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Butler: Face and Force of Impact moved upstairs

Noel Butler
8/2/2014 1:14:06 PM
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If we could use some of that vanishing spray from Brazil 2014 to remove the 1999 A League Season which was spent in Raleigh, North Carolina as the Impact sat out an outdoor season - Saturday afternoon's league match at home to arch rival Toronto FC will represent the first time in over two decades the Montreal Impact will take to a football pitch without Nick De Santis leading from the front. 

Who would have known that when he was signed by the club for its inaugural 1993 season, De Santis would go on to carve out for himself one of the most distinguished careers, on and off the pitch in North American soccer history.

Ask yourself now, who else comes to mind? Exactly.

Through his tenures as player, player/assistant coach, head coach, GM and Sporting Director - outside of an MLS Cup and CONCACAF Champions League title, De Santis has been a winner. Seen it all too.

Many tag De Santis as the 'Face of the Organization'. He was much more than that.

De Santis is both the face and force of the Impact.

Driven, possessing of an unbridled competitive spirit -- like very few others ever to take to the pitch in North America -- and with an overriding passion, will and determination to succeed, De Santis was loved by many and loathed by others. Even the Dalia Lama has his detractors.

De Santis left an impression, not always favourable with whomever he came into contact with. Like a few others that come to mind across world football, De Santis could spark a furious debate in a phone booth.

The man cared. 

Like no other I have seen in all my years, from those early, Impact incubating days sitting in the empty stands over at Complexe Sportif Claude-Robillard right on through the club's entire history.

Relieved of his duties in midweek - a vast chasm and gap just like the abundance of pot holes and sink holes which define Montreal these days now exists over at Saputo Stadium. 

Everyone might be replaceable, as the old adage goes, but these are mighty big shoes to fill.  Just as in 2006 when Mike Moretto left the club, it will take two people to fulfill the roles De Santis did.

We got our first indication De Santis was on thinner ice during the club's 2013 post-mortem last November when Joey Saputo announced that from now on, his Sporting Director and dear friend, would now solely focus on the senior team.

As the winter turned to spring and now in the midst of deep summer with defeats forming like an iceberg, that thin ice De Santis was skating on slowly ebbed and flowed away. 

De Santis, as he has done throughout his entire career, went down fighting. From some ex-teammates and coaches through to certain sections of the supporter base and media, there will be those who will take a form of pleasure in his demise.  Rivals and foes formed over two decades won't though.

The very best definition I have of the Saputo/De Santis relationship comes from an old teammate who once described it to me in very simple terms.

"Nick is Joey's confidence."

Confidant, Counsel and Consciousness, not many football club owners are fortunate enough to have such a relationship and conduit.  Saputo could always count on De Santis.

Make no mistake; the De Santis DNA touched in some way, shape or form all aspects of the club on and off the pitch. 

These past few months could not have been easy for Saputo as he slowly realised De Santis time was up and the president had to face up to the inevitable.

He had to let go of the man who he walked stride in stride with for nearly half of his entire life.

Not only in the professional sense, but as crucially in the family, and personal sense as well.

Anyone who has been fortunate, as I have over the years, to attend and witness the likes of pre-season team introduction events, post-season banquets through to the Saputo Stadium ground breaking ceremony and inaugural weekend, let alone the championship matches and other defining football moments, knows De Santis commands the love and respect of the extended Saputo family.  

Saputo's apt choice of word Wednesday morning, "relieved' when announcing De Santis had paid the price, likely also best describes how Saputo himself felt.

The inner anguish, the personal and professional turmoil the Impact's president has suffered through these past few months especially, was finally at an end.

De Santis time with the club though is not.

Announced to become part of the club's administration in as yet undefined role is only right and fitting.

Two things immediately spring to mind.

The first was in June 2008 when it was announced De Santis was let go as head coach but was appointed as GM - someone in the media questioned why he had been promoted. Saputo let it be known right there, De Santis would always be a part of the club.

The other occasion was down on the pitch in October 2009 shortly after the Impact had clinched their third playoff title. Live on the radio I put it to De Santis – you've won it as a player, a coach and now as GM when will you win it as President?

"Let's not talk about that, let's just enjoy this moment," was his deadpan response.


A place in the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame awaits.

As a club tribute, a statue of De Santis should grace Saputo Stadium. To be placed just outside the player's entrance.

After two decades of football service the local lad from east end St Michel might be gone from the pitch, but he will not ever be forgotten.

Je me souviens.

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

Montreal Impact Vs Toronto FC live on TSN690 [TSN690.ca] Saturday. Kick Off 5:00pm – Brian Wilde [@BrianWilde] and Grant Needham [@GrantNeedham] with your call.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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TSN 690: oranges at halftime: Patrice bernier: sep 11

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