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Wileman: Leiweke makes massive impact in Toronto

Luke Wileman
1/14/2014 9:48:57 AM
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In the moments before a Toronto FC supporters' event with Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley kicked off on Monday afternoon, MLSE President Tim Leiweke wandered onto the stage. His plan was to announce to the fans that the club would be buying the first drink for everyone in the building as a thank you for their support.

But before Leiweke could say anything, the 500 fans in the room burst into spontaneous song. He couldn't shut them up. Leiweke sat on a stool on the corner of the stage soaking it all in as Toronto FC's supporters showered him with plaudits.

At that moment, it appeared as if the magic was back. For seven years, Toronto FC's fans have had the life squeezed out of them as they witnessed failure after failure, but there was a buzz of excitement in the room I've not seen associated with the club for a long time - and the fans knew exactly who was responsible.

It's amazing to see the impact that one man can have on an organization. Leiweke would be the first to acknowledge that he's had incredible support from the MLSE board and the staff he has around him - including general manager Tim Bezbatchenko - but Monday was a result of one man's vision and his ability to get things done.

Earlier in the day, Toronto FC made one of the biggest splashes in Major League Soccer history, introducing not one, but two Designated Players arriving in the league from Europe. The signings of Jermain Defoe from Tottenham and Michael Bradley from Roma marked a day in the club's history that can only be matched in importance by the day the franchise was launched.

"A very simple saying we will steal from the Kennedy's is appropriate today," Leiweke said when opening the press conference on Monday morning in downtown Toronto. "Some people see things as they are and say why. Others dream of what can be and they say why not. Today is why not. Why can't we be great?"

It was a day that made a big impact within the city of Toronto, but also potentially changed the landscape across Major League Soccer. Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl tweeted on Monday evening: "Some MLS execs telling me they think Toronto overpaid for Bradley/Defoe and will cause other teams to have to overpay in new market."

It's fair to say that these deals have set a new standard, and that will likely be taken into account when future contracts are negotiated for these types of players in MLS, but in my opinion Toronto FC did not overpay.

These moves have saved the club from obscurity and for that reason these two players are worth every last cent. Yes, Toronto had to commit what Leiweke called "financial suicide" to make the signings, but it was the only option. In Leiweke's own words, "the patient was dying." The club was on "life support." You can't put a price on saving a club.

Having Defoe and Bradley available will not be the only benefits for Toronto FC from the recent transactions. The Reds have also formed two partnerships with big clubs in Europe. A four year sales and marketing deal between MLSE and Tottenham was part of Defoe's transfer, while the Roma deal for Bradley includes a player development program for Toronto FC players at Roma's training facility. More shrewd business by Leiweke who, since bringing David Beckham to LA from Real Madrid in 2007, has shown he has the ability to operate superbly in the global football environment.

Monday was a feel-good day for soccer in Toronto, but Leiweke was clear in his message that they have achieved nothing yet. All they have done is to give themselves "an opportunity to be successful." He also told me on more than one occasion: "we're not finished yet. There is more to come." He wants to build a super-club - and with what Leiweke has already achieved in a short space of time in Toronto, it's hard to bet against him.

Luke Wileman

Luke Wileman


Luke Wileman is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca.

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