Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever
To the shock of the Canadian soccer world, FC Edmonton has sacked head coach Harry Sinkgraven and assistant coach Hans Schrijver just over two months after the pair were extended through the 2013 season.
In a tumultuous week, the news out of Edmonton today was still a massive shock. FC Edmonton announced they have sacked head coach Harry Sinkgraven and assistant coach Hans Schrijver for, according to the club's own press release, "budgetary reasons".
The firing leaves assistant coach and head of the reserves Jeff Paulus, as well as goalkeeper coach Tomasz Janas, as the last surviving members of the FC Edmonton coaching staff. With Schrijver's departure, it also means the team has no coaches remaining who were part of the club's 2010 exhibition season under Dwight Lodeweges (Schrijver followed Lodeweges to Japan for 2011 but returned in 2012, at the same time 2010's other assistant coach Dave Randall got the axe).
It's a stunning announcement, one that nobody not close to the team seems to have seen coming. Only two months ago, Sinkgraven and Schrijver received controversial contract extensions with the team still wallowing in last place. Since then the team hasn't gotten any worse, but there were much-publicized falling-outs with star midfielder Shaun Saiko and talented winger/forward Matt Lam; Lam has since been released.
The worst public signs of locker room turmoil came after Sinkgraven and Schrijver had been extended. In this context, it's easy to see Edmonton's "budgetary reasons" as a fig leaf to spare both the Dutchmen's pride and FC Edmonton's reputation: it is well-known that Edmonton had a very large payroll this season on both the playing and coaching ends, and with all that expenditure achieved almost nothing. Sinkgraven and Schrijver get to say they would have remained if the money was there, Edmonton gets to say they gave the two extensions in good faith but were thwarted by circumstances.
But nobody, and I mean nobody, is buying "budgetary reasons" as the whole story. In his article on the sackings, FC Edmonton colour man and top reporter Steve Sandor doesn't even deign to mention them, except in a quote.
Sinkgraven's clashes within the locker room have, at times, been a matter of public record. And everyone who writes more than three words about the Eddies has heard a grumble or two from a current or ex-player. Nobody likes a rumour-monger, but if owner Tom Fath and technical director Joe Petrone had genuine fear they were losing talented players because of the coach then that would be good reason to act.
What would be most concerning is that many of the players alienated were, by all accounts, the Canadians rather than the Europeans or South Americans: it's those Canadians who gossip among each other in a surprisingly tight community, and those Canadians who FC Edmonton relies upon to get talent at a low price. The last thing Edmonton would want is a reputation among Canadians, like some A-League teams had in the old days, that Edmonton was a toxic place to play.
There's no word on who will be coaching Edmonton forward. If there is a kernel of truth in the budgetary excuse, the odds of another import coach seem slim, and in this regard the club retaining Jeff Paulus seems interesting. Paulus is by all accounts a good young coach, but inexperienced at this level and, with his education background, seemingly well-employed with the Academy and the Reserves.
It would be interesting to know at what point Edmonton had decided to make a coaching change. The team has made four confirmed player cuts in the last week, including the contentious Lam. It's been reported on Twitter that a fifth, Kevin Hatchi, is also on his way out the door. How involved were Sinkgraven and Schrijver in making these moves, and how involved were Paulus, Petrone, and ownership? If the Edmonton front office accepted these cuts as a good idea while still considering sacking the two coaches, fine. In any event, one presumes Petrone would have to sign off on any cuts. But if Sinkgraven and Schrijver were the driving force behind these departures, Lam's in particular, it raises more questions about the timing of this particular announcement.
 — Morse, Andreas. "Club cuts ties with coaching staff." FCEdmonton.com. Accessed September 28, 2012. http://www.fcedmonton.com/news/2012-09-28/Club%20Cuts%20Ties%20with%20Coaching%20Staff.
 — Massey, Benjamin. "Last-place FC Edmonton extends head coach Harry Sinkgraven." Eighty Six Forever, July 19, 2012. Accessed September 28, 2012. http://www.eightysixforever.com/2012/7/19/3170181/last-place-fc-edmonton-extends-head-coach-harry-sinkgraven.
 — Sandor, Steve. "FCE’s Saiko shows his frustration over benching." The11.ca, August 7, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2012. http://the11.ca/2012/08/07/fces-saiko-shows-his-frustration-over-benching/.
 — Sandor, Steve. "Lam isn't welcome back to train or play with FC Edmonton." The11.ca, September 17, 2012. Accessed September 25, 2012. http://the11.ca/2012/09/17/lam-isnt-welcome-back-to-train-or-play-with-fc-edmonton/.
 — Massey, Benjamin. "FC Edmonton Cuts Four." Eighty Six Forever, September 26, 2012. Accessed September 28, 2012. http://www.eightysixforever.com/2012/9/26/3412318/fc-edmonton-cuts-four.
 — Sandor, Steve. "Sinkgraven, Schrijver out of work as FC Edmonton lowers the axe." The11.ca, September 28, 2012. Accessed September 28, 2012. http://the11.ca/2012/09/28/sinkgraven-schrijver-out-of-work-as-fc-edmonton-lowers-the-axe/.
 — Henri, Patrick. "Kévin Hatchi ne sera pas de retour avec le FC Edmonton. Il a confirmé avoir été libéré par l'équipe pour raisons budgétaires. #FCED #NASL." Via Twitter. September 26, 2012. Accessed September 28, 2012. https://twitter.com/pathenri/status/251038198715801600.