Wilfried Nancy: Columbus Crew can be a premier club in MLS

Wilfried Nancy

By his own admission, Columbus Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko's search for a new head coach got a lot easier once he discovered that Wilfried Nancy was available.

"Right from the start," Bezbatchenko said during Tuesday's introductory press conference for the 45-year-old Frenchman, " ... he became a top target."

A 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year award finalist with CF Montréal, Nancy established himself as one of the league's best managers during his two-year stint in Canada. CFMTL set single-season club records for points (65), wins (20) and more while earning the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed in the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.

Now, just two months shy of parting ways with Caleb Porter, the Crew officially got their dream replacement before the 2023 season. To land Nancy, Columbus sent an undisclosed compensation amount to Montréal in a package that also included three members of his staff: assistant coach Kwame Ampadu, fitness coach Jules Gueguen and video analyst Maxime Chalier.

The perfect fit

Whatever the Crew had to pony up to land their No. 1 target, Bezbatchenko is convinced it was well worth it.

"What Wil has done with his prior club over the last two years, it would be impossible for him not to be the guy," Bezbatchenko stated, citing Nancy's ability to make the most of what he has to work with talent-wise.

" … You start with the team that had some players that other teams had passed [on]. You saw a person take those players and, you know, use that term 'Coach them up' to really get a cohesive unit, to see them work together, really play for something bigger than themselves."

Layer in Montréal's dynamic, dangerous playing style, and bringing Nancy aboard was a no-brainer for the Crew brass. Columbus won MLS Cup in 2020, though missed the playoffs three of their four seasons under Porter.

"The way that they played, it was attractive, it was entertaining, they were scoring goals, they had the ability to dictate the game," Bezbatchenko said of Nancy's Montréal teams.

Creating a legacy

For Nancy, the allure of managing the Crew was apparent long before the club had a coaching vacancy – let alone approached him for the job.

"When I came to the stadium [Lower.com Field] for the first time, when I stepped on the field, I got goosebumps. Simple as that," Nancy said.

Nancy has witnessed some of the greatest soccer atmospheres in the world and feels Columbus can rival, and even surpass, many of them. Lower.com Field opened in July 2021.

"I come from Europe, and this stadium is better than some stadiums in Europe. The crowd, the way the stadium is," he added, stating "I just wanted to attack" as soon as he accepted the job.

"This is how I live, because this is the way of life."

Now, Nancy's main responsibility consists of leading a club worthy of its diehard fanbase.

That's no small task, though inheriting a core roster that includes goalkeeper Eloy Room, center back Jonathan Mensah, central midfielder Darlington Nagbe, playmaker Lucas Zelarayan and striker Cucho Hernandez sure helps. Columbus will supplement their roster in the months ahead, too, before league games return on February 25.

"The idea now is to analyze what we need for the future," Nancy said. "But first of all, I'm going to analyze what I have already."

Nancy will also prioritize the Crew's youth pipeline by giving academy players the chance to prove themselves with the first team. He worked extensively with Montréal's youth system before taking over in 2021 when Thierry Henry departed, and Columbus won the inaugural MLS NEXT Pro title in 2022.

"We have to win games, but we need to develop people to leave ... a legacy for the future. That's why developing players is really important," Nancy said.

With both club and coach ready to begin new chapters in their history, Columbus have their man while Nancy has the ambitious project he was craving.

"For me, in terms of MLS, this is one of the clubs, or maybe the club," he said. "There's everything to do something great. So that's why I came."