Mariner key to TFC redesign

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:57 PM ET

Paul Mariner isn’t Dutch.  He’s not Canadian either, which makes him the odd man-in at Toronto FC.

Mariner, having actual Major League Soccer coaching experience, is an all-important piece to Toronto FC’s redesign. His new title may read Director of Player Development, but he is much more than that. A conduit, an overseer, or even a facilitator — all can be added to his job description. 

When Toronto FC announced its new management team in January, it came as a surprise that Mariner wasn’t named as head coach.  The 57-year old had been linked to Toronto FC for years and being named head coach seemed inevitable after he resigned from his position on English League One side Plymouth Argyle’s coaching staff in late December. 

Having requisite experience in MLS under Steve Nichol with the New England Revolution (2004-09), Mariner made sense. But Aron Winter was named head coach and technical director instead, and Mariner filled the role as active leader of the front office. The decision to join Toronto FC was a no-brainer.

“The move back (to North America) has been everything and more than I expected,” said Mariner.  “My former club (Plymouth) going into administration was a difficult situation for everyone back there, but when I got the opportunity to come to Toronto, there wasn’t a decision to make.  It was made for me.”

Mariner has always looked fondly on Toronto since the club joined MLS in 2007.  And really, Mariner should have joined the club a lot earlier than now.  He knows, and loves, the game and has a passion for the sport in its rawest form.  While in New England, Mariner admits he was envious of the TFC fan-base, the atmosphere at BMO Field and the city of Toronto, itself.

“When we came to Toronto the first time from New England and Steve Ralston was covered in toilet-paper and all that, I thought that was one of the best things I’ve seen in football and it’s stayed with me.”

The three-time MLS Cup runner-up with New England has his work cut out for him, turning what he describes as a “failed team” into a winner.  Even with the youth movement on the current roster, it’s surprising to see Mariner has helped bring only one player to the club with any MLS experience — striker Alan Gordon. 

Mariner, meanwhile, preaches the need for balance. But, with all things at Toronto FC, it’s a work in progress and he remains focused on domestic and overseas scouting.

“We got offered a player from Scotland the other day, and I immediately rang Terry Butcher, who’s my long-time mate, and he gave me an instant assessment. It helps having someone you respect and trust – so (the staff) is working on putting all that stuff together,” said Mariner. 

“It’s a grand job, and it’s a great job , so when Aron Winter says to me that we need a right back, central midfield player or a striker, the goal is for me to be able to dial up 10 players that we can get for this, this, or this.”

Mariner applauds the “remarkable” job done by Toronto FC Academy director Stuart Neely and former Academy head coach Jason Bent for the work they’ve done setting the club up for the future. With more resources and a $17.5 million commitment for a new training facility and Academy home in the works, Mariner believes Toronto FC is just hitting its stride. 

 “With all the diversity in Ontario, it’s foolish of us to not look on our doorstep for players.” he said.

The shift from mass player acquisition to development is in line with Juergen Klinsmann’s recommendation, and now Winter carrying out the exercise.  Mariner is no stranger to the KNVB (Dutch) technical approach, having taught the methods himself at his soccer school in Arizona.  Despite carving his teeth as a standout player during the era of the long ball in England, Mariner believes in the system and Toronto FC’s transformation.

“We want to try to make it attractive, but we also know we want to get results, so there is a balance to be struck. And I’ve heard the coaches say: ‘If it’s not right to play, it’s got to go.’ ”

Results are paramount in Toronto. And how much success the new directive will bring is to be determined. Toronto FC has never been a winner; the culture is foreign. Mariner says that’s about to change.

“Aron Winter, Bob de Klerk, Paul Mariner, Tom Anselmi, Paul Beirne — all these people that work within the football club — are massive Toronto fans and they’re winners.  We’ve never been a part of an organization and not been successful.”

Fingers crossed.  Game 1 has arrived.

gareth.wheeler@sunmedia.ca

 

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