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Nancy: Quiet Leader, Inspired Choice?

CF Montreal’s new coach saw his team get off to a flyer on MLS Opening Day yesterday.

Wilfried Nancy, yesterday became the fourth Montreal coach in history to win his first MLS match in charge, defeating Toronto FC 4-2.
Paul Vance

Quiet, unassuming, kept under wraps. Maybe CF Montreal has been harbouring MLS’ most brilliantly kept secret for most of the last ten years...

Only time will tell, of course and there’s a long way to go before anyone applies that label to Wilfried Nancy, but there’s been enough evidence already to at least set minds thinking.

Of course football’s a fickle business, and as the man himself said just yesterday when asked specifically about critics, “Today, it’s positive for us because we won, but in ten days time maybe it will be the opposite.”

And although it’s been a start to make Montreal fans dream, you get the unmistakeable feeling the 44-year-old Frenchman has his feet planted firmly on the ground.

Wilfried Nancy has the air of a man who’s been presented an opportunity he probably thought would never come. Undoubtedly there’s a touch of ‘right place, right time’ about it, but once Thierry Henry’s decision to return permanently to London was confirmed, Nancy declared his hand and went all-in.

For this he deserves credit. Montreal Impact had been his club for the best part of a decade, he’d worked directly for various head coaches (Biello (79 games), Garde (67), Cabrera (9) and Henry (29)) and realized it could be now or never.

There was happiness, concern and if truth be told in some quarters, a sense of underwhelming when he was announced as Henry’s permanent successor, but perhaps this could be the best thing to happen to the club since... well... since Olivier Renard was hired?

Two good appointments within a two year span? The weight of club history remains against such a dynamic, but maybe, just maybe...

Seattle Sounders FC v Montreal Impact
Mauro Biello, the first coach to give Wilfried Nancy an opportunity to work with the first-team.
Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Nancy’s playing background, played out almost entirely in the semi-pro and amateur ranks of French lower division football, is not what normally lends itself to someone who would later emerge as a successful head coach at a top-tier professional club.

It’s incredibly difficult even to find meaningful details from his playing days apart from the clubs he represented. He was head-coach at CF Montreal for about a week before he even had a Wikipedia page.

It not only takes fierce determination and incredible inner belief to negotiate such a long roadmap, but also a very deep and inherent love for the game. All three ingredients combined are possibly what makes Nancy a better bet than other more established names in the sport.

You get the impression Nancy is doing this because he absolutely loves it. Not because it’s, a job.

I don’t know the new Montreal head coach. I’ve never had the pleasure of chatting, but observed him at relatively close quarters in the short space of time since his appointment. That would be in the form of watching training and listening as he imparts his wisdom at video-conferences.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out his intelligence, not only in tactics and strategy, but when it comes to the human side of coaching too. Just last week he explained the Mason Toye conundrum. How he’s detected the young American can be too hard on himself. So he sat down with the player one to one, to try understand him better and offer coaching assistance.

We also heard Djordje Mihailovic declare Montreal’s as one of the best dressing rooms he’s ever been part of. That type of thing doesn’t happen with a coach who fails to understand the bonds of human relationships.

MLS: Toronto FC at CF Montreal
Djordje Mihailovic enjoying life under Wilfried Nancy at CF Montreal...
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Nancy has been the man in the background for so long, you wondered how he might handle being #1 at the club. After all Thierry Henry is not such a small act to follow. But training really is all his. He’s certainly no shrinking violet.

Wil is undoubtedly the man in charge. Vocal when he needs to be, quiet, contemplative and studious at other times, it would not surprise to hear colleagues refer to him as a quiet leader, for that’s what I see.

He comes across as a deep thinker, and a student of the game who’s philosophy threatens to elevate CF Montreal towards the bunch of clubs playing the most attractive football in MLS.

Asked yesterday if he sent his team out on the front foot against Toronto to take advantage, because he sensed the opponent was leggy after some significant midweek exertions, Nancy wouldn’t hear tell of it. A quick and impulsive “No!” ensued.

He went on...

“This is our vision. We want to come front foot. We discussed this. This is not only the way I believe, but also the players. We are all on the same page and we want to defend on the front foot, but also know sometimes it will be difficult to do it, so the players need to understand when we are going to be lower, that they need to be composed also.

“This is the objective. Every game is going to be like that. That’s why I am happy to have a large squad because we can make a rotation.

“Today the guys did what they had to do and the score came naturally. I wanted us to be aggressive and we did it right. I’m happy with the score and also with the way, despite little preparation time.”

MLS: Toronto FC at CF Montreal
Djordje Mihailovic and Romell Quioto celebrate the latter’s goal v Toronto, which helped ensure Nancy’s reign in charge got off with a bang...
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Through circumstances CF Montreal may well have stumbled onto the option of appointing Nancy as head coach, but if early signs extend beyond mid-season, the appointment will start taking on the complexion of inspired decision-making.

Only time will tell if the clouds of despair and years of tempered optimism make way for rays of hope and expectancy. Winning MLS Cup is a step too far for now, maybe forever the way football is going, but it would be fulfilling to spend a season where play-off hopes remain buoyant until regular season ends.

Of course, standing in the way of Wilfried Nancy driving Montreal on towards such a feat is the arrangement denying home games at Stade Saputo.

It’s a significant handicap, make no mistake about it, but one that Wilfried Nancy and his team helped us all forget about yesterday.

Check out the latest, The Ball Is Round Podcast (Episode 25). Recorded Wednesday evening (14 April), the TBIR team discusses the CFM v TFC clash (with special guest Michael Singh of Waking The Red website, Montreal football issues of the week, their top three picks for per Conference, Concacaf Champions League & Canada’s WNT in the UK...

Plus all the usual favourite features... including, Eve’s Time Machine... Don’t miss it!

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