New Sporting Director, Olivier Renard, who has held similar positions at KV Mechelen and Standard Liege in his native Belgium, was introduced yesterday to the Montreal media at Centre Nutrilait.
Fingering his mobile device often, yet impressively and coolly remaining focused on the questions arriving from the floor, suggests a multi-tasking, dynamic leadership style. He is also fluent in French (obviously) English and Italian.
The arrival of the relatively unknown, sparks a long-awaited and interesting development as Montreal Impact tries to find pace with MLS’s more successful clubs.
Back in Belgium however, Renard’s name is not so anonymous. Coinciding with his time at Mechelen, the club almost secured Europa League qualification on one occasion and at Standard Liege, the former employer of Laurent Ciman and one of Belgium’s premier clubs, Europa League qualification was secured twice, including a championship runner-up position behind Club Brugge. Standard also won the Belgian Cup in 2018.
However Renard has built his reputation on securing talent at low cost with the view of player development and selling-on. A model the Impact would be well-advised to follow. Sources declare his successes in this area amount to significant revenue and profit. At Mechelen profits on players he brought inexpensively to the club have been cited as high as 13m euros, and at Standard, 50m euros.
At 40, the Impact have chosen a young and from all accounts, dynamic Sporting Director, who was a player as recently as six years ago. Despite playing experience in Italy, his managerial work has been entirely for Belgian clubs, however it is work that has taken him to central and eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Oceania in search of talent. He has a reputation for going off the beaten track in search of quality.
If one player should be singled out as Renard’s greatest success to date, it might be Razvan Marin. Already a Romanian national team player, Marin at 21, became a national champion with Viitorul Constanta (Hagi’s Kids) in 2017, after which Standard Liege paid less than 2m euros for the player. He was sold-on earlier this year for 12.5m euros.
There have been others of course; Moussa Djenepo, and Mexican international goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa. And at Mechelen dealings involving Sofiane Hanni, Ivan Obradovic, Jordi Van Leerberg and Milos Kosanovic all helped Renard build a reputation.
His departure from Standard earlier this year came after new coach, Michel Preud’homme, also a former goalkeeper, joined the club. As Sporting Director, Renard saw his role fall between that of vice-president and head coach in the hierarchy. That Preud’homme, bizarrely, occupied each these positions, something had to change; Renard’s title, and he became Head of Scouting.
For the last five months he has been working for a resurgent Royal Antwerp, one of Belgium’s famed clubs, which recently spent 13 long years away from the country’s top flight. They currently sit fourth in the Jupiler League (Belgian First Division A) table.
Renard had established a working relationship in recent years with Walter Sabatini at Bologna, but he sees the two Saputo clubs as entirely separate entities, although remains open to tap into the benefits obvious synergies could bring.
He has quickly acknowledged the type of football MLS fans want to see, making the point that North Americans prefer to see a tie of 3-3 to one that remains scoreless. A hint that as he tries to establish a club identity, Montreal fans will see a more enterprising soccer-style.
The new Sporting Director is known for placing heavy demands on his coaches, and naturally the question arose of Wilmer Cabrera’s future in Montreal.
The response was perfectly non-committal, suggesting the Colombian is on borrowed time. Renard made reference to speaking with Cabrera to understand, “ .... his feel for the city himself and the club,” but tellingly added, “In football things can change very quickly. The most important thing is the club, and the club is disappointed not to make the play-offs, so the focus is on next season to make what [changes] we need to make.”
Most Impact fans will be wondering if they can expect great things with the latest appointment at the head of the club alongside a president who remains relatively new, Kevin Gilmore. Gilmore’s appointment last January raised optimism, and the arrival of the Belgian is another source for hope.
It’s clearly too early to tell what impact this latest development will provide. All will observe with interest, some with confidence, still more with hopeful optimism. But as usual, Montreal expects!
One thing is clear. Four short months separate the end of this season and the beginning of CONCACAF Champions League, a competition that the club aims for sustained involvement in. The dilemma that prevails then, is how much of a revolving door should Renard encourage during the winter? A steady and settled squad is a must heading into the continental challenge. That won’t be easy with a flurry of change, unless the wheels of transformation are already nearing top gear.
Impact fans all seek the same thing. Success. All will wish the new man well, but he can expect to be judged in similar fashion to the demands he places on the coaches responsible to him.
The need for a good and positive, beginning to 2020 cannot be under-estimated.