Welcome to Partially Obstructed View. We are each restrained by the limits of our own perspective, but when we meet to share information a clearer picture of the truth can be revealed. Comments & criticisms are welcome.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

First Person View - Mariner’s Contrasting Comments

    In the space of just under a month Paul Mariner has radically changed his tune.

    Against Houston back on August 25th Mariner referred to Toronto’s first half as perhaps the best forty-five minutes of football the side had played under him, that despite falling behind 1-0 to the home side and mustering very little by way of offense.

    At the time, I argued that perhaps he was pointing out that by forcing the opposition to beat them, rather than handing them goals by poor defensive play, Mariner had a point in his seemingly bizarre half-time comments.

    Fast-forward to September 12th against Chicago and Mariner was singing an entirely different tune come half-time.

    He lambasted his squad for a sub-par first half, calling out his players as lacking the heart and pride to play for the shirt. We’ll take a look at who was at fault for each of the goals – likely in a follow up post - but let’s focus on the comments.

    The platitudes he paid to the city - comparing the opportunity of playing for the club to the likes of some of the biggest clubs in the world - was the first time his words harkened back to the incredibly awkward press conference where he was introduced as the replacement manager back in June.

    The manner in which Mariner interjected himself in questions targeted at Tom Anselmi, protecting the boss from the barrage he was facing, was uncomfortable. Anselmi is a big boy, he should have been able to face those questions alone if need be.

    One got the impression Mariner was trying to get in front of the story on that day, managing the message, a tactic employed again by throwing the players under the bus and reiterating just how great the city, the fans, and the club are as they lost another match.

    It is an old trick in professional sports, one that likely stills works well – who doesn’t like the occasional compliment – but it is a thin veil, one that can only hide so much from so many.

    To be fair, TFC did shoot themselves in the foot on both Chicago goals and if the prior interpretation of Mariner’s mindset – that forcing the opponent to win, rather than handing over the points – is valid, he did indeed have a point.

    That being said, Toronto is now winless in nine-matches, their worst run of the season since losing the opening nine matches and fans can’t help but wonder if the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    The question that arises from this discrepancy and the poor run is: Are Mariner’s touchline antics – the demonstrative frustrations and the constant prodding of his charges around the pitch – helpful?

    No one can argue that this is not a young team, especially at the back, and does it serve those players well to have one ear – and one part of their mental focus – cocked towards the coach’s beck and call?

    Surely it does the confidence no good to see your coach gesticulating disparagingly with each missed pass or wasted opportunity.

    Philosophically speaking, it comes down to what is the role of the manager? Is he a conductor, orchestrating the movements of his players around the pitch? Or is he a watch-maker, setting the pieces in order and letting them tick to the prescribed rhythm?

    In reality, it is a little of each – and therein lies the value of the more experienced player, think Torsten Frings, who can provide on-pitch management, enforcing the manager’s plan, from within the action – the manager must both trust in his players to carry out the game-plan, while studying the action on the pitch and attempt to exert some influence on the proceedings.

    It is a fine line to tread and Toronto fans can only hope that given more time to work with the players – and a reinforcement or two – Mariner will exhibit a slightly more hands-off approach next season.

    I am quite fond of his passion and energy, it is nearly as entertaining to observe Mariner as it to follow the action on the pitch; but as with all distractions, it takes the spotlight away from what is important.

    If the margin between error and success is a fraction of a second, then that little bit of doubt implanted by an ill-timed shout or the fear of a mistake, kills the opportunity. Sure-footedness and confidence, the ability to know exactly what to do in a given situation, is the hallmark of a winning side. Toronto – much like Canada – lacks that ability to play the killer pass, instead muted by the fear of inadequacy.

    At times there exists conflicting interests between a coach and a team; let’s face it there are a lot of egos involved and jobs on the line, that disrupt what should be a working partnership. At what point does the manager blame his charges to save his own hide? And do the players then turn their back on him? Or vice versa. 

    Despite the preceding criticisms, I am not one calling for Mariner to become the seventh manager to be fired by the club. I quite like the guy; he seems personable enough, knows the league and has had success in it.

    We can argue about tactical aesthetics, whether Aron Winter was given the proper time and support to implement his ideas, who was responsible for the current crop of players, if the Mariner-Winter brain trust was ever a good idea, and a million other little variables that have resulted in yet another disappointing season – let’s leave all that for the offseason - but to perform another radical house cleaning whether in the front office or in the squad seems unnecessary.

    Unnecessary may be the wrong word, given the results, perhaps unwanted would be better.

    Consistency – or the lack thereof – has been the bane of this club’s existence.

    I was prepared give Winter the patience to succeed - to endure another woeful campaign – with an eye to the future and that same courtesy will be extended to Mariner, no matter how unsettling the results and continued disharmony appear to be.

    In an important twist of fate, Chicago’s Gonzalo Segares was making his one hundred and ninety-ninth appearance for Chicago against Toronto on the day in question and in the following match against Montreal on the weekend, he made his two hundredth.

    Segares was the seventh Chicago player to reach the two hundred appearance milestone in club history; no Toronto player has yet reached one hundred for the club – Stefan Frei would have passed that mark this season if not for his injury.

    Granted TFC is a younger club than Chicago, but if the current turnover rate continues, one wonders if any player will ever reach such a signpost of accomplishment with the organization.

    Lost in all the grumbles about how poor of a first half display Toronto put on was that, once again, Chicago has quietly put about a solid campaign, surging at the right moment – and not too late as they did last season – in a build to the playoffs.

    Chicago has outplayed many teams this season and that Toronto looked much better in the final half hour is of some value.

    A slight aside - the unleashing of a rain of boos onto the players at the end of matches is despicable. How people find the all to boo the men on the pitch amazes me.

    I understand the frustration at yet another loss, but these are not the pampered millionaires retiring at the end of the match to their mansions that North American audiences associate with professional sports.

    Perhaps that is an unjust argument - to hold these players to lesser standards based on the money involved - and that is not the intent. It is more an attempt to recognize that in soccer, the efforts - or lack thereof - of the home crowd can have massive implications on the outcome of matches – see the effects of the Panamanian crowd on Canada.

    This is not a sport for the individual to succeed, it is all about the collective, and the fans are part of that.

    One swing of the bat; one end-to-end rush; one hail-Mary pass; can alter the outcome of the game in other sports. Even the most individual bit of play in soccer is rooted in the opportunity provided by the work of others.

    Mariner’s comments sought to remove himself from the performance by placing a distance between his instruction and the mistakes of individual players; the fans who booed are equally guilty of such a separation.

    If Mariner’s instructions are a distraction, than the booing is an unwelcome discouragement.

    If the outpouring it is an attempt to voice displeasure at the MLSE big wigs – an acceptable goal – surely there is a better manner to vocalize those inadequacies than booing our team.

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