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Wileman: TFC president wants culture change within the club

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Luke Wileman
1/31/2013 2:30:45 PM
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Toronto FC president Kevin Payne pulled no punches when he met with media for breakfast at the team's training facility on Thursday morning, speaking frankly about some of the challenges during his first 60 days in charge of the club.

As Payne looks to strengthen the club, both on and off the field after six years of failing to qualify for the playoffs, he made it clear he won't accept anything but 100 per cent commitment to the cause. That starts with the players, and TFC's president and general manager was highly critical of the way some members of the squad returned for training camp.

"I was really disappointed in the condition our players showed up in," he said. "I've made it clear that it is not acceptable. We want to create an environment where players feel pride and do these things not because of retribution but because they want to do their very best for this club."

The fitness issue is one example of how Payne wants the culture to change within the club. He says bringing a new mentality was one of his prime objectives when he arrived in Toronto in November.

"A lot of change was needed here. We are trying to keep and enhance the things that were right and change the things that were wrong," he said.

"I really felt strongly that we needed to change the culture of the organization, particularly out at the training ground. It's just a natural consequence of six years of failure. People adopt bad habits. We are trying to break that cycle.

"The mentality here was not one where everyone walks in every day and says I am going to do my absolute best," Payne continued. "That is a tough habit to instill but we are making progress. Anybody in our league knew things weren't perfect here but I've heard some stories that curled my hair. Stories that suggest problems were even a little different than I thought they were.

"We've turned that page now. We can learn from it but we need to now focus on how it should be moving forward. We're not going to fix it overnight, but we can start demanding change."

It's very clear that Payne will only accept the highest standards from everyone at the club, whether that is players on the pitch or staff in the front office, as he looks to steer Toronto FC on a much steadier path than it has experienced in its first six years in Major League Soccer.

"We have talked to everyone within the organization about hard work. There is no substitute for it," he explained. "We are trying to get the players to accept a much higher level of responsibility and accountability. We are going to hold them accountable on an everyday basis."

From the few meetings I have had with Payne, it's clear he will speak his mind. Good communication he wants as a key component of his new regime and that starts with making sure the players know where they stand.

"We won't have players in the dark about how they are progressing," he said. "Communication is vital and in the past here it wasn't very good."

That communication is a two-way street. Payne talks about how he has empowered his staff in his early days at the helm and wants an honest discussion about the on-pitch product amongst the coaching staff. He wants to ensure opinions are valued rather than dismissed.

"We tried hard to get coaching staff to be aggressive about giving their opinions," he explained. "If they disagree with me I want them to say so. It was difficult at the start but now they realize their opinion is important. Certain segments of training each day are run by assistants so that everybody on the staff has been empowered."

Changing culture is one thing that Payne hopes will lead to improved performances on the pitch, but that is only part of the problem. He is also trying to bring in new players as he looks to turn around a team that was the worst in the league last year. Working within the salary cap, it is more difficult to bring massive change because much of the club's money is tied up with three Designated Players Torsten Frings, Danny Koeve and Eric Hassli. They also have two of the highest paid defenders in the league - Richard Eckersley and Darren O'Dea.

Payne hasn't ruled out buying out any one of those five players before the season starts. He says those tough decisions are still ahead. However, none of the three Designated Players are currently taking full part in preseason training as they recover from injuries. Payne said Thursday that Koevermans isn't expected to start full training until June.

So Payne must work within the constraints he has been handed.

"It's hard with so much money tied up with five players. It limits us," he said. "However, there are ways of structuring contracts that can give us relief."

The club hopes to announce a new signing within the next few days, and Payne says they are also working on three other deals for attacking players. He made no secret of his desire to look to South America for young talent rather that bringing in players from Europe who he feels would have to be overpaid.

Kevin Payne (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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