Concacaf president wants unifying force
Victor Montagliani believes “isolationism” is a threat to the growth of football in the Caribbean and wants the region to be a unifying force within Concacaf.
It is almost a year since Montagliani was elected as Concacaf president after defeating Larry Mussenden, the former Bermuda Football Association president, in a vote to oversee the scandal-ridden confederation.
Since being elected Montagliani has been busy swinging the axe of reform in an effort to rebuild Concacaf's credibility, heal the divisions within the confederation and change the “me-first mindset” of some member associations.
“The biggest challenge in Concacaf has always been changing the culture and mindset from thinking about just your own country to thinking about the whole region and how we can all benefit,” Montagliani told The Royal Gazette.
“A lot of federations — Uefa specifically — have a mindset that we're stronger together than individually. I'm glad to say that mentality has caught on and now we're pushing forward.”
Introducing a new culture to a confederation brought to its knees by the 2015 Fifa corruption scandal will not happen overnight, admits Montagliani, who feels strongly that he must set the standards for others to live by.
He does, however, believe that significant progress has been made during his first year in office. “The best way to [bring about change] is to act every day in the right way, which we do,” he said.
“That tone is set from my office to the general secretary's office, to make decisions in the proper ethical way.
“Word of mouth is also important. When we interact with people and walk away, we want them to think, ‘Um, that's a bit of a change'. That's the best way to change the culture and with a bit of time I think we will get there.”
Montagliani, Concacaf's first non-Caribbean president since 1969, arrives on the island this month to meet with Mark Wade, the BFA president, as he looks to build relations within the Caribbean.
The 51-year-old Canadian wants to reassure the Caribbean countries that their voices are being heard after it emerged that talks had been held about a potential split from Concacaf.
That conversation held at an executive meeting of the Caribbean Football Union in January, and subsequently leaked to the media, has since been played down by its members who later released a statement insisting it was “committed to working with Concacaf”.
Montagliani believes the majority of those members have little interest in a breakaway and that the Caribbean is pivotal to the future of Concacaf.
“I think that was an isolated voice and people who understand the economics of football and the direction it's going in know that isolationism is not the way to go,” Montagliani said.
“Only as a confederation growing together can we raise the level of football in the Caribbean, Central American and even North American football — I think that's quite important.
“A lot of our member associations are starting to put football first and have rejected the small-minded thinking of the past. I'm very proud of the way membership has responded.”
Montagliani announced last month that the Gold Cup — featuring Concacaf countries — would be expanded from 12 to 16 teams for the 2019 tournament.
He believes it is important for smaller nations such as Bermuda to have a realistic opportunity to qualify for the confederation's flagship tournament.
“As you can see with this year's Gold Cup, you have two brand new members [to the competition] in Curaçao and French Guiana, and then you have Martinique returning for a fifth time,” said Montagliani, who is also interested in a Pan-American tournament every four years, similar to the Copa America Centenario that debuted last year.
“You're starting to see some new players on the horizon and I think it's a sign of the competitiveness rising.
“I'm sure there will be an opportunity for a country like Bermuda, who have had success at the Caribbean Cup level, to push on to the Gold Cup.”
Like many Concacaf nations, Bermuda's development on the international stage is blighted by a lack of matches, often playing less than ten games during a four-year cycle.
To remedy that problem, Montagliani is looking into a “League of Nations” to enable the smaller countries to play matches more consistently.
“Countries like Bermuda — which is like the majority of our members to be fair — struggle to get a consistent amount of games,” added Montagliani, who will soon step down as the president of the Canadian Soccer Association.
“Some average as low as four games in a four-year period and that's just not enough from a technical level or even from a commercial level. It's very hard to go to potential sponsors and stakeholders and say, ‘I don't know how many games we will play, but I want you to be our sponsors'.
“It's something we're looking at and we've studied it quite extensively. That started even before I became president when I researched it with our friends at Uefa, which launches its own League of Nations after the 2018 World Cup in Russia.”
There could soon be another avenue for players from Bermuda and the Caribbean to further their development, with the Fifa-sanctioned professional Canadian Premier League expected to start next year.
For Montagliana, it is another example of how the Concacaf countries can work together for the benefit of all.
“Obviously the focus will be on trying to develop Canadian players but not every player will be Canadian,” he said. “I think there will be an element that will look at the Concacaf player and give him an opportunity to come into the league.
“I think that's a positive going forward.”