While it's looking likely that head coach Martin Rennie will assume the duties of departed director of soccer operations Tom Soehn, perhaps the Whitecaps need to look elsewhere.When Tom Soehn formally left the Vancouver Whitecaps last week, leaving the director of soccer operations role officially vacant, it didn’t surprise many that the position was being filled by the existing technical staff (i.e. head coach Martin Rennie, who has had total control of personnel moves since his appointment).
But, is this the right move for the club? Given the player transactions the club has made in recent times – specifically the midseason moves that caused such a hullaballoo, would appointing an experienced director of soccer operations be that bad of an idea?
While there’s few in Vancouver who would criticize Rennie as a coach or a man manager, his wheeling and dealing haven’t been quite as popular – or altogether as successful. While he’s had inspired moves like the acquisition of central defender Andy O’Brien, at this point in time the signing of Kenny Miller hasn’t gone as planned – and with an annual salary of $1.2-million, it’s looking an expensive error of judgement. The pure quantity of ins and outs that happened midseason with key personnel also suggested a sort of impatience – would an older, wiser head seek change in a more gradual, manageable way?
Rennie’s ambition and hunger to succeed as quickly as possible are clear – and should be seen as positive attributes – but there could be a role for a director of soccer operations to rein things in and act as a sort of check on one’s man decision making.
While giving Rennie ultimate control allows him to assemble the team he wants to coach, having a critical voice within the organization with at least equal say could help the club avoid seemingly rash decision making in seasons to come.
Furthermore, it never hurts to have a senior voice to bounce ideas off of – and someone with true connections around the league.
One would suspect, for example, that Soehn’s relationship with Peter Nowak from their D.C. United days played a role in the Whitecaps acquiring Sebastien Le Toux from the Philadelphia Union during the offseason for allocation money – a move lauded by many at the time as a bargain. While Le Toux’s time in Vancouver wasn’t a blow out success, he was an asset; although limited in technique and end product, the Frenchman seemed to embody the quiet efficiency which defined the team’s early success in 2012.
Further, the model of dividing coaching duties and squad management is common throughout the sporting world. Certainly, within North America it is a popular model for most pro sports, with a general manager responsible for building a squad, and a head coach in charge of which players are picked, and how they’ll go about playing.
While the club has stated officially that the role will be filled internally, there’s still time for that to change. The Whitecaps ownership group has pulled u-turns before – naming Soehn as interim head coach after Teitur Thordarson’s dismissal before effectively usurping the Chicago native through appointing Rennie only a couple of months into that stint, and more recently, stating that president Bob Lenarduzzi and chief operating officer Rachel Lewis would assume the responsibilities of departing chief executive officer Paul Barber, only to bring John Furlong in as executive chair before a full season was through.
Given that background, Rennie’s days of total control may be numbered – but whether the Scotsman would accept the introduction of such a figure at the club is another question altogether.
With the club qualifying for the playoffs, despite the midseason dip, Rennie will likely get a chance to maintain his position as the main decision maker, but you can bet the powers that be at the club will be keeping a watchful eye on his next big moves – especially if they give him the cash to bring in another designated player.
Martin MacMahon covers the Vancouver Whitecaps for Goal.com Canada.