The Montreal Impact have gotten their first look at new coach Marco Schällibaum in action this week and Goal.com's Nick Sabetti says he's made a positive impression so far.
MONTREAL - It’s a familiar setting. It’s January, its 10:30 AM, it’s cold - unbearably at times - and the Montreal Impact have begun their preparations for the new MLS season at the Marie-Victorin Sports Complex in the east-end of Montreal, just like the team did a year ago.
But this year, the team is drastically different than the one that started training camp in 2012. Donovan Ricketts, Justin Braun, Tyson Wahl, Greg Sutton, Brian Ching, Ian Westlake, Bryan Arguez, Gerson Mayen, Shavar Thomas, Josh Gardner, and Miguel Montano are long gone. Later signees, Mike Fucito, Eduardo Sebrango and Bernardo Corradi have departed as well. Marco Di Vaio, Matteo Ferrari, Alessandro Nesta, Dennis Iapichino, Troy Perkins and Karl Ouimettte are all with the team from the start this time.
Patrice Bernier will be the centerpiece in midfield and Felipe will be playing in a more familiar role from day one. Midfielder Calum Mallace is a player the Impact now know they can count on after concluding last season with some excellent performances. New arrivals Andrea Pisanu and Blake Smith will be looking to bring different dimensions to the flanks. And academy starlets Zakaria Messoudi, Maxime Crepeau and Maxim Tissot are making their case for a place in the team this year.
But the biggest change is at the helm, with new head coach Marco Schällibaum having signed a one-year contract earlier this month. He met his players during their medical examinations last weekend and fans and media have flocked to Marie-Victorin this week to see the Swiss native conduct his first training sessions.
It’s still early days, of course, but first impressions are important and the team seems to have received Schällibaum well. Assistant captain Bernier, who played for most of his career in Northern Europe, already likes what he’s witnessed in training so far.
“It’s structured, it’s the method I’m used to from my time in Europe,” Bernier told reporters on Monday.
Davy Arnaud, who, as Schällibaum confirmed this week, will be staying on as captain this year, was also appreciative of what he’s seen from the new boss.
“We can see that he injects a lot of passion in what he does,” said Arnaud. “It’s interesting to have this positive energy from the start and I think the players will respond in a good way”.
The challenge for Schällibaum will be getting the respect of his senior players, particularly the influential Italian contingent of Nesta, Di Vaio and Ferrari.
By far the most influential player among his fellow countrymen, Nesta, for all of his experience and past triumphs, is still remarkably keen on winning games and performing well. Last season he would almost habitually approach erstwhile head coach Jesse Marsch in training and raise objections or concerns with a particular tactical aspect. And more often than not, Nesta would leave those discussions dissatisfied.
A coach has to have the right answers, the right solutions. When problems arise in a side, like a difficulty in defending set plays for example, a coach that doesn’t have the proper remedies, or is unsure of what they may be, will invariably see the respect of his players towards him fade. A coach needs his players to trust in what he’s trying to do or else he’s done for.
On Tuesday, Nesta approached Schällibaum in the same way he would Marsch: with a tactical concern. This time, Schällibaum had the final word and Nesta nodded in agreement and walked away satisfied. Its only one instance, but it’s a positive first sign that bodes well. The importance of Schällibaum being fairly fluent in Italian can’t be underestimated either.
Man-management is extremely important and being able to handle players with different temperaments and from different backgrounds isn’t easy. Players will often react differently to the same message and knowing when it’s time to fume and get vocal or give players a gentle tap on the back instead, comes with experience.
Schällibaum certainly has plenty of experience and knowledge of the game, and he prides himself with having always had good relationships with his players, including Felipe and Iapichino - who played under him at Lugano in 2010-11. Schällibaum explained to La Presse Montreal that he likes to be close to his players.
“It’s true [I am close to my players], even if you always need to keep a certain distance because respect is the most important thing in a locker room,” Schällibaum stated. “I am close to my group because when you make a decision on the composition of a team, you have to be able to feel out the players and know when there are problems.
“I am open; I discuss my choices even if I can’t talk to everyone, because, in the end, it’s the field that decides. I’m not someone who is cold, I like contact, but I’m still quite demanding.”
With the Impact’s core being European based, Schällibaum will probably have an easier time keeping everyone on board with his ideas than Marsch was able to. If the Impact are to have success this season, keeping the locker-room united and in check will be fundamental.
In this first week of training, Schällibaum has made a fine impression of himself.