CF Montreal: “We moved away from who we were”

Joey Saputo very rarely grants interviews, but he agreed to meet with Le Journal yesterday to discuss, among other things, the club's change of identity.

CF Montreal: “We moved away from who we were”

Joey Saputo very rarely grants interviews, but he agreed to meet with Le Journal yesterday to discuss, among other things, the club's change of identity.

• To read also: Olivier Renard very happy to have the confidence of CF Montreal

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As we know, the Impact became CF Montreal at the start of 2021. The name and the logo that accompanied it were not well received.

"Was I surprised at the reaction of the fans? Yes at the time, but analyzing it afterwards, I shouldn't have been surprised,” he admits, stressing that the change goes against the spirit of the club.

"It wasn't necessarily the way we did things. We were transparent, we spoke with people. We drifted away from who we were. »

Hindsight

The owner of CF Montreal had to take a step back to better understand what really happened.

“When you look at the progression of our identity, for the first time there was a break, but when you're in it, you don't see it. It's only when you take a step back that you realize it. »

"We drifted away from who we were," he reiterates, "and that wasn't the idea behind the identity change. We wanted to continue to be close to our supporters by having a more global vision. »

Because he was not against the name change. For him, it made sense to think bigger.

“I was in favor of the philosophy behind the identity change. By having a team in Europe, I saw that MLS was becoming more global so I was in favor of going in that direction. »

Hard

The last two years have therefore been difficult, but above all because for the first time in his life, he left his team to someone else when he left the presidency to give way to Kevin Gilmore in January 2019.

“I had been leading the team for more or less 25 years. It got to a point where the message I wanted to send wasn't going as well or some things I wanted to do were more difficult. For me it was difficult because it was my baby. »

He therefore wanted to stay away from decisions, which he did not find obvious, even admitting to having lived through a phase where he had less desire to go to see the matches.

“To make sure there was no interference, I no longer had an office at the stadium and was less involved. It was something I had to do because I was too committed. »

See otherwise

By his own admission, Joey Saputo has been able to see his team differently for two and a half years. We really feel him more calm and composed.

"It was important for me to step away, it allowed me to see the club in a different way. »

Throughout the hour-long interview, he makes it clear several times that he doesn't want to question Kevin Gilmore's work.

“I had to let someone take my dream and lead it in a particular direction. »

Outsider

He recalls that the last two years have naturally taken him away from the team.

"It was COVID, the team wasn't here and I wasn't traveling with them. It was difficult to be in the bubble. »

By force of circumstance, he even felt a bit left out for a while.

"I was in Florida since I was telecommuting. From time to time, I went to see the team, but I didn't really feel part of the gang. There were a lot of new players, I was a bit of an outsider. »

Return

When Kevin Gilmore chose to leave last fall, Joey Saputo had no choice but to get closer to the team while waiting to find his successor.

“When I came back, for me it was like a rebirth. I saw how far I had taken the team and how far I had come. It gave me time to reevaluate certain elements.

"I think we're headed in the right direction. I feel like we've gone back to the good old days. »

When he left the presidency of his Montreal team, bad tongues suggested that it was to devote more time to FC Bologna, but Saputo assures that Montreal remains his baby.

“We have two people from Bologna who work here to help us improve our technical area and I pay half of their salary.

"I don't go to Bologna more often than before. I go there about once a month. »

A few weeks ago, Joey Saputo and President Gabriel Gervais went to see the fan groups during the pre-game tailgate at Stade Saputo.

You would have thought it was a reconciliation effort, but Joey Saputo corrects the shot.

"It was not done in the spirit of reconciliation, it's just who we are," insists the owner of CF Montreal.

However, he does not hide that he wants to ensure that harmony returns to Stade Saputo and that he would like it to be done in a big partisan section as he has already mentioned.

The Ultras

You can't talk about fan groups without talking about Ultras. They strongly contested the change of identity of the team and they did not digest that section 132, where they were installed, was closed last fall.

“Ultras need to understand why we made these decisions. We had problems with some members of this section and every time we spoke to them, no one took responsibility. »

Saputo recalled that the team has made numerous offers to the Ultras to try to find common ground, but that the discussions never come to fruition.

“We have to agree on the nine things we agree on without worrying about the 10% on which we disagree. If people are radical about the 10% that doesn't suit them, we're never going to get along. »

Of course, we can't talk about fans without talking about the crowds at Stade Saputo. According to Soccer Stadium Digest, CF Montreal is 26th out of 28 MLS teams with an average attendance of 13,768 this season.

Several negative factors

"Inflation is skyrocketing, gas prices are what they are, and people's discretionary income has melted away. People will think twice before spending a dollar and they will cut the soccer ticket first.

“I know it will be difficult for the next few years. I don't remember the fact that there are only 14,000 spectators. I wonder especially if those who are there have fun. I want to retain our supporters who are already coming and then we will think about attracting more fans. »

He recalls in passing that the Saputo family did not set up this team to make money since it was a non-profit organization from 2002 until its entry into MLS.

For real

We should therefore not really have too many fears about the future of the club, which seems to be in Montreal to stay there.

"People think the franchise cost $40 million, it's worth $400 million and we could sell, but why would we do that? If money was all that matters to me, it would be done by now.

“There is definitely a difference between losing 10 million and losing 26 million. At 10 million, we can handle it. If we're losing $26 million a year, people don't care, and we're still being criticized for not thinking enough, we might wonder if it's worth it. »

The club will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year. "And I hope we'll be here for at least another 50 years," says Joey Saputo reassuringly.

There was the hiring of Gabriel Gervais as president and chief executive officer, a little over two months ago, and, this week, sports director Olivier Renard became vice-president and chief sports officer.

For the first time in a long time, it feels like everyone is in the right chair at CF Montreal, an opinion shared by Joey Saputo.

“Olivier understands where we want to go and he knows how to do it. It's the same with Gabriel," he confirms.

The two men also have permanent contracts, which means that they are like permanent employees and that is because they are considered to be members of the family.

"With Olivier, we found the right person to implement the plan we had," explains Joey Saputo. For me, it's a great discovery through contacts I had in Europe.

"Gabriel is not afraid to make mistakes and I let him make them. But he doesn't because he asks for a lot of help. »

With these two men in charge, Joey Saputo does not hesitate to intervene on occasion without taking control. "I feel very comfortable continuing to be there because I don't feel like I'm a thorn in my side, I feel like I'm here to help people continue to grow. »

Challenge

The perception that Joey Saputo is the only master on board is tenacious, but he assures that it is very far from reality.

"They have to challenge me," he said of Gervais and Renard. I don't need someone who will say yes to everything I say. I'm not afraid to have people smarter than me by my side.

"I'd rather be challenged than have someone who won't do it, but then have their way." »

Spend better

Olivier Renard was chosen because he fits in with the philosophy of the club, which has chosen to become a trainer rather than relying on expensive stars. “My philosophy is to manage the club with the means we have and that does not mean that we do not have the means, specifies Joey Saputo. I can't afford, like Toronto, to spend $16 or $17 million on a player.

"We're better off going after a young player from $500,000 to $1 million who we can sell two million and making a million profit than going after a player at $16 million who doesn't bring in anything. is an expense. »

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