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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Auf Wiedersehen Herr Kapitan

A bittersweet farewell

"Frustration": Webster's German Dictionary calls it der Frust… then says a bunch of stuff in German. We assume it's about sausages. Soon, it may contain a passage about Torsten Frings' time at Toronto FC. What started as ein bang back in 2011 has now ended in ein whimper as The Reds say goodbye to their talismanic captain - and the club's most famous player - after he decided to retire due to lingering injury.
With an illustrious playing career in the Bundesliga and the German national team behind him, Frings joined Toronto FC, along with Danny Koevermans, in the summer of 2011 in what was supposed to herald in Phase 2 of Aron Winter's Total Plan. Of course, "Total" turned into totally sad and as his new club's fortunes spluttered (again) so did the luck of the midfield general. Whether it was the wear and tear of MLS travel, artificial surfaces and summer heat on Frings' physique or just a blend of bad luck and age, his body started to let him down. His pace dropped off dramatically (even during his tenure at TFC) and a rash of injuries saw him miss large portions of seasons. It seems as if the latest hip injury was his career's final blow.
There may be a rash urge to blame Winter/Mariner/Payne/modern day hip-hop for the disappointing nature of Frings' time here but this one may have to be put down to bad luck. Few argued Frings' signing at the time - players with his pedigree, smarts and clout don't come along that often. His presence in the midfield was meant to be the sun that the other pieces of a now failed experiment were meant to orbit. It was a nice, but likely too lofty, ideal. No one can predict injuries and few would have truly believed TFC would have fallen so much further into the abyss as they have since he joined.
For Kevin Payne, Frings’ choice to end his DP contract is a fortuitous one. This may possibly lead some to suspicion that the German was gently nudged out in a cold and calculated cap room jettison. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle – we will likely never know. What Payne does (or what he hasn't done) with his bundle o’ cash is an argument for another day but if Torsten Frings was unlikely to play serious minutes for the club this year - any other GM in MLS would have quietly welcomed the news. For better or worse, Payne seeks increased maneuverability in the transfer market and this move almost clears his decks as far as his inherited contracts go with only Richard Eckersley, Darren O'Dea and Danny Koevermans in the "hefty" category. That was not a Koef pancake joke.
For Frings himself, this must be an awful blow for a warrior and much respected professional. After such a long career full of tremendous highs it will not be the way he wanted to walk off the pitch. He will look back and perhaps cringe at a club that was in a constant state of upheaval for his entire stay while being surrounded by teammates that would never match his footballing IQ. Joining another club as a player is unlikely (unless it was a staged run-out with Werder Bremen for a few minutes) but he will no doubt remain in football as his former club has been pining for him to join as a coach for some time now. Kevin Payne has also hinted that Frings will continue to work with TFC in some capacity in Europe.
Frings will move on, Toronto FC will stumble along as they do, and eventually one day the supporters at BMO Field will look back and at least fondly remember watching a modern-day international superstar - even if he was a shadow of the World Cup hero he once was. However, as with Dwayne De Rosario, Julian de Guzman (despite different circumstances) and countless others who arrived with bangs and left with whimpers, many fans - and no doubt Frings - will say "it should have worked out so much better".

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