Ryan Nelsen 'dealt bad hand' in Toronto sacking

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 02/09/2014
Ryan Nelsen
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SHORT STINT: Ryan Nelsen at the time of his appointment as Toronto FC head coach, in January 2013.

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Former All White Sam Malcolmson says sacked Toronto FC coach Ryan Nelsen should have been given another year to prove himself as a Major League Soccer coach.

Nelsen, 36, was dismissed yesterday after 15 wins in 58 games since taking over at the start of the 2013 season.

The former All Whites captain's firing followed an outburst against general manager Tim Bezbatchenko, who had earlier criticised the team for underperforming.

Nelsen was sacked after Toronto lost 0-3 at home to the New England Revolution. But Toronto was still fourth in the MLS eastern conference with 10 games remaining.

Bezbatchenko insisted at a news conference in Toronto yesterday that Nelsen's axing was about "primarily results".

"I think there are other things about in terms of long-term vision I think that you can point to, but primarily it's about results."

Nelsen's replacement, former MLS defender and current Toronto assistant general manager Greg Vanney, is Toronto's ninth coach in eight seasons.

Nelsen did not return calls yesterday. But Malcolmson, an All White at the 1982 World Cup finals and regular New Zealand football media commentator, said yesterday the club had not given Nelsen enough time.

"It was tough for him for a number of reasons. It's a struggling franchise and it was his first senior [coaching] job and I think he knew [former Toronto president Kevin Payne] pretty well."

Malcolmson said Nelsen had to spend much of his first season "clearing out a lot of dead wood and working out who to keep and adjusting to coaching fulltime". But the team appeared to be making some progress this season.

"I would have expected him to get another year," said Malcolmson.

He said it often took three seasons to turn a struggling club around.

Malcolmson thought it was surprising Toronto had dumped Nelsen when the club "has still got a chance of qualifying for the playoffs".

"I think he's been dealt a bad hand."

Malcolmson said Nelsen was still young and he hoped he would stay in the game.

Nelsen's coaching staff, including his former All Whites team-mate Duncan Oughton, were also dismissed.

Paul Attfield, a football analyst for Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper, wrote yesterday that Nelsen's ousting had been on the cards since Vanney was appointed to the front office as "defacto head-coach-in-waiting" late last year.

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It was "no secret" that Nelsen and Bezbatchenko "didn't see eye to eye", Attfield said.

Their spat spilled over at the weekend after Bezbatchenko said the team had been underperforming and Nelsen accused his boss of putting pressure on the players.

Nelsen insisted Toronto were not under pressure, with 10 games still to go before the playoffs.

"I've won this league, played in it for four years, been in the [English] Premier League for 10 years, played in a World Cup, Olympics. I've played in some pretty hot pressure games. One thing that I do know is this was not one of them."

But Bezbatchenko said yesterday, after sacking Nelsen, that the coach's comments were "excuses".

Attfield said Nelsen had the confidence of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president and chief executive Tim Leiweke, who oversees Toronto FC.

All four Toronto trades this season were Nelsen moves, Attfield wrote, but were opposed on each occasion by Bezbatchenko.

"That Nelsen could force them through was testament to the level of faith that Leiweke had in the former New Zealand soccer captain".

Atffield said Nelsen "won over" Leiweke in extensive conversations about Toronto's long-term vision.

The Kiwi also "did more than most" to bring England striker Jermaine Defoe and Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar to Canada, having played with them at Tottenham Hotspur and Queen's Park Rangers, respectively.

But Toronto's "recent slide" - 13 points out of 36 since early July - had "undermined Nelsen's power".

Attfield also said Nelsen's "zero head coaching experience" had been "exacerbated" by him choosing to hire "some close confidantes and allies", rather than "strong assistants with long coaching resumes".

Both Defoe and United States international Michael Bradley had "expressed dissatisfaction" with how training sessions were run in comparison with European leagues.

Bradley and Nelsen had had "a rocky relationship at times", leading to some "clear-the-air" private meetings.

Attfield also noted that new coach Vanney, 40, "like Nelsen ... has no head coaching experience".

Toronto may also lose Defoe with American and British sports websites reporting yesterday the striker might look to move to English premier league club Queen's Park Rangers where his, and Nelsen's, former Spurs manager Harry Redknapp is in charge. Defoe has scored 11 goals in 16 games for Toronto.

- The Press

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