When Bob de Klerk was removed from the sidelines just prior to the firing of Aron Winter is started a strange journey of no one being really sure what his role with Toronto FC actually was. That journey came to an end this morning as the club announced that they had agreed to mutually part ways with their technical manager, whatever that entailed exactly.
De Klerk came to Toronto FC along with Aron Winter as part of the club's Dutch renaissance. He came to Toronto have worked in the youth setup at Dutch powerhouse Ajax where he had the chance to learn from some of the best at spotting and developing young talent. He may have inherited some of that ability for that club as his official bio on torontofc.ca gives him credit for helping the TFC academy players to transition into the first team successfully (less so in the case of the two players who have been released by the club).
De Klerk has a nice resume for being around some talented coaches and having worked with some talented young players and when he arrived with Aron Winter many fans seemed confident that he was a good hire. Problem was that prior to taking an assistant coaching role with TFC his highest profile job was working as an assistant for Ajax's A1 youth team. That is not exactly the wealth of experience you would be looking for and did not couple well with the fact that Aron Winter was also lacking in first team experience having spent his time at Ajax working with lower level youth sides.
They brought very little first team coaching experience with them to Toronto but what they did bring was the hope of a glorious Dutch revolution and some strong connections in European soccer circles. They kicked off the 2011 season adding a number of home grown players to fill the roster and trying to bring a form of the 4-3-3 and total football to BMO Field. It never quite worked but along the way there were some signs of hope as the Dutch coaching duo did lead TFC to its best ever run in the CCL and were instrumental in the signing of Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans.
Then the 2012 MLS season came along and no matter what you think was going on behind the scenes it was clear that things were not working out on the field. TFC started the season with 9 straight league loses and it was becoming clear that Aron Winter's days at the club were numbered. De Klerk was "promoted" away from the sidelines and into that technical manager role just prior to the coaching change which may actually have allowed him to keep his job just a bit longer.
The problem was that moving him away from the sidelines and into a previously non-existent backroom role left a lot of folks scratching their heads. It would be quite hard to make the case that Jim Brennan was a better coach to serve as the assistant coach but when Winter was sacked it seemed that moving BdK off the bench was just a part of setting that up.
When it first happened many felt that the move had something to do with the fact that de Klerk was being a bit of a distraction on the sidelines and his frequent outbursts were no longer going to be tolerated. His fiery and candid personality endeared him to many fans but it could have rubbed a lot of people around the team the wrong way. If you believe that was the reason for his "promotion" then the last straw was probably his little post-match dust up with former Montreal Impact head coach Jesse Marsch.
There were also reports that his personality was causing problems behind the scenes and in training sessions. The biggest one was when he got into a heated exchange with Jeremy Hall during a training session that was being watched by several media members. Kurt Larson recounted that event and alluded to a number of other instances in his article following the re-shuffle.
Figuring out why BdK was moved away from the sidelines is probably the easy part of it all when you compare it to trying to make sense of what his actual role was after the move. It was reported that he would serve as the connection between the academy and the first team but then Thomas Rongen was brought in and that seemed to be a big part of his role as the Academy Director leaving BdK with no clear job once again.
When BdK was handing his new role at the club he provided a fairly amusing press conference where he was quite clearly unhappy and not sure why the move was being made commenting that the media should ask Aron Winter if they wanted to understand his new role.
His role of Technical Manager is one that was never clearly defined and now it seems that he was just given a title and a job to keep him out of the way until the team could get rid of him. If the move really is by mutual consent then putting him behind the scenes for the rest of the season might have saved MLSE a few dollars that firing him along with Winter would have cost them.
With de Klerk heading out the door it seems that the last remnant of the Dutch dream is now gone. The coaching staff has all been removed and many of the players who they brought in specifically to play the 4-3-3 have also been shipped out. Going the dutch route will be just another move that TFC fans will look back on in years to come as a failed attempt to try and establish something at the club but more worrying in the fact that once again no one is going to take responsibility for the fact that bringing in Winter and de Klerk was such a failure. You could choose to put the blame on Jurgen Klinnsman but that would be far to kind to the decision makers at TFC and MLSE.
In the end, I will miss Bob de Klerk if for nothing more than the fact that he was entertaining. His outbursts on the sidelines were always amusing, his quick witted replies to media questioning never failed to make me smile, and his role in some of the club's media campaigns were priceless. He may not have been the coach that we needed or even a good technical manager (can you be good at an imaginary job?) but much like Aron Winter he was the kind of man that you just wanted to hang out with and listen to their stories. It is too bad that just being a good guy is not enough to win at this game.