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Butler: Impact play a blinder off the pitch

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Noel Butler, TSN.ca
11/8/2013 6:16:05 PM
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Right on cue and as advertised at exactly 1pm et Tuesday afternoon, the Montreal Impact officially began their 2013 season post-mortem in front of what was a very sizeable and highly-engaged media throng.

In the lead up - which seemed to begin the moment Mike Geiger blew the whistle in Houston last Thursday night - the Impact rumour mill went into overdrive.

The speculation went into meltdown mode, of the golden nugget variety.

Gems included; did a member of Impact management and not head coach Marco Schallibaum pick the team for the Impact's first-ever MLS playoff match? Others placed Alessandro Nesta in the role of the Impact's third head coach since it began play in MLS in March 2012.

From last weekend and right through Monday and Tuesday morning, the intrigue over these two specific rumours continued to add layers as it increased to fever pitch.

Was Schallibaum already home in Switzerland contemplating a 2014 without the Impact? Surely not, as an option is his contract for an additional year would automatically strike for making the playoffs.

MLS Playoffs were the only requirement. Not that singular play-in round the now fully-qualified legal boffins proffered.

Mauro Biello was certainly keeping his assistant coaching role under Nesta. What, though, would come of Philippe Eullaffroy?

The Frenchman in his role as Impact Academy Director is very much the reason the likes of Karl Ouimette, Maxim Tissot and Wandrille Lefèvre have already seen decent MLS playing time. Ouimette's qualities and promise were reconfirmed Friday afternoon when it was announced he had gotten his first National Team call-up.

Eullaffroy, and his work are very much admired by the two people in the organization who appeared from behind the curtain at 12:59pm Tuesday.

Even before a word had been uttered by club president, Joey Saputo most of the 50-plus individuals, which had now packed out the media conference room, were of the strong belief Schallibaum was no longer the head coach of his team. A team that for the largest part of the season was a legitimate contender for not just making the playoffs but to contend for the holiest of North American soccer grails, the MLS Cup itself.

Those from the Schallibaum hanging jury had a massive piece of evidence.

Well, sort of, on the circumstantial evidence front. There were only two microphones at the IMFC Post Mortem rostrum with neither containing the name of the head coach.

By 1:05pm Tuesday afternoon Schallibaum's hanging-out-to-dry trial was dismissed.

The Impact President confirmed a meeting had indeed taking place with his head coach just some 24-hours previously and that he was still the head coach.

It didn't take long either for Saputo to kick into touch any thought (rational or otherwise) that one of the modern era's greatest central defenders was currently getting measured up and suited and booted for his head coach threads. Licenses and Badges not included.

We were further advised that only following what most certainly will be the most thorough of Impact investigations in their 20 year history - into reasons why things went so terribly wrong and downhill late in the season - would any decision be announced on who the club's head coach will be in 2014.

Not down with the darkening mood in the room, likely due to the repetitive nature of the questions the Impact's Sporting Director cleverly spotted opportunity to bring up the woeful Toronto FC.

Hales of laughter ensued.

Job almost done, Saputo and De Santis left the media to fight amongst themselves shortly afterwards.

Here's another nugget to chew on, thrown out earlier by the club's Communications Director, the very affable Pat Vallee, who himself came through the Impact's ranks from back in the Claude Robillard days.

Vallee announced a sequel to the IMFC Post Mortem 24-hours later would now not only include the announcement of the 2013 MVP, but additionally head coach Marco Schallibaum would play a leading role in Wednesday's matinee.

Di Vaio was not so much voted in as MVP but confirmed by proclamation. Not only one of the very few players in MLS history to breach the 20-goal regular season plateau but the ex-Bologna hit man exceled exceedingly so off the pitch as well right through 2013.

This began the moment Di Vaio stepped foot back in Montreal in early January. The elder statesman the very first Impact player to show up in La Belle Ville and well ahead of that date marked physicals.

Early to arrive, early to get on the score sheet as well.

In all my years of been around the club there has not been another player that captures and captivates the imagination as this native son of Rome does. In less than 18 months since Di Vaio and his family - which included a brother-in-law with remarkably similar physical features and profile - stepped off the plane and onto Impact terra firma, the striker has led the Impact to a strong MLS start.

Not only supremely gifted as the most natural of goal scorers ever to have set foot on an MLS pitch, Di Vaio is also a charismatically gifted individual.

Disarming, charming by nature in abundance, last Thursday night's 60 seconds of madness was completely and utterly out of character.

Joey Saputo is not kidding when he states the Impact hit the jackpot when signing Di Vaio. Well, the Impact just recently won the 6/49 once again with the recent announcement their original DP would indeed continue his Montreal adventure.

Shortly after Saputo and Di Vaio left the stage following the official awarding of the Giuseppe Saputo Trophy a very quietly confident Marco Schallibaum appeared.

His tone beginning seriously and assertively, fully understanding of the want, need and desire to properly understand what went wrong. At the exact time when things were meant to be so right.

Saputo and De Santis have all the right in the world to demand answers. Their head coach will want them himself.

Slowly, likely knowing he had won over the trust of the room, Schallibaum let the veneer down and turned into his jovial self. The one which had humoured so often in his media briefings and gatherings all season long continued to do so. "Any questions in German?" was one of his last offerings.

With Schallibaum back behind what had quickly turned into the most famous curtain in Montreal the players were given their turn at the mic.

Davy Arnaud displayed much fortitude disclosing he'd let the Swiss volcano in him off when giving his head coach a piece of his mind over not been selected to play in Houston.

The club captain was very candid and brutally honest when asked if perhaps his time in an Impact shirt was done and how would he view his tenure, Arnaud's Texan pride and loyalty to the cause bubbled over.

The effervescence award though goes to the man upon which much of the weekend rumour mongering and speculation centred: Alessandro Nesta.

This was Nesta's final press conference as a footballer. Montreal and the Impact got the utmost privilege to host this rather historical moment, not only in MLS terms, but by the broadest of football measures.

It was rather fitting that his teammate from the Rome suburbs who was with Nesta as an eight-year old was some 30 years later still there, four-square cheek by jowl.

Nesta and Di Vaio. We will never see them again together, as teammates., which is both Milan and Montreal's loss. Is it Miami's gain?

When I departed Saputo Stadium vey late Wednesday afternoon it wasn't what had been said which rung round me, it was actually something that wasn't said.

When we mark down how far football and the culture of the sport has come in La Belle Ville in recent years we can now add this.

The media are finally taking it seriously, giving the beautiful game the respect it has merited and deserved for years. I did not hear anyone utter the words "Montreal Canadiens" nor take a Habs player's name in vain on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon as I always have in the past.

Rather ironically, and with perfect timing, it was Alessandro Nesta and Marco Di Vaio who were introduced to the sold out Bell Centre crowd this past Tuesday night.

Rising Performances, Growing Attendances and Crashing Heartache: A review of the Impact's 2013 season is coming next week.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca

@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

Marco Schallibaum (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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