MONTREAL — Following the best season in club history, many expected an exodus of CF Montreal’s most promising players.
Now the Major League Soccer club will need to rebuild its coaching staff as well.
Wilfried Nancy, a finalist for MLS coach of the year, has left CF Montreal to take over the Columbus Crew.
Montreal says the team reached a financial agreement with Columbus that will allow Nancy, who was still under contract with Montreal through the 2023 season, to join the Crew.
Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
“We really hoped to continue with him, and I appreciated him both as a coach and a person,” Montreal president Gabriel Gervais said Tuesday. “When we started to hit a wall with (Wilfried) and his agent, we started looking into potential replacements, but any report that we’ve met with someone is completely false.”
Whoever takes over in Montreal faces a massive rebuild with Djordje Mihailovic, Alistair Johnston, and Ismael Koné already finding new clubs in Europe and others linked with overseas moves.
Rumours recently began circulating about Nancy moving on as well, with Crew as the top contender despite the Frenchman still being under contract. That did little to slow the Crew’s interest, and they unveiled Nancy as the 10th manager in their franchise’s history on Tuesday.
“It wasn’t a question of what Columbus offered me; the Crew got in touch with me and expressed interest," Nancy said. "We know that the Crew have a very interesting project and a clear vision of their future.
"There are no comparisons to make with Montreal, it’s simply a new project and I’m ready to give it my all."
After stepping in for Thierry Henry, who resigned before the beginning of the 2021 season, Nancy turned CF Montreal into a legitimate playoff contender. The club missed out on a playoff appearance by two points.
He followed that up with a season that saw Montreal set franchise records for wins (20), points (65) and goals scored (63), among other marks. Its 35 points away from home was also an MLS record in the non-shootout era.
It seemed as though what sporting director Olivier Renard dubbed “Projet Montréal” when he joined the club in 2019 was moving along nicely, with the third year yielding impressive results. Gervais still believes that the project is just getting started.
“We want someone who wants to be here. We want someone like Wil who enjoys developing players in-house and really be with us for the long haul,” Gervais said. "I felt that (Nancy) was really invested in our project, and he would always talk about how proud he was to develop younger players. That’s the mould of who we want to bring in as coach."
Rumours about Nancy being unsettled in Montreal were not new. Back in July, following a loss to then-last place Sporting FC, team owner Joey Saputo was overheard arguing with both Nancy and Gervais.
Gervais said that, after convincing both sides to calm down, it was agreed that Nancy would see out the rest of the year but talk of a contract extension or his option would be put off until the end of the season.
With Montreal now on the hunt for a 10th manager in 12 years, the priority is finding someone who will stick around.
“Like I said before, having a coach here who wants to be here and build something over the course of multiple years is what we need,” Gervais said. “The average tenure in MLS is two or three years, but there are some really nice examples in the league of managers that have been with their team for a long time.”
Nancy is taking three members of his Montreal staff — assistant coach Kwame Ampadu, fitness coach Jules Gueguen and video analyst Maxime Chalier — with him to Columbus.
The 45-year-old Nancy succeeds Caleb Porter, who was fired one day after the regular season ended Oct. 9 with the Crew (10-8-16) finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference, missing out on the playoffs for a second straight year.
At a press conference in Columbus announcing his arrival, Nancy said the opportunity to play home games in the Crew's stadium, the 20,000-seat Lower.com Field which opened in 2021, was a major factor in his decision to switch teams.
“When I came (to Columbus) the first time … when I stepped on the field, I had goosebumps. It’s as simple as that,” Henry said a press conference in Columbus.
“I have travelled a lot and when I came here, I saw this — the facilities, the stadium, and the persons in place (were) good people and competent people ... There is everything (here) to do something great and that is why I came here.”
Nancy narrowly lost to Philadelphia's Jim Curtin in balloting for the 2022 Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year Award. Curtin had 23.57 per cent of the vote by MLS technical staff, media, and players, while Nancy had 23.47 per cent.
Born in Toulon, Nancy played from 1995 to 2005 in France.
"This is a different project with a different vision and what they have in place is very interesting," Nancy said. "My values will be the same as those I had in Montreal. I spent a lot of amazing moments in Montreal and want to thank the fans, the players and everyone else at the club."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.