By RON FANFAIR
Toronto FC has its sixth coach since the franchise entered Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2007 and its fourth in the last 15 months.
Dutchman Aron Winter joined the fold last week, bringing with him fellow Ajax Amsterdam coach Bob de Klerk as his assistant. This is the first head coach job for Winter who retired from professional soccer in 2003 and has been an assistant coach with Ajax’s first team for the past five years.
He will oversee Toronto FC’s soccer operation and set the direction for the club which has failed to make the play-offs in four seasons.
“I am extremely excited by the opportunity that has been given to me to lead Toronto FC,” said the Suriname-born Winter, who made 84 appearances for The Netherlands. “The vision of this club matches my beliefs about how the game should be played and I look forward to building a team that is capable of delivering long-term success on and off the pitch.”
Winter admits that he has not had the chance to fully assess the roster. He’s back in the Netherlands analyzing the players’ strengths and weaknesses before pre-season starts at the end of the month. The regular season begins in Vancouver on March 19.
“Our first goal is to reach the play-offs and then we want to go further on and spring some surprises,” said Winter, who played in three World Cups and four European championships.
The new coach is expected to implement a fluid system similar to the “Total Football” concept developed by former Ajax and Dutch player Rinus Michels in which players are interchangeable.
“I like to play an attractive style,” he said. “In the beginning, it should be fairly hard for us because the mentality for Total Football in Europe, especially in Holland, is totally different than here in Canada and in the United States. Total Football is about a lot of possession in which we have to work together with everybody knowing everybody else’s qualities. It’s going to take hard work.”
Winter, who made his Ajax debut in 1987 under the legendary Johan Cruyff, is among a large group of players born in Suriname, the former Dutch colony which secured its independence in 1975, that have gone on to play for the Netherlands. Others are Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Clarence Seedorf.
The 43-year-old former midfielder was in Suriname last November to witness Group “C” teams compete in the Digicel Caribbean Cup tournament.
Winter, who also played in Italy for Inter Milan and Lazio, replaces Nick Dasovic who held the head coaching position on an interim basis after Predrag “Preki” Radosavljevi was fired 11 months after stepping in for Chris Cummins who lasted just six months with the club in 2009.
Last November, Toronto FC hired German soccer great Juergen Klinsmann and his company – SoccerSolutions – to help reorganize the club’s infrastructure.
With the high turnover of coaches and the club’s inability to make the play-offs, Toronto FC chief executive Tom Anselmi knows it’s time to build and maintain a solid administrative infrastructure to retain the club’s loyal fan base.
“We have been working over the past few months to build an integrated soccer system that will give us the best opportunity to succeed on the pitch,” said Anselmi. “We wanted to establish a management team that is committed to the way the club wants to play, has an international perspective, knows Major League Soccer and believes in the potential of Toronto FC.”
Former England striker, coach and manager Paul Mariner, who was an assistant coach with New England Revolution for six seasons, also joins the Toronto FC staff after spending the last 15 months coaching Plymouth Argyle in England.
“I know Toronto fans have been told to ‘watch this spot’ for several years,” he said. “Can we turn it around right away? The intelligent answer is ‘now, we can’t.’ There are no guarantees. All I can say is that I am extremely confident that this is the right mix. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”