it comes to the development of youth, something that can also serve Montreal Impact very well.
Garde has worked with some high-profile players; the names Lloris, Gourcuff, Lacazette, Umtiti and Martial roll off the tongue. Player relationships therefore, should not be a problem.
He’s also by quite some distance the highest profile coach in IMFC history. There might be understandable concern currently around his lack of experience in MLS – a league, for many reasons, like no other. But given time, respect and support, this appointment can transform the Montreal club from occasional Play-off candidates, to a club that expects and regularly engages post-season football.
This may not be achieved overnight, and things could worsen before they improve. No-one can implement a winning foundation, and structure, with the click of a finger. The brighter footballing lights of Europe may again in future attract the new Impact coach, only a matter of weeks ago there was muted interest from Everton; OGC Nice and Bordeaux had expressed interest last year, and there was a link to Bundesliga giants, Borussia Dortmund. So, you can bet your bottom dollar any success landed here in Montreal will not go unnoticed across the Atlantic.
Three years is a massively long time in Montreal soccer. Will the marriage last? Everything depends on how the owner’s patience holds, and perhaps the temptation of Europe. For if Remi Garde becomes a successful Montreal coach as I expect him to, European clubs will for sure come knocking.