Did Firing Ron Jans Force a Rebuild Within a Rebuild?
There is a prevailing sentiment among some FC Cincinnati supporters that the difference in system between Jans and Stam is partly the reason for the high roster turnover. This certainly has merit, as Stam and Jans do not have homogenous tactical identities, which means Stam inherited players that were, in theory anyway, signed for Jans’ system. But is this true?
This is common across world football. Managers of differing tactical identities often inherit squads which were built upon the philosophy of a different manager. This either requires the new manager to adjust tactically or be given time to bring in new players that fit his preferred system.
But there is more to the story at FC Cincinnati, as it is fair to question if the signings meant for Jan’s were even compatible with his given system in the first place. Medunjanin and De Jong were incompatible together in a 4-3-3 due to their severe lack of mobility, each requiring a defensive midfielder to cover for them defensively. And to cover for their slow midfield, FCC had four slow center backs, two of whom were brought in by Gerard Nijkamp. All the aforementioned names were high-cost, international pieces.
It does not matter who the manager was last year. FC Cincinnati’s team was full of mismatched personnel that were unable to cohesively fit into given system. But either way, if they did theoretically fit Jan’s tactical approach, why was a manager with a differing tactical philosophy then chosen as his replacement?
The likely answer is networking. Nijkamp had a personal relationship with Stam from their time together at PEC Zwolle, and Stam had recently been discarded by Feyenoord. But this created a two-pronged issue. FC Cincinnati already had a mismatched team that clearly was not conducive to the given tactical philosophy, while they also had a manager that is known to be tactically inflexible.
The players lack of congruity to Stam’s system was the reason that the bunkering in approach was utilized. He cannot really be blamed for this. In his first game with FCC, Stam utilized a 4-3-3 with Siem De Jong and Haris Medunjanin starting together, along with Pettersson and Waston as the starting center backs. FCC lost 4-0. They got completely dominated in the midfield and were consistently beaten in transition.
This leads to the primary issue, which relates to the vision that was clearly articulated by Gerard Nijkamp after he took over in 2019. To paraphrase, Nijkamp wanted the organization to play a high possession system with intense pressing, that emphasizes transitions and rapid interchanges between personnel.
Regardless of the manager, FC Cincinnati’s incoming signings and overall roster moves have not been aligned with either the tactical philosophy or the desired 4-3-3 of both managers. How else do you end up with Yuya Kubo as a defensive midfielder and Joe Gyau as a rightback? Surely that wasn't the plan when they were signed. There has been a disconnect between signing a player and understanding how that said players fits in to the overarching tactical structure of the club.
That is why some fans are impatient. The club has better players this season, who have helped generate an improved on-the-field product. But the club is still lacking the overall structure and connectivity that signals growth at most other clubs.
The sudden firing of Ron Jan’s certainly set FCC back. Managers are not created in a laboratory. You cannot fire one and then hire a new one with the exact same tactical identity. Even under the umbrella of managers with comparable tactical ethos, each have their own ideas that will result in differing personnel or formational preferences, which can lead to off the field issues, like an expensive player within the context of the salary cap, not being favored and left on the bench.
Still, this overarching structure should not be at the whim of a new coach. Overall, all personnel, whether it is a player or a coach, must be aligned with the said philosophy of a club. This means that when a new manager comes in, the club will not need to make serious personnel changes that harm both the short-term success and long-term development of a club. If FCC’s roster turnover was theoretically caused by a conflict between the players congruity to Jan’s system and the new tactical identity created by Stam, then Stam should have never been hired in the first place. Having a general manager in the first place ought to insulate from these types of swings in direction.
That said, FCC was destined to fail last year with Jans or without him. The issues go beyond the manager, to the front office, where the task of implementing the club-wide philosophy has taken longer than expected, at best. The question is whether they have learned and are correcting these issues. From looking at the 2021 roster build and the on-the-field product so far, the question is still unanswered.