Former Toronto FC coach, Paul Mariner has been a regular panel member on ESPN’s Press Pass in recent months.
He dropped a little bit of inside knowledge, revealing the depths of his scouting – or the first stage, at least - in this humourous exposé (the discussion starts at 12 minutes).
He took some gentle ribbing in following shows, all good natured, from his fellow panelists.
Rather than pile on with jokes – any time any one mentions Wikipedia as the font of wisdom hilarity ensues, had he simply stated, "looking at the raw data" the point, that Jesus Navas does not score a lot, would have been perfectly sound – about the depth of his scouting homework, it seems prudent to discuss what has become a recurring problem at TFC – unnecessary over-speaking.
From Mariner’s "Best Finisher in the Modern Era" comments on Andrew Wiedeman to Kevin Payne’s description of Tal Ben Haim as "One of the Best Defenders in EPL History" there has been an undercurrent of hyperinflation in the language chosen by those in the TFC front offices.
In truth, it is a disease that stretches back to the formations of the club.
Mo Johnston was fond of spinning a yarn or two, John Carver was prone to fits of bombast – especially when officiating was involved – while the rest of the cast, Tom Anselmi – remember how brilliant the move to consult with Jurgen Klinnsman’s football intelligence firm was supposed to be – et al., have put a foot or two into mouths prone to opening slightly too wide.
The media and public alike love a good sound bite, hell that term was coined to describe such must-hear segments of speech and has become a standard part of the modern lexicon of information dissemination.
Even the players have gotten into the act, with Danny Koevermans’ "Worst Team in the World" and Dwayne De Rosario, taking it to inaudible levels, choosing to mime out his feelings with the infamous check-signing celebration, rather than commit them to words.
"The One-in-Six player", "’Tis a Pity", the "Five-Year Plan" these are all segments of speech that will live long in infamy as such bites of TFC history.
And of course, the increasingly standard, "Best Fans in MLS". It may once have been true, if only briefly, but such platitudes are transparent at best and border on patronizing with a half-empty stadium on display.
The question at hand is why. Why do they feel the need to make such grand statements to the assembled media? Do they take the baying crowd for simpletons? Assuaged by such ludicrously disproportionate appeasements?
Under-promise and over-deliver is a fine mindset to live by and one the talking heads at TFC would perhaps be wise to adopt.
The Toronto media market can be vicious – follow the Maple Leafs for a season, if one doubts the veracity of that claim - the slightest hint of a story will send reporters into raptures.
Several newspapers, both national and regional, countless other major media outlets, print, radio, and television – two heavy-weight combatants there – as well as a growing number of soccer-specific media and a small army of independent reporters means that this club gets a little more coverage than many of the other MLS clubs, who have to struggle for recognition in their markets.
People say stupid things all the time, but the fewer the number of ears that hear them the less likely they are to cause confusion and outrage.
In smaller circles, speech can be more personal, more direct, where generalized outbursts are clarified with less-grandiose follow up talk; subtleties are often lost in a crowd.
Is Wiedeman the greatest finisher of the modern era? No, what Mariner meant was that the boy can finish, if given the chance – Chris Wondolowski, who languished in the reserves for years before taking his opportunity, was similarly thought of as a natural finisher.
Was Ben Haim one of the greatest defenders in EPL history? No, but bringing in a player with his experience, experience of playing against some of the best players in the world, organizing a defense and dealing with pressure, can only help a team who falters in the face of success.
Was TFC the worst team in the World? Possibly, yes.
The fault of such large statements lies in part with the media, who are happy to pounce on those sound bites, a headline writer’s dream, rather than get behind to the meaning of the words. And of course there is Twitter, the domain of gleeful scorn, where anything that’s fit for 140 characters is fair game for hashtaggery.
Though the largest dollop of humble pie remains to the individual managers, who perhaps, given the newness of the situation – Johnston wasn’t a bench guy, Carver was a career number two, Cummings, Dasovic, Winter and Mariner pretty much first timers at directing the discussion as head coaches – were a little too eager to make promises that had next to no basis in reality.
Or perhaps that is what MLSE wants.
It is worth recalling the two managers least prone to incendiary statements, Preki and Dasovic. The first, who was arguably in charge through the most successful tenure, was dispatched when Johnston was jettisonned and it was deemed a new direction was needed, and the second, was never really given a chance despite cobbling together some decent results in the few remaining matches with a broken team.
Preki, a former MLS Coach of the Year, possessed a gruff style that never sat well, seldom feeling the need to self-aggrandize, traits that made him few friends to be counted on when the chips were down, and Dasovic was never high-profile enough for the suits in their ivory tower with delusions of grandeur – and little knowledge of what it takes to win in MLS.
Professional sports is full of big, devil may care, I’ll-make-my-statements-and-you’ll-like-it types. With the divide between sports and entertainment shrinking with every season, it could well be the way of the future.
Irresponsible bravado can get one far in the world, in management and sports writing alike. Remember, nobody likes the timid wrestler who measures his words and is not prone to ripping his shirt to pieces in fits of anger.
Which brings around the final point of this discussion, why are these great personalities, good football minds to a man, constantly ridiculed and hounded out of town in Toronto?
Paul Mariner represented England, scored in the World Cup, played Scotland at Hampden Park in the Home Championships, won the UEFA Cup with Ipswich Town under Sir Bobby Robson, played for the mighty Arsenal, all in the 1980s, dark days of English Football, and was in North America as the game grew to where it is today.
Aron Winter came through the Ajax system before moving on to Italy with Lazio and Internazionale in the hay-day of Serie A and Italian Football, he spent thirteen years in the hallowed kit of the Oranje, playing for the Netherlands alongside some giants of the modern game and winning the European Championship in 1988.
Chris Cummings – helped discovery Ashley Young while at Watford; John Carver – worked closely with Sir Bobby Robson as his assistant at Newcastle; Nick Dasovic was a Canadian International who travelled to Zagreb in Croatia to kick start his career before returning home to play in the CSL – the good one – and then spent a healthy spell in Scotland; Preki, no stranger to strong words himself – though to be fair, more surely than bombastic, flourished in the lean indoor soccer years in North America then began the Premier League era with Everton and represented the United States as they transformed from backwater CONCACAF-ers to representatives at the World’s stage, while seeing through the opening decade of MLS..
And Mo Johnston, well, his is one of the most dramatic and controversial stories the game has on offer.
The current manager, Ryan Nelsen, has a rather epic tale of his own, having left his native New Zealand to study in the States before turning pro in a then-struggling MLS and going on to a very successful career in England and with his national team, taking them to their second-ever World Cup Finals – and exiting unbeaten to boot.
Surely there were a multitude of fascinating stories to be shared and conveyed to the public from such a varied group of talents.
Some could argue those stories have already been told, or that they have little relevance to TFC’s current plights, but it could equally be said that a bit more perspective would do the impatient crowds some good.
Would one rather repeatedly discuss another late-game collapse, looking for answers that, if they were available, would surely be implemented on the field and not be held in reserve for a good conversation with the media, or be distracted by a bit of glorious history?
Yes, it would be changing the topic, as such, perhaps the onus is on the club, rather than the external media to tell these tales, but as the lines blur between PR and media, there exists room on both sides for a bit of variety.
It is possible that by sharing their past experiences, delving into that which they know to explain current circumstances and speaking a bit more plainly about the realities of the job ahead, and admitting truths about how tough things are, they will find a more sympathetic audience than they imagine.
This spouting off about luck, referees and bests, the hurling of platitudes and hailing each step as the final piece of the puzzle does the intelligence – and passion – of the fans and media a disservice.
With honesty comes understanding; with humility comes patience. With patience and understanding comes progress and unity – jeez, talk about grandiose and flowery language, eh?
Winning does not come easily. For every champion there lie leagues littered with the hopes of the defeated.
If this club ever manages to come together, casting aside this individualistic "I’m-not-the-problem" sort of rhetoric, with a common purpose and common goal, be forewarned MLS.
They’re coming for you, Wikipedia-sourced numbers in hand.