Blerim Dzemaili - Montreal Impact - Happy
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Montreal head coach Remi Garde confirms Blerim Dzemaili will leave Impact

MONTREAL – Montreal Impact coach Remi Garde will not have midfielder Blerim Dzemaili when he begins his first season managing in MLS.

Garde confirmed reports on Wednesday that the Swiss international wants to leave Montreal to return to play Europe, telling media that he won’t be back at Stade Saputo in 2018.

“Yes, Blerim asked to return to Italy, to return to Bologna, for sporting and personal reasons,” said Garde, who was hired to replace Mauro Biello on Nov. 8. “So from there, we’ll try to find the best solution. Once a player tells me he doesn’t want to be somewhere, it’s hard for me, even if I was looking forward to working with that player. So you can logically conclude that he won’t be back.”

Dzemaili, who joined the Impact on loan from Serie A club Bologna in May, had seven goals and 10 assists in 22 games with Montreal last season.

“You can’t look at it from a standpoint of frustration, I think you have to take a look at it from a standpoint there’s opportunities,” said Impact owner Joey Saputo, who also owns Bologna. “And if we’re able to take it from frustration to an opportunity, I think we’ll do well with it.

“You take a look at the situation we’re in, you take a look at the network that we have, the context that we have both nationally and internationally, it’s always difficult to replace a player who’s gotten used to playing in North America, bringing another player from Europe in, but you take a look at it more as an opportunity, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Garde expressed interest in 25-year-old Algerian midfielder Saphir Taïder, who is currently playing for Bologna.

“Clearly when you lose a player like Dzemaili you have to have a plan B,” Saputo said. “We don’t want to reveal all of our plans, but what we can tell you is that obviously you have to replace a player of that caliber. And we’re going to give all the support we possibly can to our coach and his staff to find a player who can replace someone of Blerim’s quality.”

The loss of Dzemaili will be a significant blow to Garde and Montreal, who have undergone significant turnover this winter. Nearly the entire coaching staff switched over, Impact captain Patrice Bernier and veteran Hassoun Camara retired, 2015 MLS Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman was traded to LAFC in exchange for Raheem Edwards and Jukka Raitala, and Ambroise Oyongo left to join Ligue 1’s Montpellier.

Despite all the change, Saputo insisted this wouldn’t be a rebuilding year for Montreal.

“Our goal every year is to make the playoffs, and that hasn’t changed,” Saputo said. “This is not a transition year. As I have said, we had a five-year plan, which has now become a four-year plan, and that absolutely won’t change. Our goal for where we want to be hasn’t changed.”