Laurent Courtois is already changing the mood at CF Montréal.
Although it was a topic few at the club ever addressed directly, it seemed there was some kind of disconnect between CFM players and former head coach Hernán Losada. It’s still the earliest of early days, but new boss Courtois already looks to be a breath of fresh air.
The team have begun preseason training under their new manager and, speaking to reporters this week, there was an overwhelming feeling from the players that 2024 could be the new start the club needs.
“We 100 percent needed this breath of fresh air,” said captain Samuel Piette. “A new voice, a new approach.”
Courtois was only officially appointed as Losada’s successor two weeks ago and gave his first media address the following day. Speaking to reporters on January 9, the Frenchman was enthusiastic and laid-back but also seemed acutely aware of the size of the task at hand.
Related read: New CF Montréal head coach Laurent Courtois has character and philosophy to thrive — if given the chance
CFM missed the playoffs on the final day of the 2023 regular season and now face a huge rebuilding season as they look to return to the kind of competitiveness they had enjoyed under Wilfried Nancy the year prior before he left to begin anew and ultimately win MLS Cup in Columbus last year.
Courtois, along with sporting director Olivier Renard, will oversee an overhaul of mindset as much as tactics in Montréal this year. The head coach is already making a good first impression.
“I really like him, he set the tone from the first meeting,” said Canadian defender Joel Waterman.
“The first contact was very good,” echoed Piette. “He is a good person with very good values.
“We have regained the joy of training and playing,” added the midfielder. “Yes, the training is difficult, but we learn a lot, both collectively and individually. The exercises are enjoyable. It’s only a week, but it’s all positive, and I’m not saying that to make it look good.”
One thing in particular that Piette and his teammates are enjoying so far is how clear Courtois is in voicing what he wants from his players. There was no mention of Losada, but it is evident that the difference between the two coaches’ management styles is huge.
“He’s very clear on his goals and what his standards and expectations are for us as players but obviously for the club as well,” explained Waterman.
“[He makes] you feel a little more relaxed,” added Piette. “When it’s time to work, you don’t feel like you’re walking on eggshells. For the youngest players, having working conditions like that is more pleasant than being afraid of making mistakes. The mistakes we make in training, whether technical or tactical, he focuses on what you tried. Whether you succeeded or not is less important.”
“The tactics are clear and we didn’t really have that last year,” added American midfielder Bryce Duke, who was a midseason acquisition under Losada in 2023.
“All coaches are different, everyone has their positives and negatives. But what was missing last year was clear answers. [Courtois] came and gave it to us… This is a guy who tells you directly what he expects. It helps the players. The rules on and off the field are clear. It’s good for us.”
One of Renard’s most telling comments during Losada’s time in charge was that he did not necessarily agree with the Argentinian’s style of play. Renard, like many CFM fans, wants the team to be entertaining as well as competitive.
That will be a primary mandate for Courtois, who says he wants to see full commitment and desire from his players and for his team to be “obsessed” with creating goalscoring chances.
“The atmosphere is fantastic,” said defender George Campbell. “The goal is to get all players on the same page as quickly as possible, to be ready for the start of the season.
“We’re all trying to work with him and do our best to establish a game plan and an identity this year. We started early, which is a good thing. Our way of playing is completely different. Obviously, it takes time to learn it… With the ball, it will be completely different from last year. We will have great success playing an entertaining style of play.”
Montréal’s fans are expectant. Last week, the club announced it has sold out of season tickets for the first time ever in its MLS era. It’s uncertain just how closely tied that demand is to the idea of a fresh start under Courtois, but one unshakeable truth in soccer is that entertaining play grabs people’s attention and puts supporters in the stadium.
“I’m very happy to know the stadium will be full for each match,” concluded Piette. “The fan base in Montreal is big. Yes, there will be [Lionel] Messi’s visit, which will be an event, and we know Montreal likes to be present for an important event. But there are also 16 other matches where Messi will not be there, and tickets have already sold out.
“People want to love the club, and the club also wants to continue to get closer to the fans.”
Under Courtois, they’ve already started on that journey to redemption.