The Italo Ferrari Interview
Aug 10, 2003 Author: Soccer Online - It's Called Futbol
In the Hamilton Thunder’s 2002 Canadian Professional Soccer League campaign, the expansion team appeared destined for post-season play after starting strongly. Head coach Marko Maschke had assembled a nice blend of youth (ie: Miles O’Connor) and experience (ie: Dino Perri) to catapult his squad to the top of the Western Conference table in the early summer. Then it all fell apart.
Maschke left the club over a disagreement with management, soon to be followed by several of the senior players who were suspended over a pay dispute with team owner Italo Ferrari. The wrangling continued for the duration of the season, and when post-season play began, the Thunder were on the outside looking in, having missed the playoffs by four points.
The 2003 CPSL season began with the same high expectations as the first. A new coaching staff – the experienced and highly regarded Duncan Wilde and co. – plus several new players untainted by the 2002 sideshow were brought in to inject new life into the club.
Preseason training camp in the Caribbean was successful. The team once again jumped out to an early lead in the CPSL’s Western Conference. And then…déjà vu.
Duncan Wilde and his coaching staff left the team due to an amicable(?) difference of opinion with Ferrari. A week earlier, former Toronto Italia owner and National Soccer League president Rocco Lofranco had been installed as the club’s CEO.
Lofranco’s former Italia coach, the world-renowned Ivan Markovic from Croatia, was summoned to replace Wilde. The fiery tactician, who has has brought success to famous clubs in Austria, France and Croatia, lasted a single game (a 3-0 away loss to London City) before returning to his home country for health reasons. Only one of the five players he brought with him from overseas remains on the Thunder roster.
Ferrari and Lofranco deftly pulled off a coup by hiring Manuel Gonçalves Gomes, aka Prof. Neca, to fill the vacant coaching position to the end of the season. Gomes was previously an assistant coach at Benfica of Lisbon as well as for Portugal’s national team at the 2002 Japan-Korea World Cup. With Gomes at the helm, the Thunder dropped a 2-1 decision to the Brampton Hitmen on Thursday night at Brian Timmis Stadium. The loss knocked them down to third place in the conference, precisely where they finished last season.
Is history repeating itself? Is the Thunder bent on imploding for the second time in its two-year existence? Or is Italo Ferrari’s squad just taking some time to adjust and regroup after a series of painful but necessary changes?
Soccer Online spoke with Italo Ferrari on Thursday to get some answers.
Soccer Online: Some people would say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The season appeared to be going well under Duncan Wilde. Why did you switch to Ivan Markovic?
Italo Ferrari: We’re striving to build a team that will finish strongly because of the opportunity to enter the A-League next year. We consider this to be a very important year, and we have to start preparing now.
Duncan was great. He was devoted to the team and to the project. However he was not, for me, able to establish the base of a strong team. So we opted for Mr. Markovic from Croatia. Unfortunately, for health reasons he had to leave. Then we got lucky in getting in Manuel Gonçalves Gomes. He has three months holidays and then he will be leaving, but he will have the opportunity to work with the players and build a base for the team for next year.
Why did we do it when were on a winning streak and not at the beginning of the season? I didn’t want to wait until after the season because we would not be able to get any competitive games at that point.
Soccer Online: How are the players adjusting to the changes?
Italo Ferrari: They are ecstatic with the new coach. There was a big age gap between Mr. Markovic and the players. He is a seasoned, excellent coach with certain ideas. Mr. Markovic is 73 and Mr. Gomes is 51. The reaction of the players to Mr. Gomes has been nothing but positive. He just needs a chance to get settled in here. I’m not worried about him at all. He’s a teacher, and that’s what we’re looking for.
Soccer Online: Are you concerned that you might have broken your team’s momentum by making these changes, though?
Italo Ferrari: No, our main project is to compete in the A-League next year, and we can’t do that only by preparing over the winter. Next year we will be competing with older, more seasoned teams in the U.S.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t want to run behind anybody. I want to be on top. We were in first place, so I would rather (make the changes) now. We can afford to lose a couple games. We will be ready for playoff time. My new coach will be able to work with the players from now to the end of the season and tell us who should form the base of next year’s team.
Soccer Online: So morale on the team is high?
Italo Ferrari: It’s the best I’ve ever seen.
Soccer Online: Will you still have a CPSL team if you are accepted into the A-League?
Italo Ferrari: Yes. Right now we have a CPSL team and another team in the Ontario Soccer League. Next year, we will do the same thing, except we will have an A-League team and the farm team will be the CPSL club.
Soccer Online: Will the Thunder have any problems fulfilling the A-League’s entry requirements?
Italo Ferrari: We won’t have any problems. We have been dealing with the United Soccer Leagues (of which the A-League is a part) for the last six months. We know the requirements. The Toronto Lynx own the territory here, so there is still some internal work to be done there. But the USL’s Executive Director, David Askinas, is here at our game tonight (vs. Brampton) to watch our game. So now the ball is in his court.
Soccer Online: Have you spoken to the Lynx about the territory issue yet?
Italo Ferrari: No, I haven’t spoken to their organization yet, but if I were the Lynx, I would welcome the opportunity. We could stimulate a great rivalry and many interesting games. I don’t think the Lynx would lose fans to us in Hamilton.
Soccer Online: The budget for an A-League club is substantially larger than a CPSL team. Will that be a problem?
Italo Ferrari: I don’t think so. Last year we spent 486,000 and this year we will be over half a million. The budget for an A-League club is about 750,000.
Soccer Online: When will you hear from the A-League about your application?
Italo Ferrari: We’re hoping that in the next couple months we will receive official approval. I have a good feeling about it.
Futnotes: The Brampton Hitmen are playing better and better – we have it on good authority. Since the Brampton players crashed and burned against the Metro Lions early in the season at Birchmount Stadium, they have, to a man, picked up their games. Perhaps this improvement had something to do with coach Steve Nijjar’s searing post-game tirade, which could be heard in the stands across the field. Or perhaps the Hitmen’s spell of good form has more to do with the arrival of goal poacher Hugo Herrera, the consistent play of veterans like Phil Ionadi and Kurt Mella, and the acrobatic goalkeeping of Roy Blanche. Whatever the reason, it is now nearly impossible to see Nijjar without a smile etched on his face.
“It feels amazing…we’re playing better and better,” the Hitmen coach admits.
Brampton’s team manager, Hector Marinaro Sr., who has been around pro soccer in Ontario for 40 years, is not as enamoured by his team’s play thus far, but even he had to admit they are in good form. “We are doing well, but we still have to fix a few things,” Marinaro reflected. “The team is coming along. We have the material. We just have to put it together. But so far, so good.” High praise from a tough but knowledgeable critic.
If you missed Andre Rollins second goal in the Vaughan Sun Devils 4-4 draw with the Toronto Supra on Friday night, you missed the goal of the season – an audacious back-heel shot, first-timed off a crossing pass, into the corner of the net behind a sprawling Supra goalkeeper. Catch it on the CPSL Show if you get the chance.
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