It is undoubtedly part of the ‘man of the people’ image Bill Manning has worked to cultivate that he speaks his mind and is happy to be provocative in sticking up for the interests of his club. That was the case in the controversial interview he gave to the Toronto Sun last week regarding Toronto FC’s place in the new Canadian Premier League, and he did not back down from those comments after hosting his annual president’s breakfast at Maple Leaf Square on Friday morning.
Speaking to the media after the event, Manning was unperturbed by the reaction to the interview and reiterated his belief that competition between two professional soccer clubs in Toronto would not be a good thing. He went on to insist TFC could offer the CPL “exactly what they want” and revealed he would be “fine” with renaming TFC II if they were granted a spot in the league.
Perhaps most tellingly, he admitted that his stance may have seemed “strong” because of the fact that he remains “in the dark” about many aspects of a league that has still offered very little in the way of formal announcements.
“It’s funny, I talked to some of my friends with the Red Bulls and my friends with the LA Galaxy, and they’re saying, like, in their market their fans hate the other team,” he said. “They also were the beneficiary of getting expansion rights fees.
“This, because it’s different leagues, we want to have collaboration, we don’t want to be competitive, and that’s what we’re trying to find out too because a lot of it we’re in the dark as well in terms of what type of league it is going to be.
“You hear that they want to be top of the food chain with MLS and then you hear that they want to be developmental - if that’s the case, we have that product for them called TFC II. I’m fine with not calling it TFC II, but that’s why some of those comments came off as strong because we’re still in the dark as much as a lot of people.”
The competition factor ties in with the plans TFC have to restructure their academy. Over the next few years, the club will be phasing out its teams below the Under-14 level and instead working with the Ontario Soccer Association to monitor and develop a much larger pool of talent across the region’s youth clubs, with the best players then coming into the MLS academy for their teenage years.
When it comes to young talent, fans and a whole host of other issues, TFC do not want another professional club crashing the party.
“We’re supportive of starting a new soccer league,” Manning claimed. “We’re supportive of developing Canadian players - it’s good for TFC, it’s good for the Canadian national team.
“What we feel very strongly about is we have TFC II. We are in the business of developing Canadian soccer players, and we feel in this marketplace we can offer what you need for that league as well in terms of developing Canadian players, if that is the MO for the league, is to develop a better base of Canadian players.
“If you own a pizza shop on the corner and another pizza shop opens up three stores down, you might not be that happy about it. They say ‘oh, their pizza’s not going to be any good’ but maybe it’s cheaper, there’s still going to be some people who go to it. We feel that we can offer in this market, Toronto, exactly what they want, which is a development team for the development of Canadian players, which we’d put even more of an emphasis on in a CPL.
“So it’s not that we’re anti[-CPL] - that’s not the case at all. We want to work together but we feel very strongly and that’s why I did make some strong comments that in this marketplace we are the best option. I believe if the CPL puts a team in Toronto that tries to compete with TFC, I don’t think that’s a good situation because now we’re competing for players, we’re competing for fans and all these different things. I just don’t think it’s a good option.”