By Brian Maurer and Jorge Gonzales
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
To many, the sudden firing of Miguel Angel Ramirez (MAR) came as a shock. The fans of Charlotte appreciated his apparent transparency to the media and his willingness to confront the front office on their roster build.
The Charlotte FC fanbase loved the bravado of MAR. Especially, his willingness to make statements that provided the appearance of sticking it to the business bigs within the organization. The result of these types of comments, whether planned or otherwise, made MAR appear as a mastermind when the team began performing well.
His comments at press conferences regularly made him out to seem a victim of a front office that was unwilling to spend. Stating that the team was “screwed”. And that he was “not Harry Potter” and that he was unable to perform magic; as if to say that it would take a wizard to win with the current roster that the front office gave him.
MLS pundits began predicting Charlotte finishing near last place in the league after their coach seemed to question his own team. When the Crown found themselves right outside of a playoff position, MAR looked like an overachieving coach of the year candidate. While the front office was made to look like a rushed, chaotic mess, scrambling to sign players.
The front offices of sports organizations are rarely loved by fans. It’s a tough business, where the praise of successes are given to the players, but the low times are often put on the front office. This was especially going to be the case for Charlotte FC’s front office as they were team building with a coach who publicly questioned his roster’s composition.
Add to this the already sour taste Charlotte fans had due to the team charging personal seat licenses (PSLs) to season ticket holders. If the results are poor, the front office is an easy target for the fans. MAR’s responses at press conferences made him a champion of the fans and showed he was willing to question those who sold him a vision when hiring him.
At one point, Charlotte FC’s sporting director, Zoran Krneta, deemed MAR the “perfect” coach for the style of play that was desired. Aggressive, high press, attacking football. The team also envisioned creating an environment where young players could develop into stars. The young and ambitious MAR, with an aggressive attacking football philosophy, who also had many years of experience developing players, appeared to check all of the boxes.
Krneta and his staff began filling the roster with players they deemed to fit the mold of a developing star, and who fit into MAR’s preferred style of play. Charlotte FC also brought in some players that MAR was familiar with, having coached them in the past, and who were familiar with his football philosophy.
Krneta also mentioned a desire at the beginning of the season to bring in the higher level designated players (DPs) slowly. Patiently filling holes in the roster as they presented themselves throughout the first few months of the season.
This patient approach soon appeared to be a hurried lackluster affair, as multiple DP candidates fell through for reasons as wild as a bar fight or as unlucky as an injury. The roster build began to change its shape and expectation as the season approached. MAR flipped on the team and its vision by saying “we’re screwed” in Spanish to Topbin90. Indicating the team, as it stood, was not good enough to succeed.
The vision changed from a unified team effort to a conflict between a coach who created an image of being for the fans and a sporting director who asked for calm during what appeared to be a looming storm.
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
Behind the Show Curtain
Fans and media pundits entertained the “we’re screwed” comment at the beginning of the season, supporting how he seemed to call out the front office. However, little was discussed or reported on how the players, or other technical staff, felt regarding the situation.
These are the people this comment actually impacts the most. By telling reporters that his players are not good enough to compete in the MLS, MAR put himself at odds with many who are a part of the team. This public comment was the projection of events that had already begun to take place.
According to close sources, MAR’s commitment to the club was weak at best. He was not interested in a three-year contract, instead he was adamant of negotiating a shorter-term deal until eventually giving in and accepting the three year deal. A couple of weeks before the “we’re screwed” comments, at the start of preseason, MAR already mentioned a desire to leave the club.
He voiced many complaints about the MLS as a league, team amenities, the academy, and the facilities. A specific instance of MAR’s complaints was having to eat on plastic plates during a team event at the Vault, which is Charlotte FC’s premium field-level club, and costs around $400 per ticket.
Regardless of the situation being big or small, MAR appeared to have problems with much of the goings on at Charlotte FC, and potentially the MLS as a whole.
According to sources, in preseason, after a match in Charleston, a veteran player confronted MAR’s attitude, questioning his commitment and whether he actually wanted to be the coach of the team. An accusation and a concern that would continue to be brought up throughout MAR’s short tenure with the club.
Chris Smith’s article in 90min and Carroll Walton’s article in The Charlotte Ledger also mentioned that tensions were building as early as preseason.
After Charlotte FC lost to Orlando City, MAR was late to his press conference because he was confronted again by another veteran player. This occurrence is also reported in Walton’s article.
MAR’s attitude towards the team was regularly an issue, especially during road trips and after losses. Sources confirmed that MAR would not address the team after losses, and would be one of the first people to leave facilities after road games, without checking in with staff or players.
One of the more interesting points in these occurrences involving the team culture is that none of them involve Karol Swiderski. According to The Athletic, Swiderski was highlighted as a primary reason for the firing of MAR. But after further investigation, sources confirm that Swiderski never refused to play for Charlotte FC.
He did, however, have an issue with the approach in training, especially regarding the lack of training on fitness and in the attacking third. An understandable complaint from a striker who wants to score goals, not only for the club but to also help secure his place on the Polish World Cup roster.
But by no means was this enough of a reason for Swiderski to want his coach out. A more accurate statement would be that many players had issues with how the team was run, and there were several confrontations and complaints from players throughout the early portion of the season.
Much of this discontent could also be due to how Ramírez felt about the players on the roster. According to sources, when MAR was first hired he did not rate many of the players on the developing roster very highly.
Multiple sources stated that MAR was a key reason Riley McGree is not on the team today. A player with lots of promise, and who can play in one of the positions the team is in most need – attacking midfielder.
One source went as far as to say that MAR was unwilling to even receive a phone call from McGree. This is not to say that McGree would have changed the roster outlook alone, but it does suggest that there was a disconnect between MAR and the front office well before preseason started.
These early disconnections between staff and the coach should likely have been seen as writing on the wall of things to come.
According to a player, MAR was not confronted in front of the whole team by any players. However, he could have been confronted by veteran players behind closed doors. This player also felt that MAR was not checking in or addressing the team after losses because this was his personality. Instead, MAR just preferred to be alone, it was not to slight the team. However, MAR’s methods of connecting with the team could be difficult for some players to deal with.
The player also mentioned that he felt MAR did have a tendency to cross the line, which some of his public statements were a testament to. He also confirmed that he felt a shock when he heard the news that MAR was fired, and that about ten to twelve of the players went and visited MAR at his house the day of his sacking.
Image courtesy of Charlotte FC
An Inevitable Ending
The disconnect between MAR and the front office, as well as his leadership style that most players weren’t fond of leads one to think that this was an inevitable separation.
The fact that the issues and disputes with players and members of the front office started so early in his time as coach, makes the firing at the June international break almost seem like a longer delay than was wise. The front office decided to stick with their initial coach hiring, hoping that their vision could unfold. Ultimately, however, the longer they waited the worse the end result was for everyone involved.
Krneta and the other Charlotte FC higher-ups were dealt a lose, lose, lose situation. Fire MAR when the discontent starts in the preseason or earlier in the season, and the fanbase is up in arms for not being patient enough, and the MLS media at-large critiques them for not only losing their technical director, Marc Nicholls, but also their coach early in the season.
Wait until the end of the season and the culture at the club likely continues to worsen, and they would have to let him go after what could have likely appeared to be a successful campaign on the surface.
The front office opted to let him go during the international break, which has also shown to be a difficult situation, as the season has been relatively successful so far, and MLS pundits were giving MAR praise for the clear identity and style the team was playing with.
Fans and media alike took to social media, fiercely criticizing and questioning the state of the club. There appeared to be no way that the club could come out of this situation in a good light, especially with the narrative that MAR had carefully crafted from the start.
The uninformative press conference by Krneta held the morning the firing occurred did not help Charlotte FC’s image. Instead, it left the Charlotte FC fanbase questioning the club’s decision making and further fueled the media’s criticism of the team.
The club’s expansion approach will likely continue to be a hot topic for debate throughout the season. What is not up for debate is that in the past month Charlotte FC have lost two key members, Nick Kelly and MAR, of the organization who had a strong connection to the fanbase.
How the front office confronts this issue in the coming weeks will be pivotal to the success of the culture within Bank of America Stadium which has been deemed, to this point, a fortress.
Over the past few days as more information has surfaced, and many sources have been cross-referenced and reported on by several different writers, there appears to be an understanding of certain rumors that can now be more or less confirmed.
First, Swiderski was singled out unnecessarily, likely because he is one of the bigger names. In the end, regardless of Swiderski’s feelings about MAR, there were grievances building from many players far before this international break.
Secondly, the issues within the locker room seem to have started early on, as early as preseason. MAR also appears to be at the center of much of the conflict, as well as a culprit for continuing to pour gasoline on the fire.
Thirdly, it appears that while MAR spoke to the cameras and the fans well, behind the scenes he considered himself to be a tier above the MLS, and his current Charlotte roster, which looks to be a prime cause for much of the conflict.
Finally, as the season wore on and the culture within the club continued to sour, there looked to have been no other way around the situation than for the front office to take a major hit from the public.
At the end of the day Charlotte FC’s performances will demonstrate how much truth there is to the cultural fractures within the locker room. Whether the team was able to perform because of MAR, or in spite of MAR, will be revealed through play on the pitch in the coming months.