On the precipice of players returning for preseason to officially open, CF Montréal were rocked with a huge and sudden change. Soccer legend Thierry Henry had decided to step away from the club due to family reasons after just a year in charge.
There was little more than six weeks prior to the 2021 MLS season kicking off, long after every other coaching vacancy in the league had been filled. Timing was not ideal.
Sporting director Olivier Renard immediately got to work on a (virtual) global search, though it turns out he didn't have to look very far.
Longtime assistant coach Wilfried Nancy, already under consideration for the job, boldly came into Renard's office to express his desire to become the club's next head coach. He insisted he was ready and was the right choice.
At the end of the process, Renard agreed. Nancy was appointed as full-time head coach on Monday, less than two weeks after Henry officially stepped down.
“When somebody makes something like this, to make the first step, you see in his eyes that he wanted it," Renard told media on a virtual press conference. "I know his philosophy, I know what he wants for the club and what he’s done for the club. … It’s not that he asked for the chance, he deserved the chance.”
Nancy has worked his way up through the CF Montréal system, previously serving as a coach at the club’s academy since its inception in 2011. During that time, he coached the U18 team, from 2011-13, the U21 team in 2014, and the U16 team in 2014 and 2015. He was promoted to the first team staff in 2016.
“Soccer, this is my passion. … At 22 I recognized coaching would be my future," Nancy said. "This is a good step, but it’s not a big step, because I am ready. I’ve been with a lot of coaches and I’ve learned a lot from them, I’m passionate about the game.”
Assistant coaches Kwame Ampadu and Laurent Ciman, as well as goalkeeper coach Rémy Vercoutre and fitness coach Jules Gueguen, complete Nancy’s coaching staff.
Like how they finished the 2020 season, Montréal will at least begin the season away from home as the global pandemic continues to complicate travel across borders. The club will start 2021 in Florida and the whole situation was seen as potentially limiting options from abroad in the search to replace Henry. Renard, though, disagrees with that notion.
“We received so many messages from so many people, many coaches want to come. … The coaches knew our situation but everybody was nervous to find out if I chose them or someone else," Renard said. "That means there were so many coaches who were not afraid to come to Montreal.”
Renard added that the club spoke with candidates in Europe and the Americas, including receiving permission to speak with candidates who are currently under contract elsewhere in the world.
“We decided to give the key to Wilfried," Renard said. "We know his work with young players, one of his best qualities is his communication with young players. He’s not so far away from the players, he’s the right person for the job.”
Nancy told media his contract is only guaranteed for one season and includes some team options, but he isn't worried: "It’s my job now to convince them to go forward.”
The 43-year-old Frenchman becomes the eighth head coach in the club's MLS history as they enter their 10th season.
“My goal is to build something great in Montreal," Nancy said. "If we have a clear vision, I’m pretty sure we can do something amazing.”