Toronto's efforts to sign Alberto Gilardino may have been fatally derailed by an unlikely group of people -- its own (alleged) fans.
As has been widely reported, the Italian international has been deep in negotiations with TFC to make a move to MLS either after the World Cup or in January, depending on his status with the Azzurri.
And, although reports that the signing was almost complete were premature, the two sides were making significant enough progress that Gilardino's camp had started to do some due diligence on TFC.
This is where things went wrong.
According to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, several influential people in Toronto's Italian community either reached out, or were contacted by Gilardino's management group to give input. Their message was nearly uniform--stay away.
The detractors told Gilardino's management that not only has TFC's past record been woeful -- something Gilardino understood -- but that it was their opinion that under current management there was no chance that there would be improvement. Further, the detractors went so far to suggest that coming to TFC would derail Gilardino's career.
The information rings true because it's not the first time it's been suggested that there are people in Toronto's soccer community that aren't just indifferent to TFC, but actually hostile. This feeling isn't limited to the Italian community, but rather it can be found in almost every identifiable group beyond a general British/Canadian group. To be clear it's not everyone who feels this way. It's probably not even most people. However, it's most of the influential people in the soccer community.
People that truly have connections with agents around the soccer world. People that truly could sabotage efforts to sign a major player.
The hostility steams not just from losing. In fact, losing is a very small part of it. Rather, it has to do with the lack of relationships TFC has forged with the soccer community, particularly on the academy side of things.
There remains a great deal of frustration and anger amongst certain segments of the youth club community in and around Toronto towards TFC.
Is the toxic environment fatal to TFC's ambitions to sign a major player for 2014? No, but it will take a considerable effort to overcome a determined group of detractors that now take joy in watching TFC fail. Ironically, Tim Leiweke may want to set his sights on a player that does not come from a background with a significant ex-pat community in the city.
Regardless, he may want to dampen expectations now that he understands the full range of what he's up against.