Editorial — “Come on You Reds: The story of Toronto FC” was released on Oct. 6, 2018. This book covers the origins of Toronto FC to their MLS Cup win and Concacaf Champions League Final run.
The author of the book is Joshua Kloke, a current staff writer of The Athletic Toronto. This article will focus on the Bloody Big Deal and how it changed the franchise forever.
Tim Leiweke Becomes CEO and President of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment
Background of MLSE
When Tim Leiweke was selected to be CEO and president of MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment), he wanted to change the sporting landscape. He officially took office on April 26, 2013. At that time MLSE owned the Raptors, TFC, the Leafs and the Marlies. When he was with MLSE, TFC formed their farm team called TFC II on Nov. 20, 2014. They formed a bridge between the first team and their academy team, which is now known as TFC III. They currently play in USL League One, the third tier of US soccer.
Bloody Big Deal
However, this article is about the Bloody Big Deal and how Toronto FC became a powerhouse. This article will first look at how Tim Leiweke signed Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley. When Leiweke took over in April 2014, TFC failed to qualify even once for the MLS playoffs.
Leiweke said many times that he wanted Toronto FC “to be great.” His ideas with Toronto FC changed the club into a perennial MLS Cup contender and as an MLS team with a big budget. He also had the pedigree to accomplish this.
When he was with the LA Galaxy, he signed both Robbie Keane and David Beckham who created a dynasty in LA. Ironically, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played with the LA Galaxy for 2018-19, was Bezbatchenko’s initial target to sign for 2014. However, Leiweke shot down that suggestion thinking that Ibrahimovic would see Toronto FC and MLS as a victory lap.
It is hard to fathom, but before 2014, TFC were known as a team with a small budget. A team led by Kevin Payne, who believed building a team slowly was the right way to go. However, Leiweke did not believe that vision. As a result, Payne was fired and Leiweke’s vision began to take shape.
The stage is set! It's A Bloody Big Deal. pic.twitter.com/Ha8lPT3GO8
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) January 13, 2014
Toronto FC: The Bloody Big Deal
The main face of the “Bloody Big Deal” in 2014, Defoe was targeted closely by Leiweke. According to the Come On You Reds book, they used a three-headed monster strategy. Ryan Nelson, then Toronto FC head coach was able to contact Defoe from his playing days at Tottenham Hotspur. Then Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko explained Defoe the rules, practicalities, and possible salary structure with the move.
However, it was Leiweke that sealed the deal with his charisma and his dream for TFC. This is how MLSE, and more specifically Leiweke blew Defoe away.
“As soon as I sat down with Tim, I was like, ‘Wow,’ Defoe said. “His energy and his vision that he had; it was almost like I’d made my decision straight away.”
Leiweke also had NBA superstar LeBron James meet Jermain Defoe’s mother at courtside in a Toronto Raptors game. They did anything and everything to accommodate Defore.
Bradley was playing in A.S. Roma before coming to Toronto. He was doing well until his manager got fired. When the new manager came along, he had trouble getting playing time on the field. Also, according to Come On You Reds, Bradley was valued highly by the sporting director. Meaning a team had to pay Bradley big money in order for him to leave the team.
Then enters Toronto FC, Bradley played a friendly against Toronto FC as a member of A.S. Roma at BMO Field.
There, he met Bezbatchenko and Leiweke. Meanwhile, Leiweke was impressed by Bradley.
“We found our Robbie Keane in Michael Bradley,” Leiweke said.
Of course, Keane was an excellent player in his own right. He was the LA Galaxy’s Most Valuable Player for four years in a row. In a way, one could see Keane as the best player to wear a LA Galaxy uniform.
In hindsight, many Toronto FC fans now would agree with Leiweke. He knew all along the impact Bradley would make to the organization as their captain since 2015.
The Lessons with Jermain Defoe
After signing Defoe, Bradley and Gilberto Oliveira Souza Júnior, they advertised the Bloody Big Deal on YouTube. The purpose of the video was to show TFC fans that they can be something great.
However, by accommodating Defoe so much, they did not ask Defoe to compromise on anything in advance. This is a lesson they took to heart for future designated player signings like Sebastian Giovinco.
Legacy of the Bloody Big Deal
The Defoe signing was not a failure for Toronto FC. According to the Canadian Press of Sportsnet, Defoe was traded to Sunderland in exchange for Jozy Altidore. This was probably one of the best — if not the greatest — transactions in Toronto FC history. They swapped a player not committed to playing for TFC to a player who would create a legacy for himself. Looking at the Bloody Big Deal in this perspective, it was a resounding success.
It’s also important to mention other players in the year of the Bloody Big Deal. The most notable one includes signing Júlio César, who would play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup as a Brazilian goalkeeper player for Toronto FC. Even fan-favorite Dwayne De Rosario returned to TFC in 2014.
Lastly, credit for this resources of this article should be given to Joshua Kloke. His in-depth analysis of “Come on You Reds: the story of Toronto FC” should be read by any MLS or TFC fan.
There is also an article about the birth of Toronto FC which can read in this previous article.