Interview with Vassili Cremanzidis | Shopping is not over for CF Montreal

CF Montreal has more than one good reason to hope for the success of the Canadian selection in its qualifying journey for the 2022 World Cup.

Jean-Francois Téotonio

Jean-Francois Téotonio

First, its players James Pantemis, Samuel Piette, Kamal Miller and Alistair Johnston are among them and could gain almost unexpected experience by going to Qatar.

Second, the value of these players could be greatly increased.

Because it’s no secret at CF Montreal: the club’s philosophy, under its sports director Olivier Renard, is to acquire young players at low prices, to develop them, and to sell them at a profit.

Despite appearances, the acquisition of Nashville defenseman Alistair Johnson last week – at a hefty price tag of $ 1 million over two years – is cohesive with this business model.

Asked about this in the wake of the transfer of the Canadian international, Renard’s assistant, Vassili Cremanzidis, was categorical.

“The answer is black and white: of course, that’s our philosophy,” explains Cremanzidis. [Alistair Johnston] is a good MLS player, he had a good year and a half in the league. I hope he will be leaving with us, that’s at coach and up to the player to decide. He comes with us, he plays good football, he will help us on the pitch.  »

“Canada will normally qualify for its first World Cup since 1986,” he continues. He can increase in value there and then we’ll see if he has any offers for him. It was still important to have a contract for at least four years.  »

During his videoconference with the Montreal media on December 30, Alistair Johnston assured that he was fully “focused” on his first season in the metropolis. But he didn’t slip away either.

“I know that in MLS, if you play really well year after year, you have opportunities to go and play in Europe,” said Johnston. It is one of my aspirations.  »

« We will see what happens in the future, hoping that we have a very good season this year, » he added.

« We have changed things internally »

The irony of Johnston’s acquisition was that he was available for CF Montreal at MLS SuperDraft in 2020.

Montreal had drafted Jeremy Kelly in the ninth rank, before instantly passing it on to the Colorado Rapids in return for $ 75,000 in general allowance money. Nashville had chosen Alistair Johnston at the 11e rank.

« As you can see, the draft was not always very strong for CF Montreal, » concedes Vassili Cremanzidis.

He himself addresses the case of Mason Toye, similar to that of Alistair Johnston. In the 2018 draft, Montreal traded its two first-round picks, the fourth to FC Dallas, then the seventh to Minnesota United.

Minnesota had drafted Mason Toye in seventh place. Two years later, the 1er October 2020, Montreal would go after the forward in return for $ 600,000 in general allowance money.

In view of these two events, « it becomes obvious that CF Montreal missed these players, » admits Cremanzidis.

 » At that time, [Alistair Johnston] was not the same player he is today, he continues. Nashville has done a good job with their training.  »

But he reveals that CF Montreal will now pay more attention to the MLS SuperDraft.

“We changed things internally. We hired people based in the United States who know the college world.  »

“We need to improve our NCAA, college screening. That’s what we hope to do this year.  »

Even if COVID-19 partially thwarts the good intentions of the club at this level, the players being more difficult to access, CF Montreal still has its first choice for the 2022 draft, which will be held on January 22.

“For now, we still have it! Laughs Cremanzidis.

« We might bring an important player »

The off-season shopping isn’t quite over, says the deputy athletic director.

“We have two positions that we can fill,” he explains. […] We need a little depth on the defensive league. Afterwards, we try to find another player who could help us in another position on the field.  »

For Johnston, Montreal is sending $ 750,000 in general allowance money to Nashville in 2022, then $ 250,000 in 2023.

“You don’t have a lot of space under the salary cap by paying that amount in Nashville,” says Cremanzidis. But that leaves us a bit of room to maybe take a designated young player or a U22 place.  »

This « U22 place » is the U22 Initiative, which allows clubs to sign three young players under the age of 22 without their salary being fully included in the payroll. Matko Miljevic, Sunusi Ibrahim and Robert Thorkelsson have this label at CF Montreal.

“We are full on the U22 but there are one or two possibilities to work with the rules, to remove this designation on a player to use one of the places.  »

“We might bring an important player, a youngster. But so far a lot of work has been done on Alistair. Our screening department, Olivier and I are looking for other players.  »

Files to settle

In the other files of the off-season, there is the question of goalkeepers. Sebastian Breza did very well at the end of the season in Montreal, but he was on loan from Bologna. James Pantemis is under contract, and Jonathan Sirois has just been named goalkeeper of the year in CPL, at his loan club Valor FC.

« Two are under contract, the other [Breza, NDLR], we are working on it, summarizes Vassili Cremanzidis. If the three come back, we’ll be very happy with the goalkeepers’ situation, but we’ll have to make choices internally.  »

“We don’t want to stop Jonathan Sirois from progressing by being number 3 here. We’ll look at the situation when Breza returns, and if he doesn’t come back, we’ll look at the situation with James and Jonathan.  »

There is also the Bjørn Johnsen riddle. The Norwegian striker was one of the big disappointments of 2021 in Montreal. His only two goals of the season came in the same game on May 13 in Miami.

He should nevertheless be back in 2022, he who is under contract until December 31.

“We are not going to buy the player’s contract, Judge Cremanzidis. We bought the player last year based on what he’s done in his career. He’s scored goals in every place he’s been, except for us.  »

“From the start it was difficult for Bjørn,” he says. He missed a lot of preseason. […] But he has had the whole season to get back in shape and yes, we are disappointed that he did not find the form that we knew him, like he did in other leagues.  »

We conclude our interview with Vassili Cremanzidis by relaunching him on a project announced by Kevin Gilmore in May 2021: that of integrating a female component at the CF Montreal Academy. Where are we on this file?

“I don’t have a lot of details,” he concedes. I think that one day it will come, but it is not in the plans immediately in 2022.  »

“We consider a lot of things at the Academy, and one of them is a women’s team. But I don’t have more details on whether it will happen or not.  »

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