Friday Morning, the Vancouver Whitecaps official announced the “global search” for a sporting director to oversee the “technical side” of the club, while also announcing the transition of former president Bobby Lenarduzzi to the new role of club liaison. While rumblings of this kind of search had been swirling in the back channels for months, the club decided to make it official this week, no doubt in an attempt to preserve season ticket sales and increase optimism about the club’s future going forward into 2020. In an official statement which preceded the press conference, the Whitecaps explained the nature of the shift in club structuring:
“Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced on Friday that the club has opened an extensive global search to hire a sporting director who will lead the technical direction of the club at all levels. The sporting director will report to ownership, eliminating the role of president from the club structure...The sporting director will be a proven leader who brings exceptional soccer expertise to the club. The individual will have a vast understanding and knowledge of scouting and recruitment in the global market, maximize the advantages of a sport performance model, and embrace youth development.”
In reality, all this announcement served to do was tell Whitecaps fans two things they likely already knew: For one, the Whitecaps need someone to help Marc Dos Santos with the soccer operations/player procurement role within the club. Secondly, Bobby Lenarduzzi, in reality, has had very little to do with the overall day to day operations of the club for quite some time now.
The Whitecaps also decided to take this announcement as an opportunity to hold a press conference. In the conference, Jeff Mallett, Bobby Lenarduzzi and Marc Dos Santos answered questions regarding the club’s recent release, as well as other issues pertaining to the ownership, management and overall direction of the club.
You can watch the full press conference in the Youtube video linked below (the actual interview is about 40 mins long), but for the sake of brevity, I’m going to focus my attention on what I thought were the key soundbites.
From the outset, co-owner Jeff Mallett sent a clear message that he felt it was important to have laid the groundwork for many important aspects of the club (training facilities, youth academy, head coach) prior to hiring a sporting director, and that now that many of those aspects have been established, he and his ownership group felt as though it was the right time to begin the search. I think this message will be a very tough sell for most Whitecaps fans. While the organization is trying to come across organized and well calculated, an August press conference to announce a “search” for new staff smacks of desperation rather than a coherent and well thought out plan - no matter what kind of spin you might try to put on it.
Addressing Lenarduzzi’s new role, Mallett spoke about how the 40+ year veteran of the club would continue to build on club associations/affiliations around the world and foster relationships with the national team, as well as looking forward to the 2026 World Cup in North America. At the end of the day, Lenarduzzi’s role is likely not changing very much, other than from a public appearance perspective. Lenarduzzi commented on his new role, as well as the heaps of public criticism that have been directed his way:
Bobby asked about public criticism of him. Said it has bothered him but "I accept it comes with the territory and my hope is that with the announcement today I can be a big part of changing that narrative." #VWFC— AFTN (@aftncanada) August 16, 2019
Bob Lenarduzzi asked why he is sticking around after all the criticism and scandals. Said he feels he "still has a lot to offer". Said "a lot of the things I've had the blame for, I haven't had a lot to do with." #VWFC— AFTN (@aftncanada) August 16, 2019
While Lenarduzzi is certainly right that he’s been blamed for many things which have little to do with him directly, failing to take ownership for the struggles of the club is likely something which won’t go over well with Whitecaps fans. It seems clear that Lenarduzzi is frustrated that he’s been the one tasked with falling on the proverbial sword while his counterparts Greg Anderson and Rachel Lewis appear to be coming out unscathed.
Speaking of Anderson & Lewis, Jeff Mallett confirmed that both will remain in their current roles for the Whitecaps at the moment. So, it will be interesting to see how/if their roles change after a sporting director is hired and established.
Jumping back to the ‘sporting director” role, Mallett detailed some of the specifications and criteria the club will be looking for, as well as commenting that the goal would be to have this person installed within the club by seasons end.
"We want someone who's a student of the game, who wants to write new rules. We want someone who flips it upside down, uses analytics... We have a pretty good idea of what we're looking for."— Vancouver Whitecaps FC (@WhitecapsFC) August 16, 2019
-#VWFC co-owner Jeff Mallett
Additionally, Mallett hinted that the new sporting director would likely be someone “not” from an MLS environment. This could mean someone from Europe or elsewhere abroad, but they could also be from the lower levels of professional soccer in North America.
... won four MLS Cups and two Shields in 13 seasons, most with the LA Galaxy. He has a strong business background, was part of the Delta's miracle run to the NASL title - the team basically ran out of money mid-season - and has a very strong pre-existing relationship with MDS.— J.J. Adams (@TheRealJJAdams) August 16, 2019
Given that a large part of the press conference discussion centered on organizational development and the rapid growth and advancement within MLS, I thought it was pertinent to ask the leadership group about the status of the Development Squad and whether or not there are plans in place for the team to join a league in the 2020 season and beyond.
In response, Mallett addressed the fact the Nick Dasovic has openly acknowledged his desire for the team to play in a competitive league, and added that there are “multiple options and opportunities” for the development squad to grow going forward. I’m guessing that once a sporting director is installed, he would likely have a major say in which of these options is chosen.
Jeff Mallett was also asked about the current status of the Independent Investigation being conducted in regards to the Women’s team scandal which came to light earlier this season. Mallet described the investigation as a “work in progress” and did not provide any official update, although he did note that he anticipates the investigation to come to a “resolution” over the coming weeks.
Finally, in regards to the “mysterious scouting department”, Jeff Mallett continued to emphasize that they don’t want to publicize and promote the work of their scouting department. I also spoke with Jeff briefly after the conference concluded, and asked him about how the scouting network would integrate with the hiring of a sporting director. In response, Mallett stressed that the club “didn’t have the luxury” of waiting for a sporting director to be installed prior to setting up a scouting network, and that the intention is to have established resources (such as a scouting network) for the sporting director to mold and adapt as he takes over leadership of the club on the technical side.
What did you think of the club announcement and press conference? Was there anything important that you thought I missed? Do you have any suggestions for who the Whitecaps should be targeting? As always, let me know your thoughts.