First up, a tip of the hat to the new constitution is definitely needed when it comes to the on the pitch stuff. After a few games now to get used to what's being asked of them, there's definitely been a big improvement out there. The defence has looked a lot more organised and composed, with the midfield proving very effective in helping shut down two high scoring teams in Montreal and New York in the last week. There's still room for improvement in the defence obviously, Jan Gunnar Solli's unmarked header wasn't a pretty moment, but that will come with reinforcements that will allow Richard Eckersley to move back to a full back role, whether that's Alessandro Nesta, some other free agent, or merely the return of Adrian Cann and/or Dicoy Williams.
As Paul Mariner said in his press conference, "...it's not beautiful flowing football, but we're a little harder to beat than we have been in the past" and as an unashamed Preki fan, well that's music to my ears. I don't really care too much about style of play, whether it's "hoofball" or something more aesthetically pleasing, I just want to see winning, and for now I'll settle for competence, and this group of players looks a lot more likely to reach that this way than they did under Aron Winter. It's been a bit more than the minor tweaks that Mariner first said were needed, but it seems like something the players are a lot more comfortable with, and defensively at least it's an improvement I feel confident can be maintained. Up front, well the 9 goals in 4 games pace surely won't continue, and I imagine there'll be games where we struggle to create chances. Injuries could also affect things as they did for Aron Winter's side, but overall we already seem a lot more competitive than under Winter, so kudos to Paul Mariner for that. Off the pitch though? Well it's been a shoddy few days for the new regime.
Not so much with the still ongoing Alessandro Nesta saga, at least not with their vague public pronouncements of interest but no formal contact, which don't sound good (you're interested, but you haven't actually talked to his agent? What are you waiting for?) but are nothing more than par for the course really. If negotiations are ongoing, any club's going to play down the details, much like any agent (which were the sources for the original story) is going to play it up. It's just how these things go, and I'm still 50/50 on whether I think he will actually end up in Toronto for that reason.
Were TFC being used by agents to leverage a better offer out of Montreal (who have actually confirmed making an offer)? Is that story just a plant to leverage more out of Toronto? Are they both just being used to force a better deal out elsewhere? Were Montreal seriously not interested until TFC brought him to Stade Saputo then showed Joey Saputo how he could use a player like that by beating the Impact 3-0, as this report suggests? Who knows really, but I certainly wouldn't criticise TFC's front office for not giving the media a thorough play by play of how the negotiations are going.
What does seem alarming though is a further report from Canadian Soccer News (man these guys are interesting these days) that suggests the potential signing is being held up by another front office conflict, this time Bob de Klerk pushing for Nesta, and either Mariner or Earl Cochrane holding the whole thing up. The main head may have been cut off and the other heads shuffled about a bit, but it seems as if TFC's multi headed managerial setup is still working just as dysfunctionally as it ever did, different people pulling in different directions and everyone ending up nowhere.
The other disconcerting part of it all is the Joao Plata saga. He tweeted that he was being let go, and seemed to confirm the same to reporters. Earl Cochrane popped up to say we're looking at some loan options but there's nothing settled. Again not unexpected really for the club to deny things until 100% nailed down, and it's all a bit confusing more than anything.
That is until Paul Mariner decided to get really pissy when pressed about it in his post game press conference. he could have basically repeated what Cochrane had said and then give Plata a private reminder about not announcing things before the club does, and we'd all move on. Instead we got Mariner sarcastically pretending he knew nothing about anything and very publicly and aggresively calling out Plata for mentioning anything, an outburst that really doesn't bode well.
For better or worse, ego management is a big part of any coaches job these days, and as much as I liked what Preki had started to do on the pitch, it was his personality that got him fired before he really got the chance to show if he could add an effective offence to his excellent defence. We're clearly a long way from that, and I can't see it ever reaching that point, o far there's been plenty of talk of how the players are happier under Mariner, clearer on their roles and showing a renewed willingness to play, all that good stuff that regularly follows a coaching change.
Hopefully this is just a one-off, though he has previously displayed a bit of a 'my way or the highway' streak which could potentially make things interesting. Though things do appear to be changing for the better on the pitch, add in the Club Escobar shenaningans and it seems like that one constant with TFC is very much still here. Welcome back drama, welcome back.