MONTREAL – The Montreal Impact are hoping that Marco Schällibaum has more in common with Gary Smith than with Ruud Gullit.
Smith, an Englishman who led the Colorado Rapids to an MLS Cup in 2010, remains the only coach to have lifted the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy without any experience as a player or manager in North America. Gullit’s "sexy football," on the other hand, strikingly contributed to what amounts to a generally poor track record for foreign coaches in MLS.
Yet when asked about that trend during Schällibaum’s introductory press conference as the new head coach of the Impact on Tuesday, club president Joey Saputo dismissed it as “overrated.”
“More and more, you start to see some coaches from the outside coming to MLS,” Saputo told the media. “Toronto announced one today, New York have an announcement coming up. At the end of the day, do you want fresh blood coming into the league, or do you want the coaches rotating within the league?"
Added Impact sporting director Nick De Santis: “We looked at the coaches that came to other MLS team from overseas, and I think they had some kind of ‘I know what football is’ mentality. With Marco, we talked a lot about the league and how complex it is, which is why I think that, with what we’ve learned, we put him in the best possible conditions. He’s ready to listen.”
De Santis’ closing sentence describes precisely the state of mind in which the Impact brass say they approached their inaugural season. They were told that because of the particular nature of the league, they needed to welcome people with MLS experience into their organization.
No candidate from abroad was considered. Jesse Marsch was handed the keys. And the club, Saputo feels, moved away from what it truly believes in.
“We basically gave that coach carte blanche on who he wanted to bring in as far as his coaching staff was concerned, so we went away from what our core values were,” Saputo explained. “We’re a very European-type city. We like the European flavor. We’re different from Toronto and from the other American cities. The culture is different, and it was hard to adapt.”
But, Saputo insisted, the club is still focused on bringing up a number of players via its youth ranks and drawing talent from the MLS SuperDraft, and they're confident Schällibaum can perfect a balancing act so many foriegn coaches could not in the past.
“We want to build our local players, and that's why our Academy is so important,” Saputo stated. “We're always going to have the draft to deal with, so understanding the American game is going to be important. And if we can combine the young local, Canadian and American players with some experienced European and South American players, that’s why it was important to bring in a coach who’s able to do that.”