Toronto FC looking to hire a club president

Sebastian Giovinco, middle, in action for Toronto FC. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

A major shakeup within the Toronto FC hierarchy is brewing.

A well-placed source within Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment told Sportsnet that the organization is actively looking to hire a club president that would oversee all soccer operations for TFC. The same source said MLSE has courted and spoken to Italian executive Umberto Gandini about the position. Gandini is a club director at Serie A team AC Milan.

The interview process of potential candidates is ongoing according to the MLSE source, who said the search for a club president does not mean general manager Tim Bezbatchenko’s or coach Greg Vanney’s jobs are in jeopardy in any way.

In addition to his duties at AC Milan, Gandini is also an executive board member of the European Club Association, an organization that represents the interests of European soccer clubs. A powerful voice within the sport’s governance structure, the ECA was formed in 2008 by 16 clubs, and is now comprised of 214 member clubs across Europe, including Real Madrid, Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

If a new team president is brought aboard it would represent a major change in TFC’s management structure. Bezbatchenko would work under the president, much like Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos reports to Paul Beeston, president of Toronto’s Major League Baseball club.

Since entering the league in 2007, TFC has generally operated with its GM serving as the team architect and final decision maker. The only dedicated club president they’ve had was Kevin Payne, who was also the club’s GM. Payne was fired by MLSE president and CEO Tim Leiweke in 2013 after less than a year on the job.

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that TFC is shopping around for a club president.

Last November, Sportsnet reported that MLSE was in talks with former Real Salt Lake GM Garth Lagerwey about the job. Nothing ever came of that, as Lagerwey left Salt Lake in the off-season to become the new club president of the Seattle Sounders. Former Canadian national team coach Holger Osieck was another candidate that TFC reached out to about the team president job.

Hiring a dedicated soccer president would make sense, especially with the expected departure from MLS of Leiweke in a few months. Leiweke is viewed as a “soccer guy” who has made TFC a priority during his tenure as MLSE president and CEO. The fear within TFC is that Leiweke’s replacement may not place such an importance on the soccer team, making the appointment of a club president all the more important.

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