Joey Saputo

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Montreal hopes Nigerian striker is next Bologna boom

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The Montreal Impact may have just swapped presidents, with owner Joey Saputo handing the reins over to Kevin Gilmore, but the MLS club’s owner is still the chairman of Bologna and the clubs will again be sharing resources.

And if the latest move goes as well as some of the previous ones, well, look out.

Orji Okwonkwo is joining the Impact on loan, reunited with teammate Saphir Taidir. The Algerian was one of the stars of a Montreal season like Blerim Dzemaili and Marco Di Vaio before him.

Okwonkwo, 21, won the U-17 World Cup with Nigeria in 2015, scoring in the semifinal win over Mexico.

He’d sign for Bologna, and was seemingly on the brink of stardom after scoring three Serie A goals in 10 appearances last season.

Remi Garde famously handed loads of responsibilities to youngsters while leading Lyon, including a Maxime Gonalons and a very young Alexandre Lacazette. He’d later hand increased duty to Samuel Umtiti.

While few would put Okwonkwo in that camp, his chances of growing quickly in MLS are a bit better than Serie A. Point is: Garde is willing to trust kids.

Expecting him to thrive at Taidir or Dzemaili levels is a tall ask, admittedly, and there have been a number of Bologna players who haven’t been stars in MLS (Deian Boldor, Daniele Paponi, and Andrea Pisanu, though the final two contributed more than the first).

Montreal owner Saputo hands presidency duties to Gilmore

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Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo is giving the reins of his club to a new president.

Saputo announced Tuesday that he’s handing over presidency duties to Kevin Gilmore, the former chief operating officer of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

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The Saputo family founded the Impact in 1992, and Joey Saputo shepherded the club into Major League Soccer.

The Impact is coached by Remi Garde, the former Aston Villa boss, and has Designated Players in Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taidir. The Bleu-blanc-noir just started training camp.

Report: Impact’s Saputo, New York lawyer set to take over Bologna

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A North American group that includes Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo is set to take over Serie B side Bologna, according to an Associated Press report.

An initial investment of approximately $13.5 million plus more than $8 million more is going to be enough to get Saputo in the door as the club’s largest investor and New York lawyer Joe Tacopina installed as club president.

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Bologna has been a bit of a yo-yo club in Italy, and was relegated to Serie B at the end of last season.

From the Associated Press:

The pending deal has led league authorities to delay deciding on a one-point penalty for Bologna for failed player payments for several months this year.

Bologna’s last Serie A title came in 1964.

The deal will make Bologna the third major Italian club with foreign-majority ownership. Roma was taken over by a group of Boston investors three years ago, and Indonesian entrepeneur Erick Thohir took a majority stake in Inter Milan last year.

Tacopina, who represents New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez in his drug case, resigned from his position on Roma’s board to pursue the Bologna deal.

Bologna has won Serie A seven times, so it’d be nice to see them promoted and become a fixture year-in and year-out. Maybe this helps a bit.

Nick De Santis no longer sporting director in Montréal

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Former Canadian international Nick De Santis is a fixture in Montréal soccer, from signing with the Canadian Soccer League’s Montréal Supra in 1987, to moving to the Impact in 1993, to his position as Sporting Director when the club jumped to Major League Soccer in 2012. As resident, player, manager, and executive, the 46-year-old has been a near constant presence in his home town.

As of today, however, the presence will be redefined, with an Impact team sporting Major League Soccer’s worst record relieving De Santis of his sporting director’s role.

From Montréal’s website:

“In business, the most difficult decisions to make are those made involving emotions,” explained Impact president Joey Saputo. “ This is why, today, I am forced to make this decision with a heavy heart. After twenty years of being part of the technical team as a player, successful coach and GM, it gives me great sadness to announce that Nick De Santis has been relieved from his functions.”

Though it’s always sad when connection as deep as De Santis’s has to be severed, this move has been coming. Fans at Stade Saputo had displayed signs reminding their owner that mixed results over the team’s first two-and-a-half seasons had one commonality. Decisions on players and coaches couldn’t be separated from the man who was making them.

According to Montréal’s statement, De Santis will continue with the club, albeit in an administrative role, but for a man Saputo called the Impact’s “architect,” a new soccer life starts now.

“He’s acted as not only a great advisor, but was also a friend,” Saputo said. “However, we are in a results based business. Since July 2013, the results are not at the level of our expectations. The decision not to make moves to improve this club during the offseason, albeit calculated, did not give us the competitive edge we were expecting.”

“We tried with coaches, had three coaches in three years. We changed players. Obviously Nick took responsibilities as sporting director. He made decisions during the offseason. There’s a certain amount of accountability that you have to take, and unfortunately we’re not where we want to be, and he’s paying the price for it.”

This time last year, Montréal was competing at the top of the Eastern Conference, with a quick start under first-year coach Marco Schällibaum leaving the Impact destined for the playoffs. Come the start of the postseason, Montréal were tripping over themselves, imploding during a season-ending 3-0 loss at Houston.

This offseason, De Santis elected to bring former Fire head coach Frank Klopas in as Schällibaum’s replacement while staying the course with his roster. The decision has left Montréal with three wins in 20 games, costing its architect his job.

It’s the change Impact fans asked for, though the lack of a clear alternative should give supporters pause. Nine months after being let go by Chicago, Klopas is in temporary control, with Montréal deferring its search for a new sporting director until the club reorganizes its technical department.

Regardless, this was a change that needed to be made. By staying true to the squad he assembled last season, De Santis crafted a make-or-break scenario. With 14 points in 20 games, something its broken in Montréal.

Montreal Impacts hopes to extend manager Marco Schallibaum’s contract

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Montreal manager Marco Schallibaum, a man of abundant soccer knowledge but also of ample temper, has quickly become one of Major League Soccer’s most intriguing figures.

Also one of the most irascible and polarizing. The man is always seems to be just this side of full-on MMA brawl along the sidelines. He has already been suspended four times for sideline shenanigans.

We know he is an emotional sort. And we can tell that Schallibaum knows what he’s doing; Montreal is far from a finished product, but the Impact certainly looks like a playoff team, especially after hammering away last weekend at Houston. The Impact’s 5-0 victory was the worst Dynamo loss yet, going back to the club’s 2006 move into Texas.

Today we know that Schallibaum will probably be around MLS for a while … surely making the league a more interesting place.

He will, that is, if team president Joey Saputo has his way. Saputo revealed Monday that talks have been going on since July to extend Schallibaum’s contract beyond this year.

Saputo also said that his manager’s inability to stay out of trouble is of little concern, and will have no bearing on his ongoing employment.

When we hired him, the option to extend was based on whether we made the playoffs or not. But I was ready back in July to extend his contract because I think he brings a lot to the club.”