By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Jun 13, 2018) US Soccer Players - On May 22, amid reports that he and his agent had flown to France to negotiate a deal with Ligue 1 club OGC Nice, Patrick Vieira told reporters that any claims that he was leaving NYCFC were flatly false.
“It makes me smile, because of course there’s no contract being signed or anything like that,” Vieira said. “This is the wrong information. I’m here, like always. I’m really happy. I really enjoy my work, I really enjoy being part of this football club. I’m just focusing and concentrating about our next game.”
The French coach confirmed his visit to France as reported by reputable sports daily L’Equipe, but labeled it a “family matter.” His comments painted the rumor mill in France and England as out of control. Vieira was already linked with the vacant Arsenal job. His focus, he said, was on the MLS club he had led to two playoff appearances and whose 2018 campaign had started strongly.
For a time, the buzz around Vieira quieted. Nice continued to publicly covet Vieria for the club’s managerial position, meaning speculation never quite disappeared. Still, for a short time, it looked like NYCFC might keep their coach and continue marching towards a possible Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup. Vieira had said the right things about his commitment to NYCFC. There was truth in his statement that he couldn’t do much about the chatter in France.
Then came this past weekend and the sudden, but not surprising, news that Vieira was leaving to take over at Nice. On Sunday, a story confirming Vieira’s departure appeared on Manchester City’s website and oddly, nowhere else. NYCFC itself confirmed it on Monday morning.
Vieira’s final game at helm was a 1-1 draw with Atlanta United at Yankee Stadium. It was a possible preview of the Eastern Conference Final that spoke to the progress NYCFC made under Vieira. Despite not winning the match, the New York side thoroughly outplayed Atlanta using Vieira’s preferred system of passing and pressure.
It took mere hours after the announcement of Vieira leaving for France for NYCFC to have a replacement in position. Leaning on the resources of the City Football Group, the club signed Manchester City and longtime Pep Guardiola assistant Domenec Torrent to lead the team. Without so much as a hiccup, NYCFC had a full-time head coach in place. No interim period, no international search.
Now, the questions begin. Vieria’s handling of the saga certainly deserves scrutiny. Vieira was careful with his choice of words back on May 22, as one would expect. Speculation is just that. At what point did the Nice opportunity turn into a likely move?
Vieira’s exit complicates his legacy at NYCFC, but there’s no denying that he improved the club and helped push MLS forward. Both tactically and as a matter of handling the media and his players, Vieira brought a gravitas to the MLS head coach positions that is not always present. His playing career lent him a measure of fast respect. It was his enthusiasm for the job and treatment of the league as a serious competition worth winning that won over fans and media alike.
Notably, Vieira did not win a trophy in MLS. It’s worth asking if any other head coach would garner so much attention from abroad without any silverware to his name. Does Vieira’s move to Ligue 1 says more about his standing in the French football community than it does about MLS. It doesn’t hurt the league to have a young coach tapped for a job in a major European league after two-and-a-half seasons. Would another successful MLS coach, perhaps one from an American background, receive the same consideration?
MLS is on a constant search for respect from around the world, and most specifically Europe. That’s not just a matter of ego on the part of the league’s owners and executives. It’s a practical issue that feeds into the league’s ability to recruit better players and better coaches. MLS needs famous, respected European figures to arrive and treat the competition seriously. That builds the reputation where MLS can compete for top class players without the need to pay a significant premium.
Whether NYCFC fans can make peace with Vieira’s obfustication is of secondary concern at the moment. Torrent’s quick appointment would appear to have obvious benefits. Rather than muddle through a period with a coach carrying the interim tag and the long-term coaching situation up in the air, NYCFC moves seamlessly into the next era. Based on his background coaching under Pep Guardiola, there’s no reason to think a significant change in philosophy is coming. The ability to simply call up the next coach waiting in the wings at City Football Group provides NYCFC a continuity unthinkable anywhere else.
That said, Torrent’s quick appointment is problematic on at least two fronts.
First, the practical. Whatever similarities in preferred style exist between Vieira and Torrent, he's a new coach for everyone in the NYCFC locker room not named David Villa. Torrent’s full-time job as a Man City assistant precludes him from having much more than a cursory knowledge of the NYCFC roster and MLS. A head coach carrying an interim tag might be disruptive, but so might handing the reins to a coach facing a steep learning curve in a season full of promise.
The World Cup break is hardly that. NYCFC have two games before the end of June. That could mean a new coach needing to lean on familiarity to get results now.
The second problem with Torrent’s appointment goes directly to NYCFC’s status within the City Football Group organization. It was poor imaging for Manchester City’s website to break the news of Vieira’s departure before NYCFC did so. It’s doubly troubling that a City’s assistant got the NYCFC assignment so quickly. NYCFC looks like a minor league outfit in both circumstances.
NYCFC fans might not care that Torrent came from within the CFG organization if he can deliver the club’s first trophy this season. Whatever independence NYCFC does or does not have within CFG is secondary to results.
Vieira is gone, his reputation buoyed by his time in the United States but his legacy complicated by his exit. Torrent arrives, clearly capable but serving as a reminder that NYCFC is not wholly it’s own club. It’s complicated. It’s NYCFC.
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(Photo by Mike Lawrence - ISIPhotos.com)