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The difference a year makes

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Well, it's been a couple of very quiet weeks now as far as Toronto FC news is concerned, before the January transfer window opens and the SuperDraft finally happens. This time last year it was a very similar situation, as the search for new management slowly went past the 100 day mark with Interim GM Earl Cochrane still 'in charge'. Then it all inevitably blew up. It was December 28th 2010 when the whole De Ro to Celtic thing came out, a fresh new low of embarrassment, and what was hopefully, surely, the nadir before the long slow climb back to some kind of respectability.

Obviously it was very shortly after that Aron Winter and Paul Mariner came along, and after some dodgy seeming moments, and plenty more grumbling ex players, that winning mentality they talked about finally seems to be taking shape and the lack of news right now seems refreshingly professional.

After the jump, you can read what I wrote last year (tweeted by MLS Rumors as the best summing up of the situation he saw! gasp!) and as for 2011, for another few days at least, enjoy the silence.

Well, I guess I can't complain any more that nothing's happening at TFC. The last few days have seen the unthinkable happen and the club sink to new lows of confusion, half-truths and embarrassment.

It started with harmless enough rumours of captain and star player Dwayne de Rosario going to Celtic on trial, with a view to a loan until the MLS season started, or until the end of the Scottish season, with De Ro joining TFC again mid season. This was firmly denied by Interim Gm Earl Cochrane, seemingly putting the story to bed, until the next day when photos of De Ro training with Celtic surfaced, leading to a long day of accusations and carefully worded clarifications as to who knew what and whether De Ro actually had the necessary approval and paperwork to be going on trial, before it became clear that no, he never did have that paperwork which is now being worked on. And oh yeah, De Ro certainly did his bit for tourism in Scarborough.

So what exactly was De Ro thinking? Theoretical approval of him being able to go on trial is one thing, and something he apparently did have, but this sort of thing requires official paperwork, and surely that's a very tangible thing that you either have or you don't. It may be that he thought his agent had sorted that out, and he's as embarrassed as anyone, though we don't know as he hasn't spoken publicly about it all yet, but surely he must have known. If so, it can only be seen as a very aggressive move to put some pressure on TFC to resolve his contract situation, pay him or trade him if you will, and I can't help but think that a trade would be his preferred choice.

I personally believe that when he did the cheque signing goal celebration back in September that he thought TFC supporters would be on his side and would pressure management to give him what he wanted, which was to stay with the Reds but with a higher salary. He was initially very vocal and unrepentant, only apologising a few day later after public opinion had criticised the move as selfish and poorly timed. Surely he must know how this sudden appearance with Celtic, without TFC's explicit permission would look to supporters. He must know that they wouldn't react with approval and that rather than bolster his case, their disdain would actually make it easier for management to deny him a raise. If not, a quick glance at the supporter forums over the last couple of day would have confirmed that.

No, to me this seems like a trade request, burning his bridges by going so publicly behind the clubs back. Hopefully for him, the trial with Celtic will go well and a deal with TFC can be arranged. If not, well then things could get very interesting, I really can't see a way he'd be happy to come back to Toronto without getting the pay raise to Designated Player status that he feels he deserves and that TFC seems reluctant to give him. Even if he does come back, I can't see any way at all that he can keep the captaincy, after embarrassing management and having his representatives come out and accuse the club of lying.

It's a remarkable achievement to be able to take all the goodwill and support that TFC fans had given him when he arrived less than two years ago, excited to have one of the best Canadian players on their team, add over 30 goals in two seasons, and still turn it into a situation where most people feel it's for the best that he should move on. Who knows how his repeated complaints about his salary have affected his standing in the dressing room, but this really brings to mind Nick Garcia's recent comments about a lack of leadership being one of the problems that has held TFC back.

As for how TFC come out of this, well that's not good either. Though it can be argued that they are the hapless victims in this situation, and that it was De Ro who caused the whole mess, that would be overlooking the very large part they've played in how things reached this point. The possibility of De Ro training with Celtic was brought to their attention about a month ago and appparently they just did nothing with that. The other option is that TFC did give their permission and are now lying about it, or MLS gave permission on their behalf, wouldn't Celtic check into that sort of thing before letting any player join them in training?

Anyway, a fully stafffed and competent front office could have done a couple of things, either just flat out denied permission to avoid potential for injury to their star player, or, recognising this as a good move that could help De Ro be a better player, and provide good publicity for the team and for the league, as well as help mend the strained relationship with De Ro, they could have actively helped the process, making sure the paperwork was completed and ready to go. If they really don't want to give De Ro his raise, this could have been seen to be a good opportunity to shop him around and get a transfer fee or player in return and move on.

But instead they gave their approval and left it at that, which sadly, is in no way out of character for them. Since before he even signed his initial contract with TFC, De Ro's been unhappy and felt he should have got more. After the September cheque signing incident, Tom Anselmi publicly said that De Ro's contract would be one of the things looked at by the new permanent manager, and this is where TFC's culpability really comes in to play.

Now it's been suggested that it's fine for TFC to have waited this long (over 100 days now since Mo Johnston was fired), that finding the right man was most important, and that there's nothing that couldn't be handled by the interim team in the meantime. Maybe that's right, after all, the release of last year's dead wood was a straight forward process with few causes for argument, and the re-entry draft really didn't offer that much for rebuilding purposes.

But this one pre-existing issue has always loomed large over proceedings. Would TFC keep De Ro happy by giving him the pay raise to DP status, but thus reduce their options for bringing in other players, or would they deny him that, and instead actively seek out trade opportunities? Well for now they won't do either of those, as even when trying to talk himself up Earl Cochrane admits that he "doesn't think making those decisions in a vacuum is the best thing to do."

So for over 3 months now since his very public pushing of his agenda, De Ro has been left twisting in the wind, with no answer as to his future with TFC, so though you may not like the way he's done things, can anyone blame him for wanting to explore opportunites elsewhere?

It's sad that it has come to this, it could and should have worked so well, a bona fide MLS star coming to play for his hometown team should be win-win. De Ro could have been adored by the fans, cashed in on the endorsements, and retired with the team before moving into his post football career with a mountain of local goodwill behind him. Toronto could have built around De Ro, and become a stable successful club, establishing themselves as Canada's team, before Vancouver and Montreal got a chance to take that mantle. Instead it ends with this latest shambolic episode in MLSE's "how not to run a successful football club" handbook.

If it's sad, it's also unsurprising, even when at a successful and well run club at San Jose/Houston De Ro still caused his share of dramas with public complaints about his pay. Her obviously has an ego and pride to match his unquestioned talent and goalscoring ability, and doesn't seem the type to tolerate what he sees as disrespect. TFC, well, whether intentionally or not, and I genuinely believe most of the time it's not intentional, disrespecting people seems to be what they do best, causing frustration to even the most professional of players. The list of players and coaches who have left the club under a cloud, some publicly complaining, others not, is a long one. Those tendencies, thrown together with De Ro's character into the power vacuum that currently exists was in retrospect always a recipe for disaster.