Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo wanted to make a few changes to his MLS club. Those few changes will cause the team to undergo a major organizational shift, with the aim of sporting growth to follow.
The tectonic movements began to publicly manifest themselves in January. When it's all done, with requisite time given for the changes to root, the Impact hope to benefit from a sporting conglomerate not dissimilar to what the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC are under.
Saputo, who also owns Serie A side Bologna, wanted to hire a new club president and CEO for the Impact so he could focus on ownership duties. In January, he appointed Kevin Gilmore to the role. Next, Saputo wanted to appoint a global sporting coordinator to link both the Impact and Bologna, to fully take advantage of the two entities. This week, the Impact announced longtime Italian sporting director Walter Sabatini was named to that role.
“Walter, basically, is going to oversee the organization’s scouting and player identification network," Gilmore explained to MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "He’ll do so with two teams and multiple leagues in mind. There are a couple of teams in MLS that have that structure. It didn’t make sense for us to operate two soccer clubs in two different silos, separate and independent from each other.”
Third, Saputo wanted to hire a sporting director for the Impact. That's underway. But how does a club go about finding the right candidate?
“What we’re looking for is someone who understands and knows MLS – they don’t have to necessarily come from MLS – but also have a strong knowledge of the international game," Gilmore said. "Leagues at all levels in all different countries, the transfer market mechanisms and players in that space to help compliment the team we’ve got here. Someone that speaks three languages—French, English and Italian. That’s part of our business.”
Gilmore added there is no timetable for a hire to be made and the club won't rush with the goal of having a sporting director settled by the time the Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 7.
The new, streamlined way of business in Montreal will manifest itself in an expanded scouting network as well as the pathway for players between the clubs flowing more regularly. Orji Okwonkwo, a 21-year-old Nigerian forward on loan at Montreal from Bologna, is a good example.
“From a scouting standpoint, it’ll be good to tap into that network," Gilmore said. "It’ll be very helpful, but, granted, you’re looking for different players. But we’ve seen that this year with Orji Okwonwko. He’s a young player who wasn’t really playing in Serie A. They felt he needed playing time and felt Major League Soccer would be a great league for him to come to, really to play within the organization. When you loan a player to another club, you lose control over that player’s playing time and coaching. It’s not like we haven’t worked together before.”
Whenever a sporting director does get hired, it will help alleviate Remi Garde's burden. The head coach, who has guided his team to a strong start to 2019 largely without injured Designated Player Ignacio Piatti, is also director of player personnel.
“I think when Remi came over, and I can’t speak to this because I wasn’t here, but he was given a very broad title because he didn’t quite know what he was getting into," Gilmore said. "Wearing the coach’s hat, technical director hat and also oversee the academy, that’s too many hats. Especially in Major League Soccer, given the complexity of the system. “
That doesn't mean Garde's importance will lessen.
“Listen, coaches are always in discussions and will be involved in any player personnel decision," Gilmore said. "I don’t think there’s a single organization that makes player personnel decisions without discussing with the head coach.”
None of this is unique in Major League Soccer. The scouting networks City Football Group and the Red Bull GmbH have unlocked for NYCFC and RBNY are invaluable, as are the opportunities for player movement between the clubs.
“There are examples of that working well in Major League Soccer, it’s something we’d like to strive for," Gilmore said. "That doesn’t mean it’ll happen overnight.”