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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sink or sail? Pros and cons of a solo Mariner

The Good Ship TFC: "We're not sinking... we're resting"

When Canadian Soccer News reported yesterday that Paul Mariner and Earl Cochrane would be the go-ahead guys at TFC in 2013, the news was met with a resounding "meh". Overall, little will change on the outside with likely tweaks to job titles which will reportedly see Mariner in more of an old-school "manager" role - responsible for player acquisitions and football decisions - while Cochrane will be a "general manager" but only in a contract, salary cap and MLS Miscellany vein. Tumbleweeds.
While yet to be formally announced, immediate reaction from TFC supporters has been tepid at best. "More of the same" when many are baying for (yet another) overhaul. However, there IS apparently a big asterisk on the proposed "shuffle"... if Mariner and Cochrane can't manage to steer The Reds to the playoffs in 2013, then it's the axe for both. This will obviously not be announced or written into any contract but is not hard to believe. So, full steam ahead with the (Increasingly) Ancient Mariner... but will it be smooth sailing or yet more rough seas?
PRO: The days of the solo manager may seem like an old British relic to some. Most large clubs today employ some form of a Director of Football role or in the least a management backroom committee. While the single manager seems more like the structure of lower division English clubs, for a team like TFC that is pretty bereft of football knowledge, perhaps having one determined footballing vision is at the very least, stabilizing.
CON: The negative side of putting all our eggs in one Englishman (ew.) is how much we trust said manager. Is Paul Mariner the footballing tactician and man manager you would trust with your club? Many TFC and MLS observers seem to think that given time, the bombastic ex-Tractor Boy will make good but there are increasing voices lately who are very concerned that his overly simplistic (or lacking) tactical prowess, emotional outbursts that lead to some strange exclamations (see Andrew Wiedeman's finishing) and man management is questionable.
PRO: Over the years at TFC a common post-disaster theme has been to blame either your predecessor or some "shady" dealings behind the scenes which got in the way of implementing your "plan". From the days of Mo Johnston trying to play "puppet manager" over John Carver and Chris Cummins up to rumours of Aron Winter's Coch-blocked player acquisitions, there has always been an X-Files feel to the TFC backroom. With Mariner as the main man, there would be only one man with the footballing decisions at his feet - and only one man to blame if it all goes wrong (again).
CON: Once again, this harkens back to trust in Mariner. If he will indeed wield all of the power in squad and tactical development - is he the man most suited? Is it a danger to give Mariner this "absolute power" with few suitable experienced football men surrounding him to balance his choices?
PRO: As mentioned above, a big asterisk over this "promotion" seems to be that it is playoffs in 2013 or the sack for "The Marine Cochologists" (again, ew.). While "making the playoffs" seems to be MLSE's sad zenith of success, we can visit that mediocre reality another time. In the here and now, perhaps having that clear goal and the baby steps of progress that would be necessary to achieve that, is a manageable goal for 2013. Anyone planning an MLS Cup parade would be dreaming in Technicolor.
CON: Our friends at Waking The Red look at this point well in further detail but the danger of setting this goal could be the club's very future. If Mariner knows that grabbing 8th Place is all he needs to keep his job, will he be willing to sell the farm as next summer's transfer window shuts to achieve it? Would his and Cochrane's personal employment status force their hands into making "quick-fix" decisions that could gamble away TFC's future? Would draft-picks and/or prospects be scuttled away for an aging fixer to simply grab the last spot in the Conference and a chance to lose 4-0 in the 1st Round?
PRO: Having long-term company-man Earl Cochrane, who many will go out of their way to tell you is an MLS and salary cap maestro, as Paul Mariner's economic nuts and bolts man could be very helpful to the manager. In a perfect scenario, this could leave Mariner to put his 100% attention into footballing decisions while an in-step Cochrane could take care of all the numerical headaches of contracts, salaries and whatever other alchemy Major League Soccer throws at its clubs.
CON: In many circles, Earl Cochrane represents much that is wrong with MLSE as an ownership. A man that has managed to survive years of worse than mediocre results while apparently overseeing some of TFC's more embarrassing snafu's (De Ro "not being" in Glasgow; Plata "not being" in Ecuador and, ahem, Nathan Sturgis for a 1st Round Pick). With TFC's backroom again being similar to the KGB, Cochrane's level of involvement is never fully clear but to many, he carries the label (fairly or unfairly) as Tom Anselmi's acolyte who manages to always come out smelling like roses while a more experienced football mind still goes missing at the top of TFC's management hierarchy.
PRO: The only constant through six years of TFC seasons is change. The instability has been a bane of the club's existence for many years with one clown car pulling up just as the last one leaves. More managers than you can shake a chip butty at and a front office that can briefly boast the football genius Jim Brennan as one of its higher-ups is the running joke of MLS. While the Mariner/Cochrane combo isn't exactly a footballing dream team, it may give the club stability and familiarity in which will be a true "make-or-break" off-season.
CON: The unholy trinity. Ask many TFC supporters (who are still unsure if they will renew season tickets) what is wrong with the club and they will rifle off the names: Tom Anselmi, Earl Cochrane and then (with a bit more distance) Paul Mariner. While the club can dress up this proposed management shake-up with new titles, new roles and a new sense of urgency - in the end, those same fans will look at the club and say (a more hidden) Tom Anselmi is still calling the shots while Paul Mariner is running about like a chicken with his head cut off (wearing shorts) while Earl Cochrane tries to end up with no blood on his hands awaiting his next internal promotion.
As with most things TFC, only time will tell but the over-arching theme with these proposed moves is "well, what else can we do?" There is no Sir Alex Mourinho waiting outside of BMO Field waiting to fix everything and no one is really in the mood for another grand plan only to see it abandoned in 15 months’ time. It is what it is, and there is something about Mariner that many fans would like to see succeed in Toronto. We hope that the affable and flammable Lancashire man can indeed steer TFC into smooth waters because if he doesn't - the "bust" side of "playoffs or bust" may very well be the club as a whole.


  1. Jimmybee's going to have his work cut out for him in 2014 I tells you.

  2. Yes, the "We are desperately trying to pander to you 2014" Front Office will be great. Question is - how will Jimmy B's "Director of Soccer & Stuff" mesh with Earl Cochrane's "Assistant to the Regional Anselmi"? Not to mention the Head Coach Dichio and Ass't Coach Dunfield relationship.