Here is the second and last part of our discussion with the sporting director of CF Montreal, Olivier Renard, and his deputy, Vassili Cremanzidis.
Click here to re-read the first half of this exclusive interview.
Frederic Lord (FL): Getting young people to play is one of the pillars of your project at CF Montreal. With the Covid, are you worried Olivier about the young people of the Academy who may not have benefited from all the opportunities to fully develop their potential?
Olivier Renard (GOLD): I’m not going to stop at the young people of the Academy. I could tell you about all the young people in general. Like my 12 year old son, who had to stop playing football for months. It stops his development and it’s not just him, but all young people and all sports. It hurts society.
But am I worried about CF Montreal? No. Because from what I see, like in our preseason game against Philadelphia, there are a lot of young people on the field and their level is only increasing. They, the young people, I think they feel the confidence of the club.
Admittedly, there is a new championship coming (MLS Next Pro) and we decided not to be part of it for various reasons, but that will not stop their evolution. We are not going to release 15 players every year capable of playing in MLS, but we have enough strategies to help them progress, in particular with the CPL which allows us to have loans. If we can loan out four, five, six players and allow them to come back stronger as many have done this year, that’s only positive.
FL: Will this decision not to participate in the MLS Next Pro be reviewed every year or is it a long term one?
GOLD : We were initially interested in entering this league. But the more the months passed, the more the parameters changed. Unfortunately, I can’t reveal too much, but we realized that everything was not clear.
Playing in this league has a cost and I have a responsibility towards my owner when this cost becomes significant. I prefer to see how it will go first. Because what we did last season, it still worked, the young people have progressed. Yes, each year we will take stock of whether it is the right time to enter this league or not.
FL: For 2022, you are betting a lot on the progress of the group you have put in place. In fact, summarizing, we could say that we are still in the cycle that was started last year, in this continuity?
GOLD : Last year, we made 11 or 12 transfers and we tried to create a young group. When I arrived, the team was old, even old. Now we are one of the youngest teams in the league. The idea this year was not to leave five or six players. We could have made some important players leave, but we decided for the good of the group and for us too – because the proposals we received were perhaps not what we wanted to receive – to keep them. We are patient and another year with these young players should normally be better.
FL: I was going to ask if it was a bet, but hearing your answer, I feel like it was premeditated.
GOLD : Each player is a bet. I remember last year the MLS specialists put us dead last and I think they were to some extent right because they didn’t know the players.
Me, I knew that the players who arrived were going to bring us something, so I was not surprised at the level of last year. Even that we were disappointed at the end of the season. Yes, we exceeded the expectations of these « experts », but we did not do better than Vassili and I had anticipated.
FL: What is the quality of this group?
Vasily Cremanzidis (VC): I think there is a lot of quality in this group, including the fact that they are young and motivated, but not only that. A group that continues together with the same coaching staff can continue to develop things on the pitch and that’s definitely an advantage.
I would add that when you have a young motivated group, all the players want to earn their place on the pitch. It brings a lot of competition. I also believe that the level of each player at each position is similar. This is an asset for me.
FL: Do you have quantified objectives for this year? A position in the ranking in particular?
GOLD : I know that we have to sell ambition and dreams to the supporters. Yes, we want to play for the Cup. Everyone wants to win.
Then you have to be realistic. There are teams that are ahead of their project. Seattle is a machine that turns and turns. Atlanta spends and spends. Miami spent a lot of money and they’re changing their entire roster this year because it didn’t work out.
We try to have this continuity in the results and qualify each year for the playoffs. I know sometimes we don’t like to hear that, but our first objective is to qualify for the playoffs. That doesn’t mean we lack ambition. That’s the nature of this league. You have to go through this repeated qualification to go higher afterwards. The NBA is the same too.
Normally, the higher you will be in the ranking, the more you will play an affordable team and play at home and have more chances of winning. Well, we know the rules.
Our ambition is to be a stable club capable of qualifying each year. And that the outside world is attracted to Montreal. Players want to play here. This was not the case before. We are now receiving phone calls from players who have enjoyed playing against us. Alistair Johnston, it was. In the Nashville locker room, he was talking about how we were playing. That is a sporting identity.
Vincent Destouches (VD): To what extent was this stability desired or imposed because such and such a movement did not work?
GOLD : I had said during the review that I did not expect many changes. Yes, we are dependent on the offers, the quantity and the type of proposal that we cannot refuse, but it was planned to keep stability. The mid-season transfer window isn’t that far away either. We will soon arrive in June.
Finally, there is always food and drink: some supporters have difficulty with the idea of selling players and find it difficult to cultivate a sense of belonging with them when they leave after a few years. But, in the same breath, they complain that we haven’t signed enough players this winter.
We decided to keep everyone and that’s good, because the jerseys bought last year are still good. (laughs)
DV: It’s always difficult to understand that stability can have a positive effect on a squad. That the same team, the same backbone can be better over time.
GOLD : Yes, but not in the long, long, long term. Because that’s the other side of the coin. Because we have a young group, when the players start to play well, the agents call because there is interest in other leagues. At this point, they start to want to leave and that’s when you have to know how to sell at the right time.
DV: From this point of view, it is a World Cup year. If all goes well, Canada will qualify for the next tournament. That’s good for business too, right?
GOLD : Sure. That’s why we are the first supporters of the Canadian national team. Firstly, because it’s good to see young people from our region evolve in the biggest competition. Then, from a financial point of view, it is also very good for the club.
FL: In closing, we talked a lot about stability through our discussions. Are Olivier Renard and Vassili Cremanzidis here for a long time or their success will lead them to be “sold” sooner rather than later? Because if it’s the rule for the players, it should be the same for the leaders…
GOLD : (Laughs) It’s true that it’s part of the game. Me, I made my career as a player for 19 years. I never left a club because I got more money from another club. I have to feel good and like myself where I am and feel that the project in which I am participating is progressing. If we think the project is stalling, maybe you’re looking elsewhere. For the moment, I don’t feel like leaving and my family is happy in Montreal… even if I am often in Florida at the moment! (laughs)
CV: For me, Montreal is home. I was at the club from 2013 to 2015 and after that I had another experience in San Jose. I love the club, I love the city, my family is here. I would like to continue to grow with the club and take it as high as possible.
FL: That’s what we’re going to want: stability in all of the team’s sports departments.