Blerim Dzemaili

There is a definite Lyon flavour to the team’s 2018 coaching staff, which was introduced Wednesday at the teams training centre.

There is no truth to the rumour that Pommes de terre à la lyonnaise will be served at the Impact’s pregame meals this season.

But there is a definite Lyon flavour to the team’s 2018 coaching staff, which was introduced Wednesday at the teams training centre.

Head coach Rémi Garde relied heavily on his experience with France’s Olympique Lyonnais as he added assistant coach Maxence Flachez, goalkeeper coach Joël Bats and fitness coach Robert Duverne. Garde also retained the services of assistant Wilfried Nancy, who has served in a number of coaching positions with the Impact Academy and the MLS since 2011.

The coaching announcements were overshadowed by the confirmation that star midfielder Blerim Dzemaili won’t be returning. He has rejoined Bologna in the Italian Serie A for what Garde described as “sporting and personal” reasons. He was on loan from the Italian team.

On the soccer side, being based in Europe will make it easier for Dzemaili to prepare for the World Cup, which will be played in Russia, June 14 to July 15. The Albanian-born Dzemaili plays for Switzerland. On the personal side, there is reported strife between Dzemaili and his wife, Albanian model Erjona Sulejmani. She returned to Italy late last year along with the couple’s son, Luan.

“He was on loan from Bologna and we always knew there was a chance he would go back,” said team president Joey Saputo. The Saputo family owns Bologna as well as the Impact.

“It’s not necessarily something we wanted to happen, but there’s also a certain excitement,” said Saputo, tying to put the most optimistic spin on the loss of Dzemaili.

Montreal Impact midfielder Blerim Dzemaili, right, tries to get ahead of New York City FC forward Khiry Shelton during first half MLS action Wednesday, September 27, 2017 in Montreal.

“It allows us to go out and get other players who are available. We can’t look at it from the standpoint of frustration. You have to take a look at it from the standpoint of opportunities. It’s always difficult to replace a player who has gotten used to playing in North America, bringing another player in from Europe. (But) we have the wherewithal and we have the soccer brains behind it to go out and get a player who can integrate into the organization.”

Saputo noted that the transfer window in Europe is open until the end of the month and there will also be opportunities for deals within North America as well as the coming MLS draft.

“We have seven weeks and three training camps before we start the season,” said Saputo. “I’m not worried.”

The departure of Dzemaili leaves the Impact with another huge hole to fill. Midfielder and team captain Patrice Bernier retired and there are three players missing from the back line. The Impact traded 2015 MLS defender of the year Laurent Ciman, Hassoun Camara retired and Ambroise Oyongo signed with the French club Montpellier.

Bats was the major surprise among the new coaches. He has an outstanding resumé as a player and as a coach.

He led Paris Saint-Germain to its first French title in 1985. He was the goaltender for France when it won the Euro championship in 1984 and was between the pipes for a third-place finish in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He opened the World Cup that year with a win over Canada, which was making its first — and only — World Cup appearance. 

“I don’t remember much about that game,” said Bats. “I remember the score was 1-0 and it was very hot.”

The Impact added to its goalkeeping depth this week when it signed French-raised Senegalese ‘keeper Clément Diop and Jason Beaulieu, a Quebecer who has been playing at the University of New Mexico. Diop, who was acquired from the L.A Galaxy in the MLS waiver draft, is part of the Senegal squad that has qualified for the World Cup. He is pencilled in as the Impact’s No. 2 goalie behind incumbent Evan Bush. Last year’s backup, Maxime Crépeau, is not in the picture.

Flachez worked with Olympique Lyonnais reserve teams, while Duverne has extensive experience with club teams and the French national team. He previously worked with Garde in Lyon and with Aston Villa in the English Premier League. Nancy is sticking around to provide some insights into MLS and the returning players.

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