The Martin Rennie era has officially begun.
It seems like an age ago since Rennie was announced as the third head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps this year. Third time lucky hopefully.
In those weeks since the August unveiling, a lot has happened. The Caps stuttered to last place in MLS, whilst Rennie’s Carolina Railhawks finished first in the NASL regular season standings, despite a horrible late season slump, but agonisingly crashed out of the playoffs at the semi final stage in a penalty shoot-out.
What’s done is done. The 2011 season for Rennie and the Caps is in the past now, and in the past it must remain.
That seemed to be the message of the day at this morning’s press conference to officially welcome Martin Rennie taking the reigns in Vancouver, ahead of a week long training camp where he will evaluate the current Caps crop.
There’s no point looking backwards any more.
“When the final whistle went at the last home game against Colorado, and the season concluded, I certainly, at that point, was happy to move on and look ahead with optimism to next season. Essentially, as soon as the whistle blew, we were on to next season.” Bobby Lenarduzzi opened the presser by saying.
Later, when asked about what kind of culture he wants to instill in the club Martin Rennie added:
“The culture has to be a positive, winning culture. You have to build that first before you get wins. A lot of people think you win, and then you build confidence, well actually you build the winning culture first and then the wins start happening from there. So that’s what we need to build and we start doing that from today.
As far as I’m concerned, last season has gone for these players. There’s nothing you can do about that, other than from perhaps glance back and learn from it. You’ve got to move forward and that starts in about half an hour’s time.”
The 2011 season is certainly best to have a line drawn under it, but lessons will be, and need to be, learned. Martin Rennie and Bobby Lenarduzzi were so enthusiastic and positive about what lies ahead for the club, that even the most disconsolate Whitecaps fan would be left with a skip in their step.
But let’s keep our new found optimism at least a little tempered. It’s easy to get carried away, and AFTN has been guilty of that ourselves, but high expectations just lead to added pressure on a new, and still relatively inexperienced, manager in his debut MLS season. Making the playoffs and winning the Voyageurs Cup will do us just nicely for starters!!
There is no doubt that Rennie has a lot of work to do, as was evident by his post-training comment: “We need to improve it considerably from where we are right now”.
But he also has time. There’s over four months till the 2012 season will get underway. Plenty of time for Rennie and his team to instill a new found self-belief and attitude at the club, and it’s a challenge that he is clearly looking forward to:
“For me, this is an exciting part of the season, because this is when you build your team for the next year and I believe that we can build a really strong team here. Obviously we’re putting a lot of work in behind the scenes to do that…to make sure we give the fans here a team we can be proud of.
One of the things I’ve noticed, from a distance, is that the fan support here is incredible. The new stadium, the atmosphere seems excellent, from what I’ve seen, and I’m really looking forward to being in that stadium and having the support of the fans, and giving them a team they can hold on to and be proud of. I hope that we can build a home field advantage here, like I’ve been able to do with the other clubs over the years and make it a very difficult place for people to come and play.”
This week’s camp will feature the MLS squad and Residency players like Ben Fisk and Caleb Clarke, who have impressed in the reserve matches they have played in and Rennie has promised to give all the guys “a fair chance” and he’s looking forward to “finding out what kind of people they are, getting to know them and trying to figure out how to get the best out of them”.
“Over the next ten days we’ll have a much clearer idea of what our squad is going to look like for next season, but we know we have some good pieces in place and now it’s a case of adding to that to make sure that we can all be very proud of what we do next season.”
The camp won’t feature any Carolina Railhawks though.
When asked about that this morning, Rennie told reporters:
“I’ve seen them for two or three years. I know what they can do.”
Does he have firm players in mind, that aren’t currently playing in MLS, that he’d like to bring to the Caps?
“Yup!” was his short, to the point confirmation to that, which drew some laughs from the room! As he also acknowledged, who he wants to bring in and some of the MLS hoops the club needs to jump through to get them here, can often prevent the manager getting his man.
Fans and pundits alike can easily pinpoint where the Whitecaps current weaknesses lie, and Rennie has already done his homework in that category, evaluating players from a distance, having watched videos of the Club’s MLS and many reserve games since his appointment.
“There are a few holes. It would be unfair to say exactly what they are at this moment in time, without seeing the guys over the next few days. I have my ideas on it.
One of the things is building a team that can play both sides of the ball because at times the team was good when it attacked, but if it didn’t score it was very vulnerable and likely to lose a goal and that happened on a number of occasions.
I think we have to be very difficult to play against and very difficult to beat and then rely on these guys who I think we all know have that little bit of quality and flair in the final third. But that only counts if you’re not losing goals at the other end.”
When pushed a little later as to just what type of players he would be looking for Rennie told reporters:
“I think we probably do need to find a ball winning, central midfielder, that would be one. Maybe another central defender as well. We’ll see.”
And ideally players with which qualities?
“Some more MLS experience. Also some real tough characters. Guys that compete when the team doesn’t have the ball and then guys that make the difference in the final third. Those are important.
I think also the team needs to improve a little bit defensively, so some of that’s tactical but some of that’s finding the right players too”.
Carolina’s Maltese striker, Etienne Barbara, is being strongly linked at joining his old boss in Vancouver, and that would be a potentially good signing, especially if we lose Camilo to pastures new.
From what Rennie said he was looking for today, it also only reconfirmed our thoughts that Houston’s Adam Moffat, will be a player that could come to the Whitecaps. Possibly in a trade for Davide Chiumiento and a draft pick?
A fellow Scot, Moffat has played under Rennie before and talked highly of his attributes as a manager when AFTN spoke with him in August.
Whoever Rennie brings in and whatever happens in this training camp, what Whitecaps fans can rest assured with is that they now have a man at the helm with a clear vision of what kind of team he wants.
He’s going to be a hard taskmaster and there will be no room for shirkers on the team. He won’t suffer fools gladly and he’s very big on the mental development and fortitude of players.
He reminds me of a young Brian Clough. He knows what he wants, he knows how to get it and he’s not afraid to be brutally honest and outspoken along the way.
If he brings just a glimmer of the success Clough achieved, then we need to strap ourselves in for a fun ride. But we would also counter that by saying that Rennie is still very much unproven at this level and he knows he is facing a big challenge ahead.
He will set “ambitious” yet “realistic” goals for the team next season and these will be done “incrementally” based on full evaluation and operational factors, such as did he get the players he wanted to get. So no false dawns and amazing proclamations this time around.
We’re not saying that Martin Rennie is the answer to everything, or that his appointment will guarantee success, but we do feel that it will be an advancement in the right direction for Vancouver Whitecaps.
And that can only be a good thing.