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Nesta to Montreal: Good or puzzling?

The information has yet to be confirmed by club authorities, but several European sources including Italian daily Corriere dello Sport are announcing Alessandro Nesta is joining Les Bleus on a one-year deal.

First announced in New York several weeks ago, the 36-year-old AC Milan great turned his back on an agreement of principle with the Red Bulls in late June, citing financial differences. He was even quoted by media outlets that he was questioning the idea of pursuing his career in North America.
After pushing aside discussions to follow the NYRB path, Toronto FC came back in the race — to the point that TFC invited Nesta to Montreal to attend the Canadian derby match of June 27 at Saputo Stadium.

Up until that point it was understood that the Impact was not in the picture, at least, not seriously.

The Reds thrashed the Impact 3-0 and spoiled the local's party that was to be the coming out celebration for Montreal’s first DP signing Marco Di Vaio. Nesta was seen on a terrace by the Impact’s offices with a few sidelined Montreal players shortly after the match. Later that night, the Italians went out together in town where sources say the Montrealers tried to convince Nesta that he would feel more at home in a blue, rather than in a red uniform.

Nesta then left the country to resume his American vacation.

On the other side of the equation, TFC did confirm interest in Nesta, but rumours of an announcement on Thursday of last week never materialized. CanadianSoccerNews.com talked earlier today of a disagreement on this issue between the pro-Nesta Bob De Klerk and Earl Cochrane/Paul Mariner, thus explaining the delay.

Back to the Impact following the 3-0 loss. Club president Joey Saputo reacted strongly to his side’s defeat against the Reds giving instructions to team management to start looking for new players. This, the source tells, launched his team’s bid to bring Nesta to La Belle Province.

Monday, Montreal confirmed putting an offer to Nesta and several players have told SoccerPlus over the weekend that they are more than confident to see the former World Champion return to Saputo Stadium shortly.

Whether the much decorated defender joins the Impact or not, we need to ask: Will Alessandro Nesta’s coming to Montreal be good or puzzling for the first-year side?

Let us first look at the positive aspects.

He’s 36, but Nesta has sufficient talent and experience to help this club. How can Valentin, Camara or Ouimette not benefit, if not from only training with a guy like that? Furthermore, Nesta simply can’t be considered worse than the four dudes who started the match in DC on Saturday?

Also, Nesta in blue and white can’t hurt ticket sales. Aside from the opening game and Beckham’s visit at the Big O, the results are not there for the sales team this season.

Nesta to Montreal makes for great headlines across the soccer world. This will also help the club bury the fact that it currently has the worst defensive unit in all of MLS.

Furthermore, the club is showing a real interest in shaking things up fast. There’s no way Saputo & Co. will let this team drown without a fight. Montreal loves champions and the Impact’s brass is reacting to make sure the club is on top of things as quickly as possible.

This final point is a double-edged sword.

How can you pretend you want to build on the mid and long-term when you have nine guys over 30-years-old in your ranks? Of course they are experienced, mature and what not, but this type of player also takes more time to return from injuries, which are more frequent in a league like ours due to a demanding schedule, long flights, limited training and recuperation time and having to play on artificial turf from time to time.

How will foreign veterans who have played for the best coaches in the world react under the tutelage of a young, American-trained rookie coach?

With all the respect due to Jesse Marsch, who will certainly enjoy a long MLS career and who does his best with the tools he has, a winless series will undoubtedly raise comparison. How can this not be when your players have been coached by Carlo Ancelotti, Marcelo Lippi, Cesare Prandelli, Claudio Ranieri, Sven-Goran Eriksson or Jose Mourinho?

How will Joey Saputo and/or Sporting Director Nick DeSantis react when two or three of these costly players will knock at their door requesting changes? Will DeSantis risk his career and return to the sidelines? Will the club move current assistant coach Dennis Hamlett to the dreaded position for the rest of the season? Will they hire a reputed European coach which is far from they proven way to success?

The biggest deception in all of this is the lack of strategy and vision in the recruitement of players - this starts by the absence of scouting personnel, as promised before the hire of a head coach a year ago.

The example of Nelson Rivas jumps to mind. Solid when healthy, the 29-year-old had 90 minutes of first team action in the two previous seasons before joining from Inter Milan. The Colombian is back on the injury list after playing only seven of his team’s 18 games this year.

The Impact’s gamble is clearly to stake everything on the short-term. As soon as Di Vaio was introduced to the press, Joey Saputo said he would resist popular pressure to buy a second DP right away. With several seats empty in the club’s three games since returning to a refurbished Saputo Stadium and subpar results are not making the pressure go away either.

From this perspective, the possible arrival of Alessandro Nesta could be a great thing for a club otherwise heading towards a playoff-less opening season. Still, there’s a huge risk the acquisition could be puzzling if they miss the mark.

To put it politely, the margin of error is thin for the Impact, very thin.