Crisis? What crisis?
At any other club, an internal appointment to replace a marquee manager who has suddenly departed midseason might be regarded as an embarrassing climbdown. For City Football Group and New York City FC, moving Domenec Torrent across from his position as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City to take over for Patrick Vieira as head coach at the sister club is a statement of belief in the CFG way.
Footballing history is full of dedicated assistants who never transitioned to successful managers in their own right, of course; we can only speculate what conversations Torrent might have had with his fellow assistant in Manchester, Brian Kidd, about his ill-fated decision to strike out on his own after his successful Manchester United tenure under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Still, given Torrent’s pedigree as an assistant at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, and the fact that he’s now heading into the relatively forgiving environment of MLS, and with the institutional backing of CFG putting their own credibility on the line, Torrent faces a smoother runway than most assistants making such a transition.
In some ways, CFG are appointing themselves as much as they are Torrent. Coaches are appointed to be sacked, goes the truism, but CFG have slowly been evolving a philosophy of coaching practice that’s about the system beyond the force of a manager’s personality — precisely so that personnel shake-ups such as Vieira’s abrupt departure do not destabilize the ship.
Perhaps that seems an odd claim given that the “cult of Pep” is one of the more scrutinized mythologies in modern world football. Yet in many ways, Guardiola himself is the ultimate systems man; his particular version of hyper-attention to detail is all about systems of best practice, rather than man-management mysticism, and that’s very much in line with what CFG are trying to realize across the group.
So of course Guardiola’s personal intensity and particular insights play a prominent part in shaping his myth, just as Vieira’s did, but it’s important to note that both men were shaped by and reflected the values of strong systems that shaped them — La Masia and Clairefontaine, respectively.
It’s that type of institutional knowledge that City Football Group are seeking to build and consolidate across their club teams; call it the globalized version of Liverpool’s legendary “boot room” culture but shaped in the belief that best practice can transcend a particular generation of great leaders, or at the very least offset the loss of any particular individual.
A few weeks ago, NYCFC launched a new training ground with a tour for media members that stopped in front of one door that remained closed, the room housing the database of players and scouting files, that CFG staff referred to, only half tongue-in-cheek, as “the Crown Jewels”. It’s where NYCFC’s head of player recruitment, David Lee, works in conjunction with his peers across the City Football Group to identify talent, share insights and support his coaching team. Torrent is already steeped in a big part of the working vernacular of his new club, because it’s his old club too.
Still, 21st-century footballing philosophy aside, a coach is there to win games. Most coaches who arrive midseason do so at a team that’s been struggling to do precisely that, and they expect to go into triage mode. Torrent arrives at an NYCFC team that’s been purring along nicely in a strong Eastern Conference and which had been expecting another playoff tilt under Vieira.
If CFG’s belief is correct, Torrent should be able to keep a familiar machine ticking over to do just that, hopefully finding his own voice in time to take the club beyond the two disappointing playoff campaigns it managed under Vieira. Torrent may even be assisted in that bid by similar potential upheaval at rivals like Columbus Crew SC and New York Red Bulls, if Gregg Berhalter gets the U.S. men’s national team job and Jesse Marsch leaves for RB Leipzig.
Even if Torrent does stumble this year, the fact that he’s CFG’s man, rather than an external appointment trying to fit the system, should buy him plenty of time to turn things around. Jason Kreis may have superficially fit the mold as a systems man given how he worked at Real Salt Lake, but whether for lack of political will or ability, or just because the stakes were higher in the club’s debut season, he was never quite trusted as an insider at CFG. His failure was cast as his alone. Torrent’s would be City Football Group’s.
Graham Parker writes for ESPN FC, FourFourTwo and Howler. He covers MLS and the U.S. national teams. Follow him on Twitter @grahamparkerfc.