Winter’s era comes to an end at Toronto FC, but the blame isn’t entirely his

Aron Winter

A season and a half ago, the wise people at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, whether through a series of gross miscommunications or ill-devised planning, decided to hire two men to do, essentially, the same job.

At the same time Paul Mariner was planning to return to North America from England to take the reins of Toronto FC, Aron Winter was summoned from Ajax to, well, take the reins of Toronto FC. While both men were given mildly different job titles, they were placed in the uncomfortable position of having to basically split a single job into two.

The experiment, if we can call it that, has been an unmitigated disaster — and it finally came to an end Thursday, with Winter removing himself from the head coaching and technical director positions. Mariner, who had recently been brought into training sessions to work with the strikers, will now coach the team, looking to salvage a 1-9-0 season.

The timing of Toronto FC’s announcement was interesting. Many of the Canadian soccer media are either a) Off to Cuba to cover Canada’s World Cup qualifying match or b) Focusing on Canada’s qualifying match from home or c) Preparing those last-second Euro 2012 preview pieces.

Basically, there’s a decent chance that this announcement could get lost in the flotsam and jetsam of World Cup qualifying and Euro 2012 news.

If you look at their respective histories, you will see Mariner prefers a physical, hard-nosed team. Winter wanted to have a Dutch 4-3-3 Renaissance, but instituted with a group of players who weren’t ready for the change. Winter pounded square pegs into round holes.

Meanwhile, Mariner remained somewhat unscathed by the media firestorm that surrounded Toronto FC’s struggles. It was a two-headed monster that ran the Reds, but only the Dutch head took the blame.

The off-the-record stories from TFC camp that we’ve heard over the last couple of seasons are fantastic, indeed. But that’s where we have to leave things. We have never printed any of it, because we believe there’s no real place in sports journalism for so much off-the-record, uncorroborated allegations which have, frankly, polluted our business. We aren’t reporting government secrets or whistle-blowers; so there is usually no good reason in the world of sports to give a subject anonymity for the sake of a good yarn. Maybe now, with a clear winner out of the two men, more players or execs will speak on the record. But, that’s indeed a big maybe — because no player wants to be seen as a malcontent or a whistle-blower, because it will affect his career down the road.

But, no matter how well/not well Mariner and Winter got along, the fact that they were put in this position — that this was a front office set-up designed to fail — falls to the brass at MLSE who got Jurgen Klinsmann to consult them on how to build a team, had Earl Cochrane as interim general manager making long-term plans on the assumption he’d be the long-term general manager, and gave Mo Johnston way too long a leash in his time as the head of the soccer operations.

You don’t have two editors-in-chief at a magazine. You don’t have two presidents of a country. You don’t have two captains of the Enterprise. Maybe the shocking part is that the experiment survived as long as it did.

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.