TORONTO – Benoit Cheyrou is under no illusions.
Toronto FC‘s veteran midfielder knows full well that he’s in the home stretch of his playing career, that his best days are behind him.
To that end, the 36-year-old has been planning for his future once he retires, and he recently acquired his UEFA A license following extensive classwork in his native France with other players who aspire to one day to get into coaching. The next step for Cheyrou is attaining his UEFA Pro license, the highest coaching certification available that would allow him to coach at any club in Europe’s top divisions.
From time to time this season he’s also helped out former Toronto player Terry Dunfield, head coach of the TFC under-14 academy team, and there’s even been talk amongst management that the Frenchman will remain with the organization in some capacity when he decides to retire.
So, Cheyrou has been planning ahead to a time when he won’t be patrolling the midfield, when he’ll eventually hang up his cleats for good. In the meantime, though, he remains steadfastly focused on the present and helping TFC get back to the MLS Cup final, to get the most out of the time he has remaining on the pitch.
“I only want to think about my playing career at the moment. I know that there is more behind me than in front of me, so I want to enjoy this because when you talk with former players, they all say the best part of the job was when they were on the field,” Cheyrou told Sportsnet in a one-on-one chat. “I want to enjoy these last days, weeks, months, or whatever in front of me before I step away.”
But when, exactly, will he step away?
“When? We’ll see. When the times comes, I’ll know it,” Cheyrou quipped.
Cheyrou has made just eight appearances for Toronto in MLS this season, mostly as a substitute. It’s hard for Cheyrou to get a place in the starting 11 when captain Michael Bradley is ahead of him. While playing time has been somewhat scarce, coach Greg Vanney has been impressed with the Frenchman’s commitment and focus.
“We’ve talked a little bit about the [UEFA] course. Ben is very good about trying to create a separation between who he is now, which is a player, and his future prospects. He’s never come to me with any sort of inclination that he’s thinking about what’s next for him. ‘I’m here, my No. 1 priority is playing, I’m here to win games, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’ – All of his attention is on that,” Vanney stated.
Vanney feels the Frenchman is a smart and thoughtful player, and that he’ll be able to transfer those qualities once he’s on the touchline as a manager.
“What Ben will encounter is he’ll soon recognize that not everyone sees the game as wisely he does, and now the challenge for a coach becomes how do you teach that to other people. You have to become a teacher who can teach other people to see things that you see naturally,” Vanney offered.
“It’s a rewarding experience, but it’s definitely one that’s not easy. I think Ben has the skill set to make that transformation.”
It probably shouldn’t come as too much of surprise that Cheyrou eventually wants to get into coaching. After cutting his teeth at hometown outfit Racing Paris – the same club where his grandfather, father and older brother Bruno trained – he made his pro debut as a 19-year-old with Lille in the French second division. Stints at Auxerre and Olympique Marseille in Ligue 1 followed, before he joined TFC prior to the 2015 MLS season.
“I’ve been playing soccer all my life; it’s the thing I’m good at. This is the natural pathway for me, to think about when I stop my career and what you [want] to do next. For me, I want to train and have a chance to get my ideas on the pitch with my players and my team,” Cheyrou said.
Cheyrou has played for some marquee coaches during his career, including current France national team manager Didier Deschamps. Cheyrou counts his three years at Auxerre playing under the iconic Guy Roux, who amazingly coached the French club from 1961-2005, as one of the best learning experiences he’s had.
“He’s a legend in France. He built Auxerre with his own hands. He started from the bottom to go on to win the championship and to play in the Champions League. What I took from him is his managing style, the way he talked to different players the right away. Behind every player there is a man and you have to know the man first before you can manage the player,” Cheyrou said.
“Every coach is different, but I learned from everyone; sometimes different things. With some it was about managing, with some it was about communicating, some it was tactic. I tried to pick the best of what I saw from each one, and will combine that with my personality once I start managing.”