Toronto FC president Kevin Payne announced at a news conference on Tuesday that Ryan Nelsen has been hired as the club's new head coach, with Fran O'Leary joining the club as Assistant Coach and Director of Player Recruitment. Former head coach, Paul Mariner, has left the club.
It is, without a doubt, the most bizarre coaching appointment ever made in Major League Soccer.
Nelsen is currently playing for Queens Park Rangers in the English Premier League – a situation that neither Nelsen nor Payne could confirm would be resolved any time soon. In fact, QPR's website carried the following message to its fans:
"Nelsen is under contract with QPR until June 30th 2013, however, he has requested to enter dialogue with QPR boss Harry Redknapp to discuss when he will join up with his new club.
In the meantime, Nelsen will be available for the R's Barclays Premier League fixture against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend."
At the news conference, Nelsen would not confirm that he would be ending his playing career at the international level – he has 49 caps for New Zealand. Nelsen also admitted to the assembled media that he currently holds no coaching qualifications.
Ok, let's summarize the situation:
1. Nelsen currently plays for Queen's Park Rangers of the English Premier League. He also plays international football for New Zealand.
2. Nelsen has never coached before, at any level, and holds no coaching qualifications.
3. No one from Toronto FC was able to confirm when Nelsen would actually begin coaching the team.
So why, then, did Kevin Payne hire him to be Toronto FC's eighth head coach in six years?
Payne went to great lengths to explain that he feels he is hiring a proven leader, saying, "I believe his leadership qualities, intelligence, preparation and character will contribute to his success as a coach. I couldn't ask for a better person to lead our club."
In some respects, I agree with Payne.
He is hiring the person, not the resumé. If he believes that Nelsen has the character, intelligence and personality to lead Toronto FC, then that is his decision to make.
However, the fact that Nelsen has no coaching qualifications or experience whatsoever is a major concern.
Being a successful coach requires a deep understanding of the game - that is simply a given. More importantly, being a successful coach requires the ability to read players, to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick - what motivates them. This is a skill that Nelsen may very well possess, but given that he has never coached before, is completely unknown.
This is either a very bold move or a completely crazy one.
Nelsen has proven to be a leader as a player, on the field, over the course of his career. Talk to anyone who has played alongside him, and they speak highly of his leadership abilities. But making the transition from being a player (able to influence the result of a game through your own actions) to being a coach (only able to influence the game through your ability to motivate your players) is a different task altogether.
But Kevin Payne believes that he has found the man to turn around the fortunes of Toronto FC, regardless of his lack of coaching experience or credentials. Make no mistake about it – this hiring will define Kevin Payne's tenure as president of Toronto FC.
If Nelsen succeeds, so too does Payne. He will be hailed as a leader who turned a vision into reality. But if Nelsen fails, then Payne will carry the blame for making the most bizarre coaching appointment in the history of MLS.