Rudi Schuller: Timing of Nelsen hiring raises many questions

Is Ryan Nelsen that great a coaching prospect that Toronto FC needed to hire him while he still remains a QPR player? Unfortunately, the answer won't come quickly.
TORONTO -- Leave it to Toronto FC to take what is supposed to be a stable situation and make it look like a house of cards.

This is the club that has been redefining incompetence for six seasons, after all. And on the eve of its seventh campaign, TFC has one-upped itself and completely changed the game.

In a frenzied span of about 24 hours, Toronto dispatched of Paul Mariner - a head coach who didn't even get a full offseason to shape the team in his own image - and replaced him with Ryan Nelsen, an MLS and EPL veteran with zero coaching experience.

The kicker? Nelsen is still going to play for relegation candidate Queens Park Rangers for the foreseeable future, leaving the running of TFC to team president Kevin Payne and newly hired assistant coach Fran O'Leary, himself a Major League Soccer rookie.

"Ryan will not be at the combine or the draft," Payne told assembled media at Nelsen's introductory press conference on Tuesday. "There will be days, we hope, that Ryan will be able to engage with us in the interim while he remains a player at QPR.

"But we think that we're prepared for the combine, we did a tremendous amount of work before Ryan came on board."

It's gonna be hard to top this one.

For their part, Payne and Nelsen have projected nothing but confidence in this unprecedented move. And maybe this strange experiment - with Nelsen presumably taking part in the odd conference call while Payne, O'Leary, and the rest of the TFC front office do the actual work for the first few months - will prove itself successful.

But for a team that has been hurting for stability, and so desperately needs some league success to placate an already agitated fanbase, is this a worthy risk to take?

"I think that he will be exactly what this club needs in terms of establishing the right kind of culture and atmosphere around our team on a day-by-day basis," Payne said of Nelsen. "He has an acute understanding of the hard work that's required and the dedication that's required to be successful as a professional athlete at the highest levels, and I have every confidence that he will turn things around for our club."

Okay, we'll take Payne at face value, and assume that this haphazard scheme will work itself out. But if Nelsen is truly Payne's man - and given the absurd complexity of the situation, that appears to be the case - then why didn't TFC do whatever it took to ensure that the New Zealander would be available to coach before bringing him aboard?

Instead, we've got other people making the day-to-day decisions while Nelsen is on another continent trying to help keep QPR from being relegated, which begs the question as to what kind of team the 35-year-old will be inheriting when he finally does take over.

"Preseason's already been planned," Nelsen said. "Every training session, everything's already been planned, and I know that when I'm not there, I've got 100 per cent full faith in the coaching staff."

That faith will need to be founded, because in his absence, Nelsen's coaching staff will be laying the groundwork for the entire season. And they'll be doing it with minimal input from the man supposedly in charge, making it probable that Nelsen will be coaching players that he both doesn't know and didn't select.

With that in mind, why didn't Payne and TFC just wait until Nelsen's playing days were over and bring him into the fold then?

"I wanted to make the right change," Payne stated. "I didn't want to make a change that I was just kind of settling for or I was doing something that I wasn't sure of.

"I'm very sure of the kind of manager Ryan Nelsen's going to be and the kind of club he's going to run."

Unfortunately, TFC fans won't find that out for a while yet, because someone else will be running the team for up to six months. And at the end of that time frame, will it really be Ryan Nelsen's club?