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Jack: Gilberto - The unknown, unlikely face of a new TFC

Kristian Jack
12/13/2013 2:41:38 PM
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Due diligence.

It was said at least three times but as the music blared out louder there may have been a fourth one sneaked in.

At a media get-together this week, I asked Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko about how important it was for the team to scout and recruit better.

The 32-year-old nodded his head often throughout my question. He had watched, as an outsider from the league offices, Toronto FC repeatedly throw darts at the transfer market - both domestically and overseas - in the hope they would be able to somehow hit the bullseye.

Not surprisingly, watching players on DVD's and getting tips from agents you know well didn't work out. The darts thrown not only missed the board but came back to hit them directly in the face. Designated players turned out to be old, injury-prone and unreliable while most of Toronto's non-DP recruits have all been paid far more than the value they gave on the field.

"You'd be amazed how many players are recruited without being watched in person but we want to go and see the players, watch them play, talk to them and we have been to many places doing our due diligence," said Bezbatchenko.

There it was again. Due diligence.

It is one thing to shop carefully when you have little in your pocket but when the pockets are deep, more doors open, increasing the risk of wasting money. It appears a door remained opened the longest in Brazil and it is there where Bezbatchenko and his team decided to invest.

The signing of 24-year-old Gilberto Oliveira Souza Junior represents a new era for the club. No one quite knows just how successful the Brazilian forward will be but what is already clear is that he is the face of a new Toronto FC, on and off the field.

Gilberto is Bezbatchenko's guy. The GM may have been handed a difficult hand when taking the job but the two aces in the pack were his future designated players and the money he could use from Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment to attract them here.

Aces have been held in the hands of past GMs at this club but far too often, they showed too many people their cards. In an off-season where Toronto FC have attracted a lot of press and attention over the identity of their new DPs, Bezbatchenko and his team deserve tremendous credit at keeping the Gilberto target a secret for as long as they did in Canada.

Since the departure of Kevin Payne, Bezbatchenko, MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke and head coach Ryan Nelsen have told anyone willing to listen that two designated players will be arriving to play up front for this club next season. Names such as Jermain Defoe, Alberto Gilardino and Samuel Eto'o have all been linked with the club, and Defoe appears to have signed ahead of a move in January, but the choice of Gilberto as the second DP over another aging European name takes the club down a different path.

It is a path many other MLS clubs have shopped on. The likes of Diego Valeri, Gabriel Torres and Hernan Bernadello are all on a designated player wage in the league but are in their 20s (not a 23 or under DP) and have been signed to play full seasons, and make a significant impact, on the pitch, rather than spending half a season injured lighting up billboards selling tickets.

Scouting the likes of a Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, or a Defoe for that matter, is simple. It doesn't happen. You know how good they are and the work put in to get them is around recruiting and selling your franchise to them. They are outstanding players who make a difference in MLS but the younger, less expensive but potentially just as explosive DPs are a true test of a club's ability to scout and recruit real talent.

And that has taken the club's recruitment team to Gilberto. The striker arrives in Canada, coming off a season in Brazil where he netted 14 goals for Portuguesa to help them avoid relegation in the final day. He is relatively unknown in North America but two men who know him very well are writers Tim Vickery and Rupert Fryer.

"He quite often plays up top on his own, has a nose for goal, is also quick enough to be played behind the defensive line. Doesn't combine a great deal, not really a back to (the) goal player who will bring others into the game," Vickery, BBC's man in Rio, told TSN.ca.

"He's quick, strikes the ball well from distance and has been excellent in front of goal this year, but will arrive in MLS following the first standout season of his career, he could be an excellent signing and clearly has what it takes to score a lot of goals for Toronto, but he is no world beater," Fryer, freelance South Amercian football writer, told TSN.ca.

Coming off just one big season in Brazil could lead to some skeptics but Vickery thinks he may have turned the corner: "Confidence is fundamental (with strikers) and now he has had a bigger role - with Portuguesa, where the team performed well above expectations. They played with attacking full backs to stretch the opposing defence to get that ball in behind them early for him to attack and I think he liked that."

When asked how he would operate in a front two with someone like Defoe, Fryer said: "He played as a number nine for Portuguesa but I'd expect he'd be the one charged with dropping behind Defoe if the two teamed up for TFC. The Brazilian's pace and willingness to commit defenders one-on-one would make him a better choice for the second striker role."

"He has tended to be happier as a lone man up top in a 4-2-3-1. The worry you have with Defoe is both are goal poachers and neither are great combination players," added Vickery. "Not sure if they would be a natural combination off the top and there is not a lot of height in there."

How the two new signings connect will be crucial to the team's success and overall structure as a system on the field. It appears both men are finishers rather than creators but those wondering who will supply the strikers should be aware that the requirements of any striker in a good league includes link-up play. The pair will not be standing together on the penalty spot, waiting for the ball, like they are waiting for a bus.

In recent years, Defoe has evolved and is actually much more than just a front man who does his damage in the six yard box, or on the shoulders of the last defender. The Englishman enjoys coming deep to link up with teammates and actually showed he was better than an out-of-form Roberto Soldado at that in each of his last two starts for Tottenham in the Premier League, coming deep and drifting to both flanks to be apart of the attack.

Should Defoe sign in January, as expected, the attacking duo that Bezbatchenko will have put together may have some work to do as a partnership but at least this time the club will have its aces ready to go when the cards are finally dealt come opening weekend next March.




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