TORONTO – Greg Vanney has managed to do something that no other Toronto FC coach has been able to accomplish: stick around for any significant length of time.
In a move that hardly comes as a big surprise, the Major League Soccer club announced Friday that it has signed Vanney and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko to new, multi-year contracts.
Vanney becomes the first coach in franchise history to earn a second contract. In addition, Bezbatchenko has been given the title of Senior Vice President of Soccer Operations. Club president Bill Manning revealed that he came to terms with Bezbatchenko in April, while Vanney verbally agreed to a new deal in late May. It just took some extra time to finalize the deals through lawyers before both signed their new contracts on Thursday.
The contract extensions of both Vanney and Bezbatchenko solidify an already sturdy TFC side that currently sits in a tie for first place in the overall league standings, and is a top contender to win this year’s MLS Cup.
“I think it’s a great day for TFC,” Manning told reporters after Friday’s practice.
“They’re leading [the team’s renaissance]. They’re at the forefront. … When I came aboard [in October 2015] we weren’t the finished product yet. But I think through my own experience I saw a lot of the foundation that I was looking for had been built. We did need to fine tune it, but the three of us have built a great camaraderie.”
Vanney gave credit to Manning and former MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke in working with him and Bezbatchenko to change the culture at the club and turn TFC into a winner.
“When I came in, there was a lot of talk amongst all of us of what the city could be in terms of a soccer city if we could get the results moving in the right direction, if we could get the culture into the right place. [If we could do that] we could ignite this city because it’s a true soccer city,” Vanney explained.
“To now see it come to fruition, still with a championship left to chase, but to see that happen, I take along with everybody involved a lot of pride in where we’re at. We always continue to challenge ourselves to get better, but it’s wonderful to see where the club is now and the excitement that’s in the city for what the guys are doing out on the field and the quality of soccer that we’re playing.”
How times have changed for this once troubled organization that for the longest time was the laughingstock of MLS.
Toronto FC used to go through coaches like a man stranded in the desert thirsty for a drink of water. The list of Vanney’s predecessors includes Mo Johnston, John Carver, Chris Cummins, Preki, Nick Dasovic, Aron Winter, Paul Mariner and Ryan Nelsen. Some didn’t even last a full year on the job.
Vanney, 43, has been the exception since taking over the coaching reins near the tail end of the 2014 season when he inherited a team that was in a bit of mess as the Jermain Defoe saga was unfolding.
Overall, the Reds are 42-33-22 under Vanney, making him the only coach in team history who can boast a record of above .500.
Working in tandem with Bezbatchenko, Vanney has guided TFC through its most successful era, which included a first-ever playoff berth, last season’s memorable run to the MLS Cup final, back-to-back Canadian Championships, and a return to next season’s CONCACAF Champions League.
The duo has also shaped Toronto FC into a model franchise. Whereas TFC was known as a dysfunctional outfit on the back of eight straight seasons without a single playoff appearance, it is now regarded as one of the best clubs in MLS, and one of the deepest teams in league history. Vanney and Bezbatchenko have been central figures in the club’s makeover.
Why has the Vanney-Bezbatchenko partnership worked to such great effect?
“We share a similar vision on how we think the game should be played. I think that’s fundamental to what we’re trying to achieve,” Bezbatchenko offered.
“Ultimately, we’re judged by what happens on the field, and we need to be lockstep on the key principles of game, the values of the club… From the very beginning when Greg and I discussed him coming onboard, it was about those values.”
Vanney described his partnership with his general manager as a true collaboration.
“We talk about everything. We’re very open and honest about everything. We trust each other implicitly in all of our discussions … and we give each other our space in our lanes to be the best versions of us,” Vanney explained.
“We have a great respect for what each of us brings to the table but also our ability to collaborate and put those strengths together to good use. We share a common vision on what we want this thing to look like both on and off the field.”
The results speak for themselves, and in this context, both contract extensions shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Vanney is Toronto’s longest tenured coach, and holds a number of team records, including most games managed (114), most wins (51), most playoff wins (four) and most points in a single season (53).
Shortly after Manning came on as club president, TFC was thrashed 3-0 in Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. Toronto’s first post-season appearance was a disaster, with fans and media calling for Vanney’s head. The easiest thing Manning could have done was to make changes and fire Vanney. Instead, Manning kept the faith.
“He needed time. He needed someone to believe in him. As we got midway through the 2016 season, I really started believing in him as a head coach. I told him that. I said, ‘You’re the guy who’s going to lead us in the future.’ Things really worked out for us,” Manning offered.
Manning believed in Vanney. But more important, Vanney always believed in himself, and was confident he could be the coach to turn Toronto FC around, even in the early stages of his tenure when there were more than a few hiccups.
“I knew I would be learning along the away, and that I’d been thrown into some situations that were going to be challenging,” Vanney said.
“But I knew because I know how hard I work, and I know the way I see the game and I see things developing. … I knew given the time and the ability to grow in the position and have different experienced that we could get to a very positive outcome.”
Patience was the key, Vanney explained.
“We were going to get things moving in the right direction. It was just a matter of us going through the process. I don’t think you can rush yourself to success and have it be sustainable. You have to take a long-term approach, and Tim and Bill have a very good sense of that, and we’ve been able to put a plan together and stick with it,” Vanney stated.
Appointed GM in 2013 by Leiweke, Bezbatchenko played major roles in bringing players the calibre of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Drew Moor and Victor Vazquez to Toronto. He also hired Vanney, who previously served as the club’s assistant GM and academy director when he joined the team in 2013.
Bezbatchenko, 35, ranks among one of Major League Soccer’s most influential power brokers, and Manning sees even bigger things in the future for his GM.
“He’s so young, and he has such a bright future. I think he could be MLS commissioner one day,” Manning opined.
Bezbatchenko said he harbours no ambition to replace Don Garber for the time being.
“It’s flattering for Bill to think of that as a potential opportunity down the line, but I’m just focused on being the general manager here. … I’m just focused on winning and setting this club up to win for a long time,” Bezbatchenko stated.