Toronto FC Townhall #2. Mariner gets feisty

Mike Stobe

Mariner only wears shorts because the team isn't good enough, he doesn't want to play 'boot it up' football, but again, the team's not good enough. Lionel Messi's agent is our South American scout. Also, is Mariner a prick? Maybe, but actually probably not. All this and more in part 2 of our townhall coverage.

One down, three more to go, click here for Michael's thoughts on the first of the 4 townhalls, here's what I remember of the 2nd one. First impressions were that it seemed a very sparse crowd compared to previous years, not sure if that's a good sign or not really. We settled in and there were no introductory statements, it was just straight down to questions, as follows, as much as I remember and I'll start with the more peripheral ones. Anyway, here's what we learned.

It started with a question about the academy, which allowed Thomas Rongen to ramble on for a good 5 minutes or so, quite entertainingly at times, but without really saying anything you haven't heard before. they're moving up to 5 different age group teams next year, as far down as U-12. They're committed to working with local clubs, etc etc.

There were questions about the price of beer and food being too high, batted away lazily with an indifferent shrug by Paul Beirne about it being in line with other sports arenas in Toronto, and a few others about too many vendors selling stuff during the game and blah, blah, blah.

The trip to Montreal, apparently TFC is planning to rent 20 buses, going up on the morning of the match, coming back the same day, which is pretty much what I expected, no complaints about that.

Where's Tom? That was asked as the 2nd of 2 questions and didn't end up getting answered, as things got a lot more anarchic with the questions by the end of the session, rather than the more formal start which required waiting for a microphone and allowed for follow up questions.

Most of the interesting answers came from questions about the on pitch product, and mostly from Paul Mariner who was quite blunt about a few things and didn't attempt to hide his disdain for some of his players. The way he answered the questions and interacted with people was very curious, but I'll get to that at the end, first off the content.

Starting with the inevitable pointless shorts question, which came towards the end of the night, and which I rolled my eyes at, but did at least elicit a revealing answer. Apparently he'd much prefer to be looking smart on the sidelines, but the team just requires too much coaching. He can't just sit back and coolly watch, he feels he has to be up and down all the time to talk his players through the game, and it's a lot easier to do that in shorts and boots than in a nice suit. It's probably debatable whether that level of micro-management is productive or not, either way, that seems to be indicative of how he feels in general about the team, especially the half reserve team that ended the year.

Continuing with that theme, when asked about why he preferred to go with a short bench than put some younger players out there, he shot back with 'would you put them out there, embarrass them in front of 18,000 people?' before going on to say some players (no names given) just weren't ready, and would be shitting themselves when he looked down the bench for options.

Oddly enough this was directly after he had rhapsodised about the benefits to young kids of having a pro take them under their wing and learning from example from some of the leaders on the team. Wouldn't being part of the squad on matchday be just that kind of learning experience, even if you had no intention of ever playing them? I guess not. Ah well.

Moving on to Joao Plata, he felt he was too inconsistent and wasn't tough enough to be the type of player he could call upon when things were getting rough, and also expressed his frustration at the inconsistency of his speed and skill players, saying Reggie Lambe was a one in sixer, which really pissed him off (and apparently was the exact same term he used to describe Plata in the first session. Fun). They are apparently in contact with him and with Quito and plan for him to be back next year, I guess we'll see on that one.

When asked about the wisdom of having so much cap space tied up in 5 players (the 3 dp's plus O'Dea and Eckersley) which directly influences the depth of the squad, Earl Cochrane seemed to fully agree, saying he'd prefer to build a solid base and then add the right players at the right time. A very sensible approach I think but one that's totally different from what they've done, a little confusing.

Also when asked about South American scouting, Mariner dropped the name of Lionel Messi's agent, which sounds impressive at first, but does suggest recommendations will be limited to his clients, which probably won't lead to the widest net.

The other interesting bit of content was when asked about playing the 'boot it up' style. He started off by saying it's not his first choice and he's never played 'boot it up' before, and that no-one was talking about that when the team was winning, both of which I'd say are seriously up for debate.

He then explained it was just a matter of necessity back in June due to the horrible start, the players had little confidence so they had to get back to basics, concentrating more on getting the ball away from their own goal, down the other end of the pitch, and into good positions. I don't remember the exact term he used, but it's what Charles Hughes, a man very influential in the English long ball style of the '70's and '80's and long since discredited, called Positions Of Maximum Opportunity. Basically prioritising 'if the ball's in their half of the pitch, we're more likely to score' over 'if they don't have the ball, we're more likely to score' as a philosophy. All stuff many of us have talked about, including myself here, written after his 10th game in charge, right at the peak of his winning, so yes Paul, people were talking about it back then too.

He said he would be looking to play what he called 'foot forward football' next year, really challenging opponents at BMO Field, though playing differently away from home.

Nothing outrageous or new really, the main thing I got out of it was shock at just how Mariner interacted with people. As he's shown with his opinions and his press conferences and the way he treats certain players, or challenges heckling fans to meet him outside, he's very honest and direct and doesn't see the need to pretend he likes people or things that he doesn't like, and that really came across tonight.

Not for him the tactful answers and hiding of disdain that you might expect at this type of PR exercise, he was challenging his questioners, often very aggressively with questions right back. It seemed unnecessary in this forum, especially as (until the end when an elderly scotsman started getting a little feisty) all the questions were asked respectfully, and most of them were genuine and intelligent questions looking for answers about the direction of the club rather than any outright 'you suck' hostility.

My initial reaction was 'wow, Mariner's a prick' and I tweeted the following:

Not all that much of interest at the townhall, but wow, did Mariner come off badly. aggressive, hostile, arrogant, defensive, dismissive.

and really unnecessarily so. The crowd wasn't all over him at all. genuine, mostly intelligent questions met very hostilely. curious.

On reflection, I'd say that's a bit harsh, he was just being who he is, not pretending, it just really took me by surprise that he'd be that way in this forum. It's one way to be questioning reporters who are at a press conference doing their job, paid 'experts', but with fans? In this type of setting with it's inherent weird dynamic?

For better or worse, it's not a chat among equals, banter back and forth, challenge each other, debate in the pub kind of thing, so it was odd to see it treated that way. Maybe it's a good thing, a sign of respect almost that he did treat it that way rather than maintaining that distance between questioner and questionee, it certainly provided for more interesting comments than the polite non answers these sorts of things usually pop up.

I left thinking that this man really needs some PR training, that whoever talked him into being a bit more contrite in his Sportsnet appearance on Saturday, when he actually seemed to admit he had a share of the blame for this season, needed to have another chat with him before Wednesday's round 3 and 4. If they want a nice safe friendly bland event, then that's definitely the case, but I'm less convinced now that that'd be a good thing.

I'm certainly not on board with thinking Mariner's a great guy, or in any way convinced he is the man to take the club forward, but I'll take back my initial 'prick' judgement, he's just a, perhaps overly, honest and direct man in completely the wrong setting for that.

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