The news that Kevin Payne was coming to Toronto FC did not take long to go from idea, to rumour, to a source confirmed fact yesterday following his departure from DC United but it was not until this afternoon that he officially arrived at BMO Field. Payne was unveiled by Tom Anselmi as the club's new President and General Manager meaning that he will have control over both the playing and the business sides of the club.
The press conference today came with all the basic plaudits that you would expect from that sort of event with everyone commenting how much respect they had for each other and how happy they were to be there but when you got beyond all of that stuff there were some interesting talking points.
Tom Anselmi was unwilling to get into the discussion of how many candidates they had looked at for the position but remarked that he'd started to look for someone to fill the void at the club after Aron Winter was sacked and Paul Mariner moved down stairs to take on the job of head coach, along with some of the general manager duties that were shared with Earl Cochrane last season. To fill the void they went from a long list of candidates down to a short one but Anselmi did concede that when they found out that Payne was available he basically went right to the front of that list. He was not willing to address who else might have been on the list at any point or if they even interviewed anyone else leaving some questions about just how thorough the search had been.
The search process aside there was also some talk about why it took the club until the start of year seven to finally bring in a president. Anselmi offered a few feeble excuses and once again dismissed the early years as being part of a learning experience and then saying that they tried the European approach which failed because it came with such a steep learning curve so now they finally are going with a more traditional MLS approach.
That approach will see Payne coming in and overseeing all elements of the club's day-to-day operations. Payne confirmed that he plans to keep an office at BMO Field where the business side under the leadership of Paul Beirne is located as well as one at the KIA training ground where the team is based outside of game days. That will allow him to oversee both sides of the club and though he will have access to the resources of MLSE down the road and he will report to Tom Anselmi he should be given the freedom to run the club as an autonomous element of MLSE.
That was one of the key things that came from Tom Anselmi's remarks during the presser. When asked to compare the power that Payne will have with the power given to Brian Burke (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Bryan Colangelo (Toronto Raptors) he said that Payne would actually have more then either of them as he will also be involved in the business side of things while the other two are just in charge of the on field (or in their cases ice and court) product.
As for Payne, he said that coming to Toronto was the only job that he would have left DC for and frequently pointed to the wealth of resources that he will have to work with at the club. Having had very limited resources at times with DC, having the wealth of MLSE, a soccer specific stadium, a fancy new training ground, and a group of fans that was formerly the envy of the league would probably be a dream come true for someone coming to Toronto. He talked about the club's struggles in the past saying that he did not want to throw them out and forget about them but rather learn from them and see where things went wrong.
When he was asked about the coaching staff and any possible changes that might be made Payne stated that he had only been in Toronto for five hours and despite knowing some of the people, would need to take time to get to know the people involved in coaching the team before making any decisions. He spoke about working with Paul Mariner, Earl Cochrane, and Thomas Rongen but he did not go as far as to say that they would all be part of his coaching staff and plans for the club once he does get settled in. It will remain to be seen if he does have the power to make major changes before the 2013 season.
Payne has come to the club looking to build something and to do that he feels that there needs to be a more unifying vision in place. The issues of the past where different and conflicting views would leak out from the club are something that he wants to bring to an end. He is fine with disagreement within the organization behind close doors but what they present to the fans should be a unified view. He intends to have an open and candid relationship with the media that should help to make the infamous "unnamed sources" a bit less of an issue in the Toronto media.
His vision for how the club should operate will also include the way that he sees the relationship with supporters groups. We already looked at the relationship that Payne had with one of DC's largest supporters groups and how he had been very open to them and willing to work with them when they needed it. It sounds like he intends to do the same for the groups in Toronto. He said he would allow them freedom when needed but also work with them when it was required. For Toronto's supporters groups it should be refreshing to hear that after years of struggling to see eye-to-eye with management.
That vision will also impact the product that the club is going to be putting on the field. Payne felt that at DC they had a philosophy in place which was to play a dominant style of soccer that involved making use of high pressure when defending. The actual strategy changed over the years he was at the club and that was what was dependent on the players in the current squad. Another part of that philosophy for building the team is that he is a huge believer in good characters in the locker room. Payne felt that the best teams that DCU were when they had a team full of players that were good examples in the room and in the community. He expects his players to be heavily involved in community and giving back but also that when they play for the club they realize that they are playing for something bigger than themselves.
Payne noted that he felt the business side of the club was already doing quite well and that was because under the leadership of Paul Beirne they had set out a vision early on and had been willing to stick with that vision since then. He added that all that side of the club needed to do even better was a winning product on the field which would help them sell the club even better. He also felt that the lack of a similar sort of vision on the playing side of the club had been a problem which he plans to address quickly.
While Payne was in DC one of the biggest things that he did was have a strong relationship with US Soccer and that was part of the reasoning behind him developing such a strong academy at the club. When asked about working with the CSA he commented that he wants to do the same thing here since developing top Canadian talent is good for both the club and the country. He said he does not have a lot of knowledge about the CSA and the OSA but plans to work with them and gain that knowledge. That was good to hear and with so many young people in Ontario playing soccer it is a talent pool that TFC would be foolish to ignore.
The press conference made it quite clear what role Payne would be taking on with the club and it even maybe it clear the role that Beirne would continue to hold but it did leave some questions on the other side of things. It seems that for now at least Paul Mariner will remain the teams head coach but will take on a diminished role in the behind the scene things as he will no longer hold the GM role. Payne stated that he will still have a role in the discussions about player personnel moves but it will now be a group decision. That group will also include Earl Cochrane whose role will now be primarily being the point man for interactions with other clubs around the league. If a team is interested in dealing with TFC it seems like Cochrane will be the one to contact and then it will be again discussed by the group and a consensus reached before any moves are made. It also sounded like Payne intends to given Rongen more of a role with the first team as the two are familiar with each other from Rongen's time coaching DCU. The one name that again went totally unmentioned when it comes to roles going forward was Bob De Klerk who seems to be doing just about nothing for the club these days. It sounds like Payne plans on working closely with all of them and challenging them on a regular basis to make sure everyone is doing the best job possible.
On less Payne related notes it was confirmed in the followup to the presser that the club will open the season at the Rogers Centre due to the early March start in 2013. Anselmi also said that season ticket renewals are on pace to match the numbers from last season thanks to the role back to season one prices. Mariner fielded a few questions about scouting and the draft but that did not reveal any new or exciting information or than the fact that he has been watching games having caught 8 matches while he was in Europe and he plans on watching college soccer the next two weekends to prepare for the draft. He added that Torsten Frings is now training twice-a-day with Werder Bremen and they will be checking up on him soon. He also said that Danny Koevermans was ahead of the expected schedule in his recovery but that part of why they re-signed Eric Hassli was because you never know if he will ever come back from that kind of injury.
There were a few other bit and bobs during the afternoon that you can find by reading over the comments in our live thread of the press conference but the general feeling of the day is one of positivity. It seems that Payne brings with him not only a wealth of experience and several MLS championships but also the kind of confidence and demeanor that you look for in a leader. It will be years before we know if today's announcement was the big turning point for this club but for now it at least seems to be a very noticeable step in the right direction which is something this club and fanbase needed badly.