TORONTO – How quickly circumstances can change.
On Thursday morning, days after the rumours first began to circulate widely, Toronto FC announced the departure of one general manager and the arrival of a new one.
Ali Curtis will be stepping into the shoes of Tim Bezbatchenko, a key architect in the club's turnaround over his five-season tenure in Toronto.
While it came as a surprise to most, TFC president Bill Manning had a bit more time to put plans in place.
“We had given Tim permission to seek another opportunity before Christmas,” explained Manning during Curtis' press conference. “The day after Christmas, he and I had another discussion; he really wanted to take advantage of this great opportunity. Quickly, I called Greg [Vanney, Toronto's head coach], said, “I need you back in town.' Flew him back from Phoenix on Thursday.”
“We talked about moving forward; who we thought would be the best person that could lead our soccer operations; Ali was at the top of both of our lists,” continued Manning. “I then called Ali, said, 'I want to talk to you.' Flew him up here on Saturday, met, spent a few hours together then he went to Phoenix, spent the day with Greg out there. On Monday we offered him the job and today he's here as our new general manager.”
Manning paid tribute to the outgoing GM while also expressing excitement at the newcomer brought in.
“Greg and I knew right away, while we certainly will miss Tim, we wanted to get the best guy going forward,” added Manning. “[Curtis] was the guy we wanted. We didn't want to waste any time. With training camp starting, the combine and the draft, we wanted to make sure we didn't miss a beat.”
Nor was Curtis surprised by the speed at which it came together. “I'm happy it happened quickly,” he said. “This is the right club.”
An hour after the announcement, the new general manager was still formulating his plan.
“I'm new, so I'll have to spend some time getting to know the ins and outs of staff and the community,” explained Curtis. “I have some ideas, different programs and initiatives, to put my fingerprints on the organization. I'm looking forward to adding and improving the club in different ways.”
“There is an intensity to way I work; the level of execution I demand of myself and everyone around me,” added Curtis. “I'm excited; I'm ready to go.”
Manning, who drafted Curtis as a player out of Duke University in the 2001 MLS SuperDraft to the Tampa Bay Mutiny, summed up what made this situation the right one: “The person that he is.”
“Ali is extremely competitive, has been since the first day I saw him play in college. He's bright, his experience at the league is invaluable,” detailed Manning. “We spoke here and there, I followed his career; was extremely proud when he got the Red Bull job.”
“I might have even been a reference,” recalled Manning. “He did a really good job there. We have a lot to of prove after last year's regular season. We go right into [the] Concacaf [Champions League] on February 19 and with his experience, he brings a lot to the table.”
Having crossed paths with Curtis many times over the years, Vanney had a good feeling that such a day would come.
“I told Ali when I met with him a few days ago, I always felt there was going to be a time when the two of us worked together,” said Vanney. “So here it is. A new year, a new journey, a new opportunity. With a new face comes new ideas. I look forward to what is to come.”
Bezbatchenko will aid in the transition before departing.
“It's our job to get Ali up to speed as quickly as possible,” said Vanney. “Tim will help us in that process too, to make sure the transition is smooth.”
But Curtis' prior experience with the league, as a player, with the league office, and as sporting director at the New York Red Bulls, and the fact that Toronto have a clear vision will help in that regard.
“We're not a team in big transition,” added Vanney. “We've made a couple acquisitions [in Nick DeLeon and Laurent Ciman] over the offseason that say we're trying to win a championship again. We're not looking for a lot of change, we're looking for some nuance to improve our team.”
A little under two years removed from his split with the Red Bulls, Curtis reflected on that hiatus.
“It's been great. I wanted to take a step back that could give me some perspective on what it was I wanted to do moving forward and what organization would make sense,” explained Curtis. “This came along and it's the right fit, the right club, the right people.”
“I've done a lot of soul searching, analyzing, and watching games. I've been speaking to a lot of clubs, different GMs on their ideas, learning. Today has been a long time coming. I can't wait to get to work,” concluded Curtis.
“I enjoyed my time at Red Bull. Life sometimes is in chapters. For me, it was time to turn the page. I [did], a new chapter in my life, professionally, personally; I'm very grateful to be here in this moment to be part of Toronto FC.”