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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Thoughts? - Would Acquiring Alessandro Nesta Have Helped TFC?

    Now, on the morning of the meeting between Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact, seems as good a time as any to look at the half-season of work put in by Italian legend, Alessandro Nesta and attempt to answer the question of whether he would have been a good signing for Toronto.

    On Friday, July 6th the Montreal Impact announced the acquisition of the thirty-six-year-old defender. His signing followed weeks of speculation linking the player to both Toronto and Montreal. At the time, it was seen as a bit of a swoop by the Impact and their charismatic owner Joey Saputo, taking the player away from their Canadian rivals at the eleventh hour.

    Toronto, since day one, has desperately been in need of a commanding centre-back, someone to marshal the back-line and organize the defense. An experienced player who could maintain calm amongst the trials that an improving and lengthening MLS season provides, would, perhaps, put an end to the woeful, structure-less defending that has haunted the club for years.

     Nesta debuted for his new club within the month, on July 28th at home against New York. A 3-1 win began a strong run of form by the Impact. Nesta completed one further match – a 2-0 home win against Philadelphia – before a knee sprain forced him to miss the next two matches, which Montreal also won – 0-1 at New England and 3-1 versus San Jose.

    The defender returned to the side at the end of the month and went the distance in a 3-0 home win over DC United, but then something happened.

    In Columbus cracks in his game started to appear. He managed to navigate the full ninety minutes, but nearly cost his team dearly when he looked to draw a foul after getting harassed by Jairo Arrieta leading to a dangerous turnover and shot by Justin Meram.

    He was then absolutely abused by Federico Higuain on what proved to be the game-winning goal – Columbus took the crucial match between Eastern Conference rivals 2-1 in Ohio.

    Montreal’s next match was in Chicago against the surging Fire and again Nesta looked susceptible to errors and poor positioning one would not expect from a player of his calibre.

    It was his incredibly weak pass that led to Alex’s eventual game-winning goal after Marco Di Vaio’s opener had been cancelled out by Sherjill MacDonald’s header.

    Then Nesta was outpaced and burned by MacDonald, himself just finding fitness having joined Chicago midseason, but the Dutchman’s strike was straight at Troy Perkins.

    Nesta was substituted after eighty-one minutes for Jeb Brovsky as Montreal sought to make up the two-goal deficit.

    He lasted only fifty-seven minutes versus Sporting KC in a 0-0 draw back in Montreal, replaced by Sanna Nyassi with Coach Jesse Marsch looking to switch up the attack in search of a goal.

    Montreal’s most recent match was a 1-1 draw in Houston that saw them officially eliminated from playoff contention. Nesta started the match, but was removed at half-time, subbed for Lamar Neagle, after playing a role in Will Bruin’s last-minute strike that gave Houston the lead going into the break.

    His attempt to cut out the run and cross of Calen Carr was unimpressive, but his removal could fairly be deemed tactical.

    The last month of action has not been great for the vaunted defender, but there are a number of qualifiers that should be considered.

    Primarily, his cap hit, which according to the most recent data provided by the players union is $180 000 base and $225 000 guaranteed. Not very much, especially when compared to the $330 000 base/$436 250 guaranteed listed for his nominal replacement at TFC, Darren O’Dea, but one must take those reports with a grain of salt, remembering that the data provided is not necessarily complete.
    Add to that financial consideration that he was denied a proper pre-season which is a major obstacle to any player joining a club midstream; catching up to the fitness required given all the peculiar demands – travel, time zone and weather changes – of MLS is a difficult task.

    All acquisitions, especially those older ones, need an extended period of acclimatization before they can truly be judged to have been a success or not. Even the much ridiculed Mista may – repeat may, potentially, possibly, for the sake of argument – have proved to be a better signing had he been given the time to acclimate to his new surroundings.

    There could also be unknown factors involved. Is he carrying an injury? In a good number of those matches he was paired with Nelson Rivas, who had season-ending knee surgery – was he carrying that knock? Since the Colombian has been out Nesta has played alongside Matteo Ferrari, are those two too similar to perform as a duo?

    Nesta will be thirty-seven at the start of next season and only after a full campaign can his contribution truly be judged.

    What play on the pitch does not take into account is that having someone such as Nesta at a club helps establish a professional and winning attitude, serves as a role-model for all of the youth at a club ranging from the first team to the academy – provided the individual is the type to reach out in that manner, which it appears as though the classy defender would be - and raises the international profile of the club, not to mention the celebrity factor, the ability of a big name to perk the ears of the casual, potential fan who may otherwise scoff at MLS.

    Based on the admittedly small sample of his ability from this season he has not been a valuable on pitch asset, proving to be a weak point in the defense at the time that the club needed him the most, but any definitive statement must be held until next season when his real contributions will come to fruition.

    There are only so many players of his experience and profile in the world, Nesta’s simply do not grow on trees, any club would look at his resume and be forced to consider the possibilities.

    Did Toronto dodge a bullet when the defender opted to sign for Montreal rather than Toronto? Only time will tell.

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