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Coaching Turnover Is Constant In Major League Soccer

Montreal soccer fans had a living legend on their sidelines for just a handful of matches. 

Sure, Thierry Henry managed an entire season with CF Montréal, then known as the Montreal Impact. But Henry’s actual time in Montreal as a manager was limited by the COVID-19 pandemic when it tore through the entire sporting landscape. Henry managed a regular-season game and two CONCACAF Champions League matches in the city before the world was brought to a halt. The Impact joined the MLS is Back tournament bubble in Orlando, then played a handful of games in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver before relocating to New Jersey to finish their season. 

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All the while, the Arsenal legend’s family never moved to North America. Nor could they join him in the 2021 offseason, which saw the team go through a full-scale rebuild and rebrand. Henry left his family to return to Montreal at the beginning of the calendar year in the hopes of coaching for another season, but his family missed him. It was the deciding factor he cited in his resignation from the club Feb. 25.

Henry’s reasons for leaving Montreal are noble, certainly amidst a pandemic. But his name has been added to a growing list of bench bosses accumulated by the franchise since it played its first MLS game in 2012. On March 8, the team promoted longtime assistant Wilfried Nancy to the manager role. He is now the team’s eighth manager as it enters its 10th season in the league.

Coaching stability is hard to find in Montreal

Managers and their records for the Montreal Impact/CF Montréal since the team joined MLS in 2012

Manager Tenure Wins Draws Losses Win %
Wilfried Nancy 2021-
Thierry Henry 2020 9 4 16 .379
Wilmer Cabrera 2019 3 1 5 .389
Remi Garde 2017-19 28 9 29 .492
Mauro Biello 2015-17 40 27 37 .514
Frank Klopas 2013-15 18 19 33 .393
Marco Schällibaum 2013 16 6 16 .500
Jesse Marsch 2012 12 6 17 .429

Includes games in MLS, CONCACAF and the Canadian Championship.

Sources: CF Montreal, Transfermarkt, Just Sports Stats

How unusual is Montreal’s coaching turnover? No other team has had as many managers in that time span, though Orlando City — with its six managerial stretches in seven MLS seasons1 — is on a pace to overtake Montreal. Among the teams in the league for the full decade since Montreal joined, only the San Jose Earthquakes can match them, though the L.A. Galaxy comes close. 

New sideline faces seem to pop up every season

MLS teams since 2012 with at least five separate managerial stints (including interim coaches)

Club Years active since 2012 Coaches per season No. coaches
CF Montréal 10 0.80 8
San Jose Earthquakes 10 0.80 8
L.A. Galaxy 10 0.70 7
Colorado Rapids 10 0.60 6
Houston Dynamo 10 0.60 6
New York Red Bulls 10 0.60 6
Orlando City 7 0.86 6
Chicago Fire 10 0.50 5
Real Salt Lake 10 0.50 5
Toronto FC 10 0.50 5
FC Cincinnati 3 1.67 5

Including interim coaches, and counting separate stints by the same coach.

Sources: WorldFootball, Wikipedia

Vassili Cremanzidis has worked in an MLS front office since 2013. After rising through Montreal’s ranks as a performance analyst, he joined San Jose for almost three years before returning to Montreal in 2019 to assume the role of head of analysis and assistant director of player personnel. Between the two franchises, he’s seen 10 managers come and go. 

“If you look at the average years of experience and life expectancy of a coach with a club, they’re usually not that long,” Cremanzidis told FiveThirtyEight. “You can make exceptions with bigger clubs. If you look at the Premier League, for example, Pep Guardiola, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arséne Wenger. There’s been coaches that have been there for quite a bit of time. But at the same time, there are guys that sometimes last a year, sometimes last six months. Especially in Central America, South America, from what I’ve seen. They go through a lot of coaches.”

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While the Premier League has seen some of the world’s biggest managers remain in place for years at a time, it has also seen more than its fair share of coaching turnover: From the 1995-96 season through 2014-15, ESPN found that 53.8 percent of Premier League managers had been replaced. 

That rate far outpaced the rate of four major North American men’s sports: the NBA (34.7 percent of coaches replaced in the same timeframe), NHL (30 percent), MLB (21.8 percent) and NFL (21.3 percent). Major League Soccer slotted in just behind the NBA, at 34 percent. And almost one month after that ESPN piece was published, Montreal let go of manager Frank Klopas and let Mauro Biello take his place as interim manager. 

In 2018, a league-record nine MLS managers lost their jobs — including Vancouver Whitecaps manager Carl Robinson, who made three Voyageurs Cup finals and won one, made the playoffs three times and coached a budding world sensation in Alphonso Davies. He left three months short of completing a five-year tenure with the Caps. 

Robinson told FiveThirtyEight that “there is no rhyme or reason” to why a club makes any decision, and one team isn’t necessarily going to follow another. Not all of these managerial changes have come solely over results — as was the case with Inter Miami’s latest coaching move

“Miami showed, this year, they decided to make a change after making the playoffs,” Robinson said. “Maybe it’s not about getting to the playoffs. Are you judged on developing players? Are you judged on how much money on players you can sell to bring revenue into the club? Or are you judged on just revamping the whole football club from top to bottom? I don’t know. Each organization is different,”

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While some teams are unafraid of shaking things up in the hopes of achieving instant success, other clubs crave stability with their managers. At the very least, that’s what Cremanzidis wants for his club. New manager Nancy is on a one-year contract with CF Montréal, but there are team options beyond the year. The results of this season will go a long way to determine if he’ll be the man for the job beyond 2021.

“I look at the teams that have continuity, and that’s kind of what we’d like to do,” Cremanzidis said. “That was the idea, obviously, with Thierry. But of course he’s gone for personal reasons. We respect that and understand it of course.”

But Nancy, just like any other coach, certainly realizes there ultimately is an end game for managers. 

“When you go into management, you have to know what the end outcome is,” Robinson said. “And the end outcome always is that you will leave that job at some stage. Whether that is your choice or whether that is the club’s choice. If you’re worried about that, if you’re fearful of that, you shouldn’t get into coaching or management.” 

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  1. Including two interim stints for Bobby Murphy.

Julian McKenzie is a freelance journalist based in Montreal. His work can be found in the Canadian Press, the Montreal Gazette, Yahoo Sports, the Sporting News and elsewhere, and he is a co-host of The Scrum Podcast.