TORONTO – Toronto sports fans are notorious for gravitating towards tough and gritty athletes who play with a lot of heart.
Toronto FC hope those qualities could be in abundance for the 2011 version of the team once consultant Jürgen Klinsmann has reorganized the club’s soccer operations. The former German star and national team coach, who was hired earlier this week as a consultant to help turn around the club’s on-field product, has already begun work on forging a new identity for TFC.
[inline_node:318771]While the responsibility of helping select the new director of soccer has received the most attention, Klinsmann’s first and most important task will be to identify a playing style that’s appreciated by Toronto soccer fans and, ultimately, influences the game in Canada.
“He is a disciple of Johann Cruyff, who built the Barcelona and Ajax systems,” Tom Anselmi, executive vice president and COO of TFC's parent company, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, told MLSsoccer.com. "One of the reasons we really connected is he believes that each country in the world has evolved to a style of play that is driven by social factors and the personality of the country.
“He doesn’t see this as coming and dictating something to us, but more working with us to extract [a style of play] out of us. What type of player and style of play is appreciated by the Canadian soccer fan and, specifically, the Toronto soccer fan? If you look at hockey, people in Canada love the overachiever, not so skilled, but hard-working, tough, edgy kind of hockey player, and I suspect there’s something similar to the type of football player they like.”
Largely due to coach turnover and a lack of roster continuity, TFC have lacked an identity on the field since their inception in 2007. The end result has been inconsistent performances that have caused the club to miss the playoffs each season of its existence.
That run of futility could end under Klinsmann, who believes the foundation of a successful club begins with identifying a playing style and using it to drive every decision going forward.
[inline_node:319257]It’s that shared philosophy on building a successful club that Anselmi believes makes Klinsmann the right man for the job.
“We know the Canadian market and the Canadian psyche better than anyone," Anselmi said, "and Jürgen has a point of view on playing style which was not dissimilar from [TFC's soccer operations] point of view, and that’s part of what helps make him a really good selection for us.
“If he philosophically believed in a completely different style of play, then we would have had an issue, so we knew going into this that we were generally talking about the same approach to the game.”
TFC’s more open play under interim head coach Nick Dasovic wasn’t too far removed from Klinsmann’s preferred approach, according to Anselmi.
“Klinsmann’s style of play is generally an attacking style of play that’s an entertaining form of soccer, very structured and that’s probably in line with the direction we want to go,” he said.
Regardless of the chosen style, MLSE recognizes it must be grounded in one central principle.
“We’re in the entertainment business, so we need to entertain," Anselmi said. "And I don’t think we want to play a stifling kind of game that is just about trying to win without entertaining our fans, because I think we owe them an entertaining product.
“I think Canadians love their sports aggressive and just with a good edge and hard-working, overachieving kind of teams and players. That’s what Canadians gravitate to, so for me that feels like a team that’s tight and reasonably well organized, works real hard, attacks and keeps the ball on the ground and plays the game.”
Klinsmann, who’s on a six-month contract, will be in Toronto in the coming weeks to work with the club’s soccer operations staff, including Dasovic, interim director of soccer Earl Cochrane and his assistant, Jim Brennan.
Together, they’ll reorganize the club’s infrastructure, set the criteria for the new leader and then evaluate the more than 50 candidates that have expressed interest in the director of soccer position.
“He’s very disciplined in that it all emanates from the style,” Anselmi said of the German. “It all emanates from, ‘What’s the culture of this club? What are the values of this club? What’s the style of play of this club?' And that determines everything going forward, and that’s I believe the kind of consistency and stability that, in hindsight, we’ve been missing the last couple of years.”