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Former sporting director Renard explains what led to his CF Montreal departure

CF Montreal President and Chief Executive Officer Gabriel Gervais, left, Vice-President and Chief Sporting Officer Olivier Renard, right, and Hernan Losada hold up CF Montreal scarf following a news conference in Montreal, Thursday, December 22, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — In nearly five years in Montreal Olivier Renard was not one to beat around the bush, but he skilfully navigated a tricky situation on Friday.

CF Montreal's former vice president and sporting director bid farewell to the city in front of about 20 media representatives a week after his mutual separation from the team.

Those expecting incendiary statements were instead met with several clarifications.

A week earlier, Montreal president and chief executive officer Gabriel Gervais stated that strategic differences caused the separation. Renard hesitated to echo those words, emphasizing that the philosophy he tried to establish upon his arrival in September 2019 hadn't changed in his eyes.

"I might have used a different word (than differences), but it’s what pushed me to leave and what pushed the club to make this decision," Renard said. "When Gabriel says we’re no longer on the same page for the future, personally, I have the same vision for the project. 

"I came here with a role to play. I wanted to rejuvenate the team, have as many Canadian players on the field as possible, have resale potential, and achieve results that were far from catastrophic considering our financial situation."

The results exceeded expectations in the 2022 season. Under the direction of Renard and head coach Wilfried Nancy, Montreal set a dozen team records and a few Major League Soccer records before falling 201 to New York City FC in the Eastern Conference semifinals. 

Things began to unravel after that season when Nancy left for the Columbus Crew and the club sold defender Alistair Johnston along with midfielders Djordje Mihailovic and Ismaël Koné.

Changes weren’t limited to the field. Renard acknowledged that certain modifications within the sporting department gradually eroded the relationship between him and the team. It was implied that Gervais, hired as president in March 2022, was at the heart of this.

At his press conference last week, Gervais clarified Montreal’s organizational structure. He explained that Renard reported to him, while he, in turn, was accountable to the board of directors led by the owners. Gervais noted, however, that he made the final decisions.

"It was good to hear that he was making the final decisions because sometimes I asked questions and didn’t get an answer," Renard said. "It’s normal for an owner to want to know where their money is being invested, and I had no problem with refusals. 

"I assumed I didn’t have all the power, and I had no problem with that. That’s why I extended my contract. But it’s true that since 2022, the process changed a bit."

The 44-year-old Belgian said he wasn't worn out despite a structure and budget at the organization that didn’t always give him the freedom to work as he wished. He also said it was normal to be challenged on certain decisions but that there needed to be an understanding of roles within the organization.

"When you get challenged, you also have to accept who is doing it," Renard said. "With all due respect, if my bread isn’t good, I’m not going to challenge the baker when I can’t even make a croque monsieur."

Gervais also mentioned that he knew less about the sporting side and would step down from the sporting director role he took on an interim basis once the team found a replacement. A priority for the new sporting director will be dealing with team MVP Mathieu Choinière, who has reportedly requested a trade.

While it might seem that tensions between Renard and Montreal began when reports of Choinière’s transfer request surfaced a few weeks ago, Renard wouldn't confirm it was the starting point of the friction.

"I hope for the club that Mathieu Choinière stays here for a long time," Renard said. "It’s a great story to see. It will be up to the team to decide what they want to do with him, but he reflects what people have come to appreciate here."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2024.

Simon Servant, The Canadian Press

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