Well I don’t think many TFC watchers saw this one coming. Toronto FC announced Monday afternoon that TFC Academy Director Stuart Neely had resigned from the club and that on an interim basis long time Front Office stalwart Earl Cochrane was stepping in to the role on an interim basis.
Mr. Neely was with TFC Academy since its inception and was since January of 2011 the man running the entire show. In case you are not aware of what his role entailed Mr. Neely was not coaching the players in the Academy on a day to day basis as that responsibility currently falls to the likes of Danny Dichio and Jim Brennan currently in charge of the senior and junior sides respectively. Neely was in overall charge of how the programs were to be run, player recruitment and of course probably had a huge hand behind the scenes in the Academy project now taking shape at Downsview Park.
Under his tenure the Academy not only promoted six players into the first team but also started to really forge stronger links and relationships with a lot of the local soccer clubs in Ontario that saw what to a large degree started out to be adversarial relationships often turn into ones that became more conciliatory and cooperative as time went on. Neely with his considerable time spent at the Ontario Soccer Association and with Soccer Canada before coming to TFC, brought a lot of solid personal relationships with the soccer community into the role and I think that on that aspect alone, leaving aside the other strengths he obviously has, his departure will be a blow to the Academy. Whatever the reason for him leaving I wish him well.
Interestingly there already appear to be two different versions of events surrounding his exit out there from two well respected sources. Ben Rycroft of Canadian Soccer News is reporting that although he technically resigned Neely was forced out of the position by the powers to be at the club. John Molinaro of Rogers Sportsnet is saying something different. He is claiming that his sources are reporting that Neely resigned last week and that the club was surprised by his decision. That scenario of course from Mr. Molinaro precludes him being shown the door. Which of these two conflicting re-tellings of the events is correct is something I will leave up to them to dig out. Some of us have to work day jobs!
What this story more than anything else got me thinking about today (other than the future of the Academy) was whether this sort of event speaks to the rumblings and whispers that I have been hearing for a while from club observers (and on a couple of occasions from senior officials within the TFC setup) about the management style of Aron Winter. I have heard it from more than one source that Mr. Winter runs a very tight ship so to speak. Basically his management style apparently is much more akin to the traditional European style of management which sees the boss give his underlings a real short leash when it comes to just about every aspect of their jobs. Aron Winter by all accounts runs the football side of Toronto FC in a style more akin to a Sir Alex Ferguson or an Arsene Wenger that sees him have the final say in virtually all decisions from the most minute to the largest scale and all in between.
And with the nascent Academy project in Downsview Park fast coming together to go along with the stated intention of TFC to expand the programs offered to younger and younger age groups in future seasons might this departure be a case of the Boss not letting a competent manager do the little things by himself?
Stuart Neely has had a huge hand in the recruitment and development of players like Ashtone Morgan and Matt Stinson to name but two and I am sure that just about every kid in the Academy setup and their respective families owe him a great debt. Now I get the perceived plan to try and copy the Ajax Way with the TFC Academy and I would not be shocked to see a Dutch coach or administrator brought in to take over from Neely in the coming weeks. What I do hope is that whomever replaces Stuart Neely has the common sense to remember that an Academy can only be as good as the players they recruit and that there is a huge need for the Academy as a whole to be looked as a partner to the soccer community in Ontario and not an adversary.