So, farewell then, Jimmy Brennan, riding gloriously off into the sunset after fourteen years of professional soccer, forty-nine senior international caps, and three seasons as captain of his hometown MLS team. Brennan is set to announce his retirement tomorrow afternoon, supposedly to become assistant general manager in Mo Johnston's erratic front office.
It's a surprise in more ways than one. Brennan mentioned on It's Called Football last week that he was probably going to retire at the end of this season but nobody expected it to be this soon. He looked good, if not great, in Toronto's season opener against Columbus. He's only thirty-two and it's not like he's injured or physically incapable. The question, and one that can probably never be answered, is whether Brennan is falling on his sword for the sake of his club or whether he's just so tired that the captain is willing to leave his players in the lurch.
Brennan has a non-trivial 2010 cap hit of $119,070, which is a fair chunk of change on a team starving for depth. If Brennan's retirement relieves Toronto of all $119,070, that's money they could use to sign two decent depth players. But the world isn't exactly full of players who are unattached, available in April, willing to take $55,000 each and of the quality of even a 32-year-old Jim Brennan. It's difficult to imagine a way that this could make Toronto better on the pitch, unless you are a far more starry-eyed Gabe Gala optimist than I am. Brennan's cap hit just about exactly covers three players at the new MLS non-developmental minimum of $40,000, but horrible though Toronto's depth is are two more minimum-wage players the answer?
For all the admiration I have for Brennan as a man and as a footballer, he has a chequered history. He's been captain of Toronto since its inception, and not only has Toronto never made the playoffs but talented players like Jeff Cunningham have left with bitter tastes in their mouths from the dressing room environment. His quarrels with the national team have been legion: his relationship with Holger Osieck was bad enough that Brennan skipped the 2003 Gold Cup that eventually led to Osieck being hauled behind the woodshed and he fared little better with Dale Mitchell, initially greeting Mitchell as "a good selection" and throwing Mitchell under the bus less than a year later. He proved his professionalism by always playing his hardest when he got the opportunity regardless of the boss, but there was always that question mark; that over-willingness to play bootroom politician.
Let there be no doubt that, in his prime, Brennan was one of Canada's better players. He was the best left back we've run out other than Michael Klukowski since the 1980s. Again excepting Klukowski and perhaps Martin Nash (more limited in other ways), no other Canadian player on either flank in the last generation has combined his intelligence on the pitch and sheer crossing ability. He scored six times for his country, which is nothing to sneeze at, and in another world would have had the same improbably long and remarkably fluid career as fellow politicking defender Mark Watson.
Toronto fans shouldn't be worried about Brennan as an assistant GM: it's not like the position makes life-or-death decisions, and Brennan is an intelligent, well-spoken man who by all accounts knows his football. There are worse front office apprenticeships. But was this cushy job offered by a team eager to free up Brennan's salary, or was it a gift from Mo Johnston to a devoted defender who had decided that enough was enough one game into a new season? It's doubtful we'll ever really know the answer.
But whether Brennan is leaving for the sake of his club or for himself, Toronto FC will be worse off for it.