By now you may have heard that Joao Plata is back playing with his former club LDU Quito. By now, you may have seen the pictures of Plata being introduced at an official LDU Quito team press conference in Ecuador, or even pictures of him training with the club. By now, you most certainly have read direct tweets from Plata thanking the fans of Toronto for their support and how he hopes to be back one day. As George Bush might say, it doesn't take a Rocket Surgeon to figure out that Joao Plata is no longer with the team.
If all of this is news to you please adjust your homepage to any URL other than Toronto FC's official website.
Plata, a player that seemed to figure prominently in their future was the subject of a successful offseason negotiation for his rights from the same LDU Quito club that TFC apparently loaned him back to. Many fans and supporters are doing a bit of a double take. Why loan the player back to the team you paid a hefty chunk of allocation money to (reportedly $500,000 an amount equivalent to 20% of the salary cap) just three months into your season? If we are complaining about a stretch of many games in a short time frame, wouldn't the young legs of Plata be welcomed? We are left wondering and searching for the answer as to why a loan, at this point in time, makes any sense at all.
Did the player sour on Toronto? Seems plausible. In fact, when Plata stated to FutbolMLS.com that he felt that he didn't factor into new coach Paul Mariner's plans, one could theorize that he felt his opportunities to develop would be hampered. A 19 year old, on his own in North America with the goal of becoming a better player may get the feeling that the departure of Aron Winter would hurt his career. Deciding to pursue other opportunities would be an understandable conclusion. Plata was a regular starter for Winter but not with Mariner's Reds. A level headed person could grasp that.
Not so says Earl Cochrane, TFC's Director of Team and Player Operations. "I don't think he's forcing our hand or he has gone rogue or any of that sort of thing," he remarked to the Canadian Press.
Ok. I guess. Perhaps Earl just wants to give fans the appearance that they were on top of it all along. That it was their call. If fans learned that Plata wasn't interested in playing the 4-4-2 traditional style that Mariner endorses that could spell trouble considering this is a developmental league after all. Any young player with ambition will be looking to make it to a higher level of football, if that desire can help the team win, as well as hopefully bring a transfer fee in later, well that's win, win. If players don't feel they can develop here, that is a bit of a public relations issue, so Cochrane's statement is understandable.
However, he then said something which leaves me scratching my head.
"This isn't a sudden thing," he said. "We've been having exploratory discussions regarding this and a potential loan for several months. I don't want anyone to think that this has been a sudden thing or that our hand has been forced in any way by any club. This has been something we've been talking about for a while.''
Let's pause for a second. Several months? That implies at least more than 1 month, if not more than a couple does it not? That in itself is strange because Plata just signed a contract "several months" ago. And who exactly is this "we" that is referred to?
Given that Winter was fired just 1 month ago it would seem that this shopping began while Winter was still in charge. Did he approve of this? We're being asked to believe that Winter signed him, soured on him and then wanted to loan him back to the team he signed him from. It seems unlikely given how much Plata was used in his system (1753 minutes in 2011 and selected seven times to the starting eleven during Winter's 10 game 2012 reign) and the effort taken to resign him.
And that brings me to the most troubling aspect of all of this. If Cochrane is to be believed, did Winter know that those that were hired (and kept) to work alongside him were working behind the scenes to ship out a player that he identified as a multi-year piece of TFC's rebuilding puzzle? A player that would provide depth for both MLS and CCL matches? A player he wanted to implement his vision? After all he still had the job, didn't he?
Unfortunately, unless Winter gives a Chris Cummins-esque exit interview and gives his perspective we may never know. However, the picture that is being painted is one of a mis-aligned management team without a clear sense of direction. In an interview after he left, Cummins talked about backstabbing, interference and mismanagement. If Cochrane's statements are factual, did we just witness yet another example of it?
Though much remains to be sorted, we can be reasonably assured that somewhere Dwayne DeRosario and officials at Celtic FC are chuckling at this latest mess that Earl Cochrane seems to have created around himself.