TORONTO – With Toronto FC on a bye week, team brass is heading to Europe to kick off their search for the club’s next two Designated Players.
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Tim Leiweke recently told supporters that the club was focusing on players currently plying their trade in the English Premier League and the Italian Serie A, and the trio of Leiweke, head coach Ryan Nelsen and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko are expected to spend the next few days in those two countries.
Seeing as both leagues are among the best in the world, players coming from those locales are not only highly pedigreed, but often times expensive, making scouting there seem somehwat incongruous for a club that has recently touted salary-cap management and getting value for money as their highest virtues.
According to Nelsen, though, the organization has simply drawn up a list of targets and is now utilizing a break in the MLS schedule to meet face to face with prospective DPs.
“We aren’t targeting specific countries,” Nelsen told MLSsoccer.com. “We are going to those countries because of certain targets that we are looking at. We are going to go and speak to those potential players and their clubs. If the target happened to be playing in Iceland, then we would be going to Iceland.“
This will be Nelsen’s second trip to Europe on behalf of Toronto, as the TFC gaffer hopped the Atlantic during the summer transfer window to meet with a prospective big money signing. While that excursion did not bear fruit, it did nothing to blunt Nelsen’s belief in the need to look a player in the eye and do the due diligence on a person being considered as a potential cornerstone of his squad.
“You have to know everything about the player, especially when you are looking at a DP,” Nelsen said. “They are so important to a team and, if you are going to sign one, you have to know every single thing about them.
"Luckily we have some contacts such that we know quite a lot about the players that we are looking at. I can’t emphasize the importance of due diligence. So we’ll find out everything we can, and sitting down for a cup of coffee is one of the most important things.”
Not surprisingly, Leiweke, a former LA Galaxy executive, has spoken of his desire to bring marquee players equivalent to David Beckham and Thierry Henry to Toronto. Nelsen, however, admitted he is primarily focused on what TFC’s next Designated Players will be able to bring with respect to improving the team's results on the pitch.
“David and Thierry are unique individuals,” Nelsen said. “They are freaks of nature who don’t come around very often. First and foremost has to be the impact the players have on the field and in the locker room. What they bring outside of that is a bonus.
- Get more Toronto FC news and updates at TorontoFC.com
“But if you are going to spend X amount of money then you would like the whole package,” Nelsen added. “You’d like to tick off as many boxes as you can. If a person doesn’t bring everything off the field then the amount you pay probably goes down and you only look at what he can bring on the field.”
Two TFC Designated Players, past and present, that have certainly brought it on the field are Danny Koevermans and Torsten Frings, both European imports. And though they exhibited exceptional class on the pitch, they broke down physically before their contracts ended. How can TFC avoid a similar situation in the future?
“It is part of the due diligence and looking at their history of injuries, types of injuries, what they do off the field and the age you are signing them at,” Nelsen explained. “There is so much that goes into it. I’m not really sure how much due diligence was done with any of them in the past here.”