It is easy to automatically assume an aggressive, all questioning cynical point of view when discussing Toronto FC.
I don’t need to go into the reasons for this. If you are taking the time to read this column then you are well aware of the dark clouds that has hovered over this club since it joined Major League Soccer in 2007. One thing is for certain though: TFC continues to provide sumptuous fodder for media and fans alike to chew on.
Take this week for example.
There had been rumblings for some time that TFC was looking to sign Diego Forlan, he of 2010 World Cup fame, not to mention a rather tasty career both in South America and Europe. The rumours escalated when the Globe and Mail reported this week that a deal was imminent.
At time of writing this blog no deal has been announced, and in fact Forlan has publicly denied a move to Toronto is in the cards. That being said, would I be surprised if Forlan is flashing his pearly whites and wearing a TFC shirt by season’s end? Of course not. Indeed, the mere fact Forlan has gone all Bill Clinton on us with his denial just lends more steel to these rumours.
However, whether he signs or not, the story leads to a variety of important questions that need to be asked of Toronto FC.
What happened to club president Kevin Payne’s philosophy?
Payne’s early days on the job consisted of his message getting hammered home to all who would listen: this is not a quick fix. However, the team’s subsequent plan of building a strong foundation, based on development and a keen eye for available young talent in South America, would get the franchise back on course.
Signing a name player, albeit an aging one, was simply not something this club was ready for at the start of the season. It might work as the final piece to the puzzle, but certainly not for a team that was in many ways starting from scratch. The team has made progress, so a move to sign Forlan makes more sense now.
Has the change in leadership at MLSE forced Payne to scrap his vision?
It appears so. For years, fans and media pundits alike have been whining that what was needed in Toronto was a football man with total autonomy, a dedicated club president. We got one, and Kevin Payne checked off most boxes.
Of course, then in came Tim Leiweke as MLSE head honcho. The man behind the Beckham Experiment in Los Angeles certainly has his own ideas, and it does seem to contradict Payne’s initial vision upon his arrival at TFC. Star power sells. If ownership has the resources, then why not bring in a “big name?”
Is Diego Forlan really a “big name?”
Believe me, you won’t find a bigger fan of Diego Forlan than yours truly. I used to cover plenty of Argentine soccer at the Score in the late 90s when Forlan rose to prominence. I always felt the criticism he received at Manchester United was off the mark, and he has certainly backed that up ever since.
However, as much as hardcore fans are aware of his feats in Spain and with Uruguay, is he a really “big name” that the mainstream sports fan will have heard of? I doubt it, but surely part of the allure of a Designated Player is to win over the hearts of new fans?
Would Diego Forlan be a success in MLS?
Absolutely. From purely a footballing point of view, Forlan would automatically become one of the top four or five players in MLS, and of course he would improve TFC’s anaemic attack. It would be a wonderful signing. However, can one man bring overall success to a team? No, he can’t. A short window with an aging Forlan would need to be maximized, with more new arrivals brought in to support him and the current core of players finding their collective stride as team.
You mean like Torsten Frings?
Yes, exactly. Frings, when he was healthy, was a class apart. But as we saw, he still played on a dreadful and unsuccessful team. Oh, and for the record, Diego Forlan is twice the player Frings was when he arrived in Toronto. That is no slight on the German who was quite brilliant in his heyday, and did make TFC worth watching in patches.
Listen, it is so easy to hammer Toronto FC on any number of issues, and the easy route here is to question Payne’s power and influence since Leiweke arrived. It’s easy to ask ourselves if this is just another example of a plan being torn up and the club drunkenly staggering from short term fix to short term fix?
To be honest I don’t know the answer. However, what I do know is that, as the Montreal Impact have demonstrated, if you go this route and get it right, then it can work. Forlan, if he arrives, would be the correct route, assuming TFC get the rest of it right, which is yet to be proven.
At the very least, even if Diego Forlan never plays for Toronto FC, this has tongues wagging across MLS and beyond, which isn’t bad for a non-playoff contender. And let’s be honest, it’s far more plausible than those absurd Carlos Tevez to TFC rumours from a few weeks ago.
James Sharman is a Sportsnet commentator and co-anchor of SoccerCentral, an hour-long soccer news show airing seven nights a week on Sportsnet World at 11pm ET. Catch the replay of SoccerCentral the next day on Sportsnet Ontario and Sportsnet East at 1pm ET. Follow James on Twitter.