Running a soccer club isn’t easy. The primary job of a club’s president, sporting director, and manager/head coach is to ensure the organization is moving in the same direction. But when the fabric within the organization and team starts to tear, it’s a signal that changes need to happen before the tear becomes a full rip.
With all the controversy swirling around the club, TFC are at a crossroads. The inaction from MLSE and Bill Manning speaks volumes. This status quo approach has filtered onto the field, where TFC continue to languish in an all-too-familiar spot near the bottom of the table.
There are times when too much change, too quickly can unsettle a club (see Chelsea FC). However, TFC’s issues started long before Federico Bernardeschi’s public bashing of Bob Bradley. TFC’s disjointed performances on the pitch, and Bob’s inability to correct that, have been festering for a while. The now public rumoured in-fighting amongst the team and with the coaching staff is beyond repair by trust fall exercises or getaway retreats.
So where do TFC’s issues start and what should MLSE/TFC do about it?
Where do TFC’s issues start?
TFC’s issues appear to run deeper than a sole individual on the team.
There are rumoured issues with player recruitment, tactics, player performances, player attitudes, and the father-son relationship between the Bradleys. It’s become quite clear that no one has control of the club and that starts with TFC’s management team. The superstar Italian designated player (DP) signings seem to be headed by TFC’s president Manning, with supposed input by the sporting director and coach Bradley.
But there’s a dynamic at play here that can help trace back the root cause of the issues. Will a sporting director ever have full/final say over what a president will ultimately do? Or is the sporting director trying to fit square pegs into round holes once the players are recruited and signed by the president? Ultimately, the answers to those questions are only known within TFC’s management team.
Regardless of who signed Lorenzo Insigne and Bernardeschi, the star Italian DPs, the player recruitment beyond them has also been an abject failure. TFC has brought in some individually talented players, but it’s clear that there’s a lack of vision for how these pieces come together to complement the Italians. In reality, there’s also never been a tactical vision on how to maximize the abilities of the Italians, period.
To compound these issues, player recruitment continues to focus on pieces that don’t fit the traditional Bob Bradley playing system. For a team that supposedly wants to control games by playing out from the back, by dominating possession and by overwhelming opponents in chance creation, it’s odd that the team has largely played an extreme defensive style even when relatively healthy (and that they look much more comfortable playing that way).
Neither Sigurd Rosted or Matt Hedges are adept with the ball at their feet. Mark-Anthony Kaye has struggled significantly when asked to pass out from the back.
Bradley has also been playing striker roulette. After shipping out Jesús Jiménez, who failed to gel with the Italians and was handpicked by Bob, he has gone ahead and acquired two more strikers this year who have equally failed to produce so far. All three of these striker acquisitions have also come at relatively high salary cap charges, significantly limiting TFC’s ability to maximize its squad.
The rumoured prima donna attitudes of the Italians and the public, vocal displeasure of Bob hasn’t helped. Whether intentional or not, their actions on and off the pitch paint the picture of two players who think they are above the team.
Where should TFC go from here?
One problem has continuously followed another and it appears that the club has no idea how to stop spiraling out of control. Each reactionary solution is only papering over the cracks. What the Italians are feeling is symptomatic of a greater issue within the TFC and MLSE hierarchy.
TFC has invested heavily in both Bob and the Italians. Getting rid of the Italians would be very expensive (unless both sides agree to mutually terminate their contracts) considering each signed five-and-a-half-year deals less than a year ago. Ceding more power to Bob inspires no confidence. He has only won 14 games from 54 potential matches at TFC. Bob has had three transfer windows to bring in his preferred players to suit his system and many seem unfit for that playing style and/or the MLS.
On the other hand, firing Bob cedes more power to the Italians and allows them to dictate what happens next. Make no mistake, while the Italians have played at top-level clubs, neither have actually built teams, created tactics, or been the catalyst for team chemistry and training.
Additionally, firing Bob on his own likely does little if it’s true that Bill makes unilateral decisions. The next manager could have better tactics but will eventually face similar problems if the strategic vision for scouting and transfers isn’t aligned with the preferred system of play.
The club is lacking leadership and the ability to get the entire franchise rowing in the same direction. If it’s even possible, TFC needs a complete overhaul at the management level.
Ideally, an entirely new management team would get a clean slate with the Italians gone too. The vision of the president, sporting director, and manager/head coach should be entirely connected with a tether so strong that it never even tears. Sustainability should be a core principle so that no player is ever bigger than the club.
TFC has a ton of work to do to revolutionize its operations in line with other successful MLS franchises. With the way the club is currently run, it’s clear that the current management group has struggled to evolve like the rest of the league has.
What happens next will determine whether the club will be taken seriously again. I don’t have experience managing clubs or insight into what happens behind the scenes, but I know one thing – keeping the status quo isn’t helping anyone.