Everyone remembers the Impact’s 100% record after the opening four matches of the ultimately disappointing 2013 season, and would assume the coach with the best record after his first 20 games would be Marco Schallibaum.
But it’s not. Mauro Biello amazingly won 13 matches of his first 20, losing only 5, eclipsing the Swiss, whose win percentage was still a creditable 50%. It should also be noted too, included in Biello’s twenty were three play-off matches, two of which were won. All seems a long time ago now, but how does Thierry Henry, about to face Columbus Crew in his 20th game, compare with previous incumbents?
It’s difficult to perform a fair comparison of course. None of the others had to contend with the debilitating factor that is Covid-19.
But given all the pandemic-related challenges and the relatively bare squad inherited, Henry’s record bares comparison to each of the other three coaches, four if you include Wilmer Cabrera who was only in charge for a run of 9 games.
It’s striking how similar the records are for Jesse Marsch and Henry, probably the two head coaches with the greatest challenges coming on board. Marsch of course was the club’s first coach in MLS and had to begin building from scratch, and Henry as stated previously, has the pandemic to contend with as well as rebuilding a side which failed to reach post-season play three seasons in a row.
Biello’s run of 20 games is remarkable, and I must confess I don’t remember it being quite that impressive, but it must have been. The Impact had just lost three on the bounce and hadn’t won for six when Frank Klopas was relieved in September 2015, but the team’s mojo returned almost overnight with Biello’s promotion. They went unbeaten in six, winning four.
Goals were harder to come by for Marsch and Garde and Henry’s team in his first 19 matches, slide into that category too, but Biello and Schallibaum, whose teams scored more frequently benefitted from first having Di Vaio and then a combination of Piatti and Drogba, the last central striker Montreal possessed of any purity.
Find a striker, score more goals, win more football matches appears to be the message from our table. But of course football is never as simple, as statistics in isolation, may lead you to believe.
There have been impressive elements of Henry’s reign so far that cannot be captured by numbers, although results at the end of the day will always be the ultimate determining factor when it comes to success or failure.
We’ve seen much meddling and tinkering with line-ups, particularly in the early days. Henry will point to the fact he needed to understand his squad and for that to happen there was a need to question and test his players and experiment a little.
There have been positive signs of progress and the fundamental change from a counter-attacking unit to one which possesses the ball more, better and generally moves it quicker too. One of the most marked advances has been the evolution of Samuel Piette as a more advanced midfielder. Sam’s new role is still a work in progress, but fans are are being won over.
Much of the positives, which should have resulted in an appearance in the Canadian Championship final, were undone, as individual error and indiscipline emerged when presented with a couple of perfect opportunities to advance in that very competition.
Without those blips, things would look much rosier right now but the results didn’t match the improved performances, although admittedly, it’s difficult when you can’t keep a a full complement of players on the pitch.
Early dismissals, suspensions, a crippling injury list and the necessity to embark on two-week road-trips with no opportunity to play ‘home’ games, can all be listed as varying degrees of disruption affecting the momentum at one time built.
Thierry Henry will attract players. Players the league over and beyond would love to come and work with him. He retains legendary status from his exploits in the colours of France, Arsenal and Barcelona.
Montreal Impact must utilize this leverage and allow him time to develop the squad he’s building with Olivier Renard’s help.
It won’t happen overnight. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Real tangible progress is unlikely to be realized until next season, provided this horrid pandemic goes back from whence it came.
Thierry Henry should be judged only then, not before.