Toronto FC head coach John Carver may be faced with one of the toughest assignments in Major League Soccer, but he arrived in Canada with a ringing endorsement sounding in his ears.
Carver has the daunting task of turning around the fortunes of last season's last-place team, but former England manager Sir Bobby Robson has total belief in his ability.
Robson, one of the most beloved figures in English soccer, had Carver as his assistant at Newcastle United and is confident his old colleague can be a hit in Toronto.
"John is a very solid, hard-working man who has a great love for the game," said Robson, who is now a respected columnist for the Mail on Sunday newspaper in England. "He has worked at a high level, knows football, is a good judge of a player and is a very good coach on the training ground.
"He worked for me as first-team coach at Newcastle for five years and he worked hard every day to improve the players we had. Top stars like Alan Shearer, Gary Speed and Jermaine Jenas respected him.
6-17-7 (25 points), seventh in Eastern Conference, 14th overall. Missed MLS playoffs.
KEY MAN: Maurice Edu. The Rookie of the Year in 2007 is highly rated by U.S. coach Bob Bradley and a key figure for Toronto. Highly skilled and a tenacious tackler, he can continue to develop into a star.
NEWCOMER: Julius James. The Trinidad and Tobago defender was perhaps the most MLS-ready player to emerge for the draft, and he should step straight in.
OUTLOOK: Despite having the best crowd in the league, Toronto has not made enough improvement to be competitive. Mo Johnston moved upstairs and John Carver came in as head coach, but more tough times are on the way.
"We qualified twice for the Champions League at Newcastle and John was a big part of that. He strived to create a successful team that would play the right way to attract the fans. The players enjoyed his sessions and that is important to keep a happy atmosphere at any club."
Carver was brought in and Mo Johnston was moved up to a director of football position in a bid to shake up a franchise that managed only six wins in its inaugural season in 2007. Even with those struggles, the team captured the imagination of the local public, and every season ticket for the new campaign was sold out well in advance.
It is hoped that Carver can at least lift Toronto FC off the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and potentially challenge for a playoff place.
"I think it was the right time for him to be a No. 1," Robson added. "He'd been a great assistant for me, and had been a caretaker manager at Leeds and a coach at Luton. But it's time he had experience of being the boss. He is ready for it and it's time to take it on.
"He got the opportunity in North America before he got it in England, so it was right for him to give it a go. He is a proud Englishman, brought up on the culture and steeped in the tradition in English football, so I am sure it was a wrench for him to leave.
"But sometimes in football you have to sacrifice your lifestyle if you want to progress."
Robson himself went to work in Vancouver early in his managerial career before returning to Europe and enjoying widespread success at Ipswich Town, PSV Eindhoven, Sporting Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona and Newcastle.
"As a manager, you have to be realistic as well as idealistic," Robson said. "Over time you can build a team you want, but in the short term you have to get results with the players you have. I don't know the quality or the strengths of the Toronto players but John will get them working to get results."
The supporters of Toronto will continue to come back and scream themselves hoarse over whatever the results, but the club is determined to put together a winning squad that will reward their loyalty.
Despite restrictions on the number of U.S. players they can sign (seen as an unfavorable rule by many), the club is building steadily with a long-term view. Johnston is overseeing much of that structural work, and revealed his desire to see the team make as much noise on the field as the fans do from the stands.
"There is no doubt we have got the best crowd in MLS," Johnston said. "Now we want to really give them something to get behind. That is what they, and the city, deserve."
- John Carver
- Toronto FC
- Mo Johnston
- Newcastle United