So, by now of course it's old news that Tom Anselmi "resigned" from his post as COO of MLSE on Friday. I toyed with the idea of writing something about it then, but there's been a lot going on recently and it's not like he's been involved with the team recently, so I left it at a paragraph or two within my preview of the Portland game.
Then a couple of things got me more motivated to do something and so now here I am writing a full article on him. First up was Cathal Kelly's reaction on twitter, practically lionising Anselmi as a great guy and apparently completely unable to understand why anyone would take any glee from this beheading, going as far as suggesting the 'animus' and 'hysteria' on display might dissaude prospective GM's from coming to Toronto, and that supporters deserve the team they've had to put up with.
Then I read this article in the Star, about Anselmi's retirement, and it included this quote from former MLSE boss Richard Peddie, talking about appointing Anselmi to his role at the helm of TFC:-
"I thought it would be a nice little job for him to learn some stuff by,"
And that right there, the condescension and lack of importance given to that decision, perfectly sums up what was wrong with MLSE's approach to TFC, how the club has been run. Forget All For One, THAT should be the official club motto.
If the culture of a club can be said to come from the top, then that attitude is what doomed us, as Anselmi really ran with it. How many people were given jobs for which they weren't qualified or had no experience or track record of success. Mo Johnston had a very small amount of unsuccessful experience, John Carver, Chris Cummins, Nick Dasovic, Aron Winter, Jim Brennan again and again, Earl Cochrane, Danny Dichio, though at least he started at an appropriately low profile level. Even this year, though Kevin Payne does have all the experience MLS could offer, it just kept going, Ryan Nelsen, Fran O'Leary, Duncan Oughton, Pat Onstad, if I actually thought Danny Califf's scouting role was in any way serious, I'd include him in that as well. Anselmi even boasted of this tactic, talking back in 2010 shortly after Mo Johnston and Preki were fired about how they were investing in Jimmy, Nick and Earl, "creating a team of people that can grow together and build on the expertise that exists." All along it hasn't been about getting the best person for the job, it's been about finding nice little jobs for people we like to learn stuff by.
Having said all that, as far as the footballing side of the operation goes, I'm more than ready to believe that Anselmi did really want to win and was doing the best he could, merely a good man in over his head, so it might be a bit unfair to revel too much in his departure if that were his only failure.
But of course it wasn't. Off the pitch, well it actually went well at first. The tickets were cheap, and there was refreshingly little of the usual razzmatazz. That allowed supporters to create a great atmosphere, there was legitimate buzz and a genuine waiting list.
That's when it all went wrong, and that's why Anselmi (as MLSE's representative) deserves all the scorn and glee he got. I've always thought the decision to start TFC was never about wanting a soccer team, instead about wanting control of the stadium and potential competition for entertainment dollars, concerts and such like, and having the team was just the price to be paid for that. But sometime in that first season, rather than TFC being an afterthought, a 'nice little job' for someone to learn the trade, it's as if they all of a sudden realised, 'ooh, there's actually some serious money to be earned from this whole soccer thing', and they aggressively switched to exploiting that fanbase with all the tricks they'd learnt with the Leafs.
Season ticket prices were hiked amid musings that they'd erred by pricing them too cheaply to start with. Marlies packs were the price to be paid to get tickets to a few games and get further up the waiting list. When a genuinely big club in Real Madrid came to Toronto for a mid season friendly, as well as moving an actual league game to accomodate that, tickets were astronomically priced.
This wasn't bumbling incompetence, the bad luck of a great guy in over his head. This was all very deliberate, and fair enough, it's capitalism and he's got a responsibility to the shareholders, but let's not pretend he had supporters concerns at heart here, he and MLSE didn't care about that at all. Any goodwill was rapidly depleted, a remarkable achievement really.
The problem is, they couldn't even do this well, the business stuff they're supposedly experts in, the one area where we did have experienced people, no on the job learning required. They pushed way too hard. TFC had nowhere near enough history or success for supporters to merely grumble and keep paying like Leafs fans understandably do. It all came to a head in 2010. Another failed season combined with another price increase led to open fan revolt, and the advent of the now annual Town Halls, where it showed just how out of touch they were.
Unapologetic with regards to pricing, apparently they still believed in their waiting list and dismissed complaints with 'supply and demand' and saying that comparisons to other teams in MLS were 'apples and oranges'. Paul Beirne actually tried to argue that people liked Marlies packs. It was the kind of tone deaf arrogance and 'we know best' attitude that reared it's head again recently with 'Get used to it'.
Through that town hall process they seemed to finally realise the problem, but it wasn't until the intervention of Don Garber after the 'cratering' (Garber's word) of sales that they made serious concessions. The damage was done though and the excitement and buzz was gone, eventually leading to a return to 2007 pricing for the 2013 season. Sadly though, that was accompanied by an increase in all the typical North American promo shenanigans in an attempt to bring crowds back, fireworks, promos and every night a heritage night of some kind, completely going with what they know, rather than what worked for TFC in the first place, as if they hadn't actually learned any of the stuff they were given the job for.
Incompetent football wise, deliberately and uncaringly aggressive as well as incompetent when it comes to the business side. TFC is what it is right now, a laughing stock on the pitch and a sad shadow of what it used to be off it, because of MLSE, because of Tom Anselmi.
I'm not saying Kelly's wrong, I'm sure he was a great guy to those he worked with and alongside, those he interacted with regularly and needed on side, you don't get to be that high up in a famously country club-esque organisation without people skills, so I don't doubt that that's Kelly's genuine impression of him. But if your only experience of Anselmi and dealings with him were as a supporter, if you saw him oversee the absolute shambles the club has become, had him squeeze you for as much cash as he thought he could get away with, all the while appearing completely oblivious and indifferent to your concerns then yeah, there's some glee to be had at the beheading.
Even if all of the above is more about MLSE as a whole than simply Anselmi, he still deserves it, not only in the way any President has to take the credit and the blame for the company as a whole, but as the perfect embodiment of just how they've messed it up all along. A 'great guy' in over his head, learning on the job, failing miserably.
You've got to think at some point TFC, or even the Raptors or Leafs will have some success. It's going to be that much more enjoyable knowing Anselmi won't be around to take any of the credit. Good riddance.