CF Montreal | Nancy, Courtois and the logical continuation

(Orlando, Florida) You probably know, dear readers, that it is never too late to improve your knowledge. Even on a subject that we think we have mastered.

This professional trip to Orlando to cover the CF Montreal training camp coincides with our reading of the book Inverting the Pyramid, by the prolific English author Jonathan Wilson. This comprehensive work, updated after the 2022 World Cup, tells the story of soccer tactics from the late 1800s to today.

Laurent Courtois, CFM’s new head coach, is sitting in front of us in the lobby of the club’s hotel in Florida. The book is lying nearby. We give it to him, asking him if he knows it. Negative, he says, before taking a photo of the book – and of the journalist who presents it to him – with his cell phone.

Why are we telling you this anecdote? We then asked Courtois this question: which coaches, current or former, inspire you the most in your work?

The 45-year-old Frenchman could easily have responded to Pep Guardiola. Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsène Wenger. But no.

“Wilfried Nancy. »

We are taken a little by surprise. Oh well, that much?

“Wilfried Nancy is the version of the tactician with human management that I really like,” explains Courtois.

In the same breath, he adds the name of Chelis, or José Luis Juan Sánchez Solá of his full name, who trained him when he was a player for Chivas USA, a little after his debut in MLS. The eccentric Chelis was at the helm of Chivas for only five months, from December 2012 to May 2013, and for only 13 matches. Despite his short stay in MLS, he was recognized for quickly gaining the loyalty of his men.

He showed me the passion for his players. He was able to defend them against everyone. It was the first time I felt a coach so biased, who preferred to be on the side of the players over everything else. It was a pretty incredible experience for me.

Laurent Courtois

From the outside, there is a perception that the head coach of a sports team must keep a distance in his relationship with his men. While the assistants, still according to the cliché, can afford to be more friendly, closer to the athletes.

Watch a video of Laurent Courtois having fun with Josef Martínez

If these two names came spontaneously to Courtois’s head, and with these justifications, the qualities listed must necessarily characterize him as a coach today. A little later in the afternoon, David Sauvry, his new deputy, was questioned on this subject.

“(Courtois) is very strong on the human management side,” he confirms. Obviously, there is a distance, a balance to be had. He is the coach, he makes decisions regarding the players. But I find that for the moment, he is not a heart of stone who does not show his emotions. He is able to make decisions and convey the message how he feels. »


David Sauvry

Sauvry, 32, former assistant coach of LA Galaxy II in MLS NEXT Pro, is in his first experience with a senior professional team. He believes that “it is important for a modern coach to break down the barrier a little” of the authoritarian coach.

“It’s interesting,” he said. And we, obviously, must also do this relay between the coach and the players if there are messages to convey. But I wouldn’t say he doesn’t relate to the players. On the other hand, it is fair. »

“He gave me complete freedom”

And since Courtois himself tells us about his admiration for Nancy, let’s stay on the thread. What was it like working with him in Columbus?

The former Crew II coach is briefly distracted by the constant yapping of a dog behind. But he quickly comes to his senses, unlike the noisy little animal.

He gave me complete freedom. He never arrived saying: from now on, we should do this, that. He explained to me his style of play. I was happy to learn that 90% of the things we did were close to what he did.

Laurent Courtois

When you were introduced as head coach, when you said that you “didn’t care” about what happened in Montreal with Wilfried, was that true?

“Yes, because Wilfried’s position was really: how Laurent can have fun, and what elements should he pay attention to for this first experience as a head coach among the pros. (…) At no time did he speak to me about his story. And I say this in complete transparency to the media. »

“We will be unstoppable”

Courtois assures that most of the time, his discussions with his predecessor did not revolve around football. But as he said, the two men’s playing philosophies are similar, with a few exceptions. Laurent Ciman, who has been at the forefront of all the tactical upheavals of recent seasons, confirms this to us.

“We are trying to find the foundations that we lost last season” under Hernán Losada, says the Belgian.

“There are similarities with Wilfried,” adds the former general to the ramparts. There are gestures that are not the same, but I am not going to reveal them right away. »


Wilfried Nancy

Nancy won the MLS Cup with the Crew, in 2023, by deploying attractive, attacking soccer, whose beautiful play was built from the back in favor of short and lively passes.

“It’s the same soccer concepts, with a little adjustment,” adds full-back Raheem Edwards, formerly of the LA Galaxy, who visibly observed the MLS series last fall.

“It’s exciting,” he also emphasizes. I think it will be refreshing for the league to see us play this style of game.”

But no one is more dithyrambic than Victor Wanyama, who rediscovered the pleasure of playing in this preseason, after his quarrel with Losada in 2023. Hold on tight.

“He has his own philosophy,” underlined the veteran during our meeting a few days after our interview with Courtois. “He’s starting to install it with the team. It’s going to take time, obviously. With Will (Nancy), it took us a year and a half. Once everyone is on the same page, we’ll be unstoppable. »


Victor Wanyama

Do you really think so, Victor?

“When we are on the same page,” he repeats, “we will be a power not to be neglected (a force to be reckoned with). »

That’s a big statement. And that testifies to the confidence that this player with a long career has in his new coaching staff.

“I ask them for a lot of patience in their acceptance of things that are not yet working,” recalls Laurent Courtois, before using the formula that Wanyama was going to use later in the week. “We’re not all on the same page yet. But at the same time, you have to go. »

“Too pink”

This is because at the time of these interviews, CF Montreal was about two weeks away from starting the season. It was also before the 6-2 defeat suffered in a 120-minute game against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday afternoon.

“For the moment, everything is a little too rosy,” agrees Courtois. Everyone gave me an extraordinary welcome, the players are receptive. »

He wants to make sure his ship stays on course when the waves come to rock it. And the seas could quickly become stormy, with six games on the road to start the season.

When failure happens, what do we do? Do we start to doubt, foil, and no longer do what we said we would do? That’s a little bit like that, my fear. (…) Group life will be essential.

Laurent Courtois

Its workforce is still perfecting its knowledge, therefore. Contrary to our reading ofInverting the Pyramid which unfortunately is not progressing at a sustained pace these days, CF Montreal finds itself in a “time trial” between now and February 24.

“It’s not the preseason that will win you a championship,” illustrates Laurent Courtois. But it’s the preseason that will ensure you don’t lose it. »


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