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What’s Wrong With Our Football Club?

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Attempting to unravel Impact’s decline...

MLS: Montreal Impact-Press Conference
Two men with their hands full - Remi Garde (head coach) & Joey Saputo (owner)
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The answer to that question might well, be, “How long have you got?”

Eighteen defeats in last 22 matches!!!

So, who’s at fault? The Owner? The Front Office Technical Staff? The Coach and his Management Team, maybe? Or quite simply, the Players?

YES !!!

Let’s stick to facts for a moment.

THE OWNER

Joey Saputo, the owner, is committed. Clearly he loves the Montreal Impact. Clearly he appreciates the beautiful game, as any self-respecting Italian-Canadian should. It’s also pretty clear that if not for him, there wouldn’t be MLS-level football in Montreal today. Some of course would facetiously say, “There still isn’t!” But we said we’d stick to facts …

Oh! …. And he’s put his money where his mouth is!

THE FRONT OFFICE

Front Office Technical Staff: there’s not massive transparency at the club, but from what this writer is led to believe the two main protagonists in this department are former players; Nick De Santis and Adam Braz. Nick seems to be the one dealing with player recruitment, Adam with, well, I’m not sure … but, he seems to be a spokesman of sorts, and probably helps set strategy around recruitment and related financials.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Montreal Impact
Under Fire! - Nick De Santis, former notable player, coach and current IMFC vice-president.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

THE COACH

The coach is experienced, having enjoyed a top-level playing career and with coaching experience in Ligue 1, where he was slightly more than moderately successful at a large club, and in the English Premier League, where he was unsuccessful managing another large club, albeit under highly challenging circumstances.

Remi Garde’s staff is proven, with a wealth of experience in Ligue 1, particularly the coaching/mentoring skills of former France national team goalkeeper, Joel Bats.

THE PLAYERS

Still sticking to facts, let’s look at the playing personnel. Of those with 50+ MLS appearances for the club, only really one - Ignacio Piatti - has performed consistently well since the beginning of season 2016. You could argue there is merit for adding Evan Bush and/or Marco Donadel to this list, although Donadel’s future playing opportunities look limited as he reaches the final stages of his career.

There aren’t many goals about the squad, only Piatti could be described as anywhere close to prolific. Of the others with double-figure MLS tallies, none have been starters in 2018, and none have delivered consistently enough either; Oduro – 15 goals (88 apps – 57 starts), Jackson-Hamel – 12 goals (49 apps – 17 starts) and Mancosu 10 goals (47 apps – 29 starts). It also looks like two of this trio are due for departure having enjoyed very few minutes on-field in 2018.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Montreal Impact
Nacho Piatti, along with Evan Bush has carried the Impact this season. Now with the Argentinian’s goals drying up in recent outings, the Montreal men are not posing enough threat up front.
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The chronic injury crisis at centre-back is debilitating, with no fewer than 4 central defenders unavailable, Monday, and another, major signing Rudy Camacho, deemed merely fit enough for the bench, to be used only in case of emergency and last resort.

LEAVING THE FACTS ASIDE …

Now, bearing in mind you don’t know what you don’t know, and leaving facts aside for the introduction of speculative opinion, it’s fair to say the finger of blame is justifiably pointed in all directions, although in some directions more emphatically than others.

The owner has stumped up money to match his commitment, and while it was perhaps not too little, it certainly was too late. As the Impact’s aging squad went into decline almost immediately after reaching the Eastern Conference Final in 2016, the rest of MLS surfed ahead on a wave of improvement. Montreal was left flailing in the wake of more “clued-in” clubs.

If the owner relies on his technical staff (including front office and team management) to have fingers on pulses to manage and highlight such trends, then he’s been badly let down. On the other hand, if these issues were made clear to him early enough ….

TOO MUCH CHANGE

One thing is abundantly clear in hindsight. Montreal Impact should never have faced the Big Bang scenario of change it did between these last two MLS seasons; a huge influx and exodus of players, and a new coaching team with no experience of MLS.

Credit is due for attracting a coach with pedigree, and a highly experienced staff with skills honed at a prestigious European club. This won’t have come cheaply. However, did no-one in Montreal identify the potential pitfall a lack of continuity or MLS knowledge would present?

FANS LESS CRITICAL OF GARDE, MORE OF RECRUITMENT

Coach, Remi Garde still enjoys decent support from fans who have been understanding. Although that backing probably diminished somewhat over the past three fixtures, all of which ended in defeat and failure to score, part of the reason for retaining supporter sympathy, is the fans’ focus on the Front Office and particularly player recruitment, as the single-most issue blighting an ability to compete on the field.

No doubt, Garde was dealt a bad hand at Aston Villa in his previous job. You could argue it’s history repeating itself here in Montreal. But there’s one common thread, and it’s the coach himself. So, of course he’s not above blame.

At Villa, it looked like some players needed a good kick up the “you know what”. Even allowing for the difference in culture between player mentality in the European game, as against MLS football, there’s probably some of that needed at the Impact too.

Is that why we saw Joey Saputo race to confront the players after the horrible Philadelphia defeat? Is this a characteristic absent from Remi Garde’s locker? Is he a coach who is good when things are going well, but not so hot, when it’s time to crack the whip? He certainly cuts a calm figure, well in control of emotions at all times, even if agitation is beginning to surface more frequently.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Montreal Impact
Defeat recently, at home to Philadelphia - a huge blow ...
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

FRONT OFFICE & RECRUITMENT - WHAT’S THE PROCESS?

So, how about the Front Office?

It’s a frequent fan debate - Who makes decisions on player recruitment? Do recommendations come from Nick De Santis and Adam Braz, or only Nick? I assume “recommendations” is what they provide, as I would hope and expect that the coach has the final say; Garde now, Biello before.

How’s the process carried out these days? Does a foreign player agent establish a relationship with the Front Office and send a video (of the player’s best moments of course)?

Hopefully it’s more scientific, and the player is watched by someone trusted, his character validated, and he meets the team-building requirements of the coach. I’m certain Remi Garde must have a good network of contacts around the world, given where he’s worked.

Has he had time to observe, learn, act and expect his network to be fully delivering at this point? Is his working relationship with the Impact Front Office cohesive enough? If he regards Front Office support like he appreciates his bench, hmmm, there’s not much hope.

Anyway, no matter how you look at it, bottom-line, recruitment has been lacking. It’s at best poor, although I’ve only analysed back to 2016.

SIGNINGS

Of 29 signings (I’ve omitted loan signings), I would consider only 2 more than moderately successful so far, and one of those only because the player has moved on to Barcelona, potentially for financially rich-pickings. The other, Rod Fanni, is a stop-gap. Not planned. It’s a stretch to label it a successful transfer, as it’s likely to be short-term (although that was the intention), and doubts exist around the player’s fitness. It does however illustrate how you must clutch at straws to find successful signings at the Impact in recent seasons.

To be fair, Montreal has fared better on loan deals. But only with those involving Bologna, the owner’s Italian club. Dzemaili and Taider are both quality, even if the former didn’t stay long enough, and the latter struggles for form in a poor side, currently. Even Mancosu, as a loanee performed; only when his move became permanent, did his form dip.

MLS: New England Revolution at Montreal Impact
Blerim Dzemaili - World Cup bound next month, didn’t stick around long enough ...
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Of the Bologna loan-quartet since 2016, only Boldor did not meet expectation.

Two others have arrived on loan throughout this period. Both from South America, and both unsuccessfully; Lucas Ontivero, who’s had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy combined, and Adrian Arregui.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Los Angeles Galaxy
Adrian Arregui - unsuccessful loan spell
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Is Impact using the same tired, old, South American agent all the time? There must be some better options out there. Other clubs, Atlanta and LAFC to name but two, are better at unearthing good young talent from that resourceful area of the globe, from which many players would jump at the chance to come to Canada.

Only three players have been signed for fees since 2016. As well as Cabrera, a moderately successful signing, they are the two recent arrivals, Silva and Camacho, each of which can be classed merely as potential at this stage. Neither has produced anything earth-shattering so far.

Other than that, leaving out draft picks and academy graduates, there’s been 15 arrivals on free transfers, trades and one on a waiver draft. Of the 15, I would consider Samuel Piette, a moderately successful signing, as clearly the pick of the bunch. Others would struggle for minutes at better-performing MLS-clubs: Lovitz, Duvall, Raitala, Vargas, Petrasso, for instance.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at Montreal Impact
Samuel Piette - one of the better signings over the past two years ...
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

There is potential in Raheem Edwards, while regards Diallo we don’t know yet, apart from some encouraging displays pre-season.

NOT ENOUGH QUALITY ON THE PITCH, OR THE BENCH

The players cannot be omitted from the downward spiral of events. It’s not a case of lack of commitment or effort however. Clearly the problem resides around a lack of quality. A blind man could see that. The coach knows it, hence his reluctance to plunder the bench in times of need.

He’s been used in the past working with more technically gifted footballers. Exactly why the likes of Oduro and Mancosu, players who compensate for technical deficiency by possessing other key attributes, do not often feature (although such is the paucity of the squad, Garde, currently, needs to include both in his thoughts).

WHERE DOES IT GO FROM HERE?

To end, each fan will draw his or her own conclusions. I see an organization lacking in cohesion, one where perhaps one or two influential people have been around too long. It’s also clear that a strategic plan must be formulated with a view to achieving a play-off spot in 2019. 2018 is gone, well and truly … !!

Find help from an experienced football guru or two. Get them on the payroll. Headhunt “Front Office” from another club that’s tasted success, if need be.

Then and only then, will we be able to tell if Remi Garde truly is the coach to take Impact forward.

I did ask as we set out, …. “How long have you got?

I meant it!

There are huge changes needed ….

Poll

In which area of responsibility do the greatest problems reside, preventing IMFC from restoring a level of MLS-competitiveness?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    The Owner
    (4 votes)
  • 61%
    The Front Office
    (30 votes)
  • 10%
    Coach and his coaching staff
    (5 votes)
  • 14%
    Players
    (7 votes)
  • 4%
    Performances will improve naturally when players have settled in
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (1 vote)
49 votes total Vote Now