Markus Marshall of SHIFTER Sports recently sat down with Ottawa Fury FC GM, Julian de Guzman, for our first feature piece ahead of the new USL season. De Guzman took the time to share some of his story, talk about soccer in Canada and opened up on expectations for the new season. Fury FC’s season last year ended with disappointment after missing out on the play-offs for the second season in a row. There has been a revamp in the off season, with many changes to the first team squad. A new head coach and with de Guzman himself transitioning from head coach to general manager. There is much optimism and belief going into the upcoming season and we wanted to find out what’s different this year to previous years.
Here’s what he had to say.
SHIFTER Sports: For those of our readers at SHIFTER Sports that don’t know much about yourself, tell them a little bit about what they need to know and what’s got you to where you are today?
Julian de Guzman: For me to be where I am today, it’s comes from my passion and it’s just been soccer, I feel like I am alive because of soccer. If It wasn’t soccer, it was my brother, (Jonathan de Guzman, professional soccer player currently playing in Germany for Eintracht Frankfurt) he was everything to me and soccer kept us together. To have the chance to represent a country (Canada) that doesn’t get recognized in the soccer world raising the flag became one of my goals and objectives. Having the chance to play as a professional soccer player in France, Germany, Spain, Greece and the MLS making it in those leagues that you wouldn’t expect Canadians to do well in. It became my aim to put our name on the map. What I wanted to do for the game as a Canadian is open up doors, that’s what I did growing up in Canada, that’s what I did playing overseas, playing for the national team and this is what I continue to do as the GM of the Ottawa Fury. I want to continue opening doors for Canadian’s and those who deserve a chance.
SHIFTER Sports: Hockey, Canadian Football and Basketball are big sports in Canada, soccer not so much at the professional level. Why is it important for soccer to develop in this country at a professional level?
Julian de Guzman: It’s the greatest sport in the world. There’s so much potential in Canada and we have all the resources to provide this game the best interest for fans, for kids, for the future. The women’s side of the game we see what the success looks like, on the men’s side, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. Canadian kids growing up now can look to Toronto FC, they can look to the Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and also Ottawa Fury. It’s progress but still not enough. With this sport I feel if the right people stand behind it and support it the following will continue to grow. In Canada we have a bit of a backwards model. The only way people will come to trust it is with success. I strongly believe fans will fall in love with this game over the process of 5 to 8 to 10 years and the fanbase behind it will naturally follow.
SHIFTER Sports: You were a player here at the Fury, assistant and head coach. Talk to me a little bit about last season as head coach? What did you learn from that experience?
Julian de Guzman: I learned a lot, it opened my eyes. It was a rude awakening as to what happens behind the scenes. Just small things from equipment to player housing. It was an eye opener and I was very intrigued and happy to open myself up to the experience. I was coaching the team, whilst going for my coaching license at the time. It was a very intense transition. It made me proud to be in that position. It all came about quite fast, and I’m glad I’ve been able to keep up with the pace.
SHIFTER Sports: In our season preview we posed, and answered the question. What is different regarding the positivity going into this season than in past seasons. How would you answer that question?
Julian de Guzman: One of the major difference this year has to be the commitment to the culture. We are bringing in people we trust and believe in. The model of play, Paul Dalglish (Former Fury FC head coach) had a similar attacking mind. 4–3–3. Did we have the right players for it at the time? Some yes, others maybe not. At the same time he wanted to create a culture. I think the culture is already there, it’s a question of how do you tap into it? You can’t go to Barcelona and start playing direct football, they won’t accept it. Even if they are winning games. You can get away with minor adjustments but you have to play the Barcelona way. You can get away with testing things a little more in Ottawa as it’s still a young culture, it’s still fresh but you have to look back to where we had the most success and this year the set up we have in place can relate to that. Nikola brings his style and he plays the game the way I would like to see it played as a fan.
SHIFTER Sports: When you considered the options for the head coach role. What made Nikola Popovic stand out?
Julian de Guzman: Nikola worked closely with Marc Dos Santos (Former Fury FC head coach) they have some similarities and some differences and what he brings as a coach I believe will apply very well to what we are looking for here. I won’t sit here and say we are going to be like Deportivo De La Coruna or Benfica. We want it be like that one day. We have expectations but that doesn’t happen overnight. There are certain things that you can adjust and bringing Nikola here after learning in the USL with Swope Park Rangers (Western Conference Champions last year) he understands the league. I’m not bringing someone fresh from Europe to learn about the North American culture. He’s embraced it and accepted it, he loves it, and believes in it and this is what the fans need. He understand the importance of the culture. I had the chance to visit the city with Nikola, he sees that’s there is life here. He’s committed to learning more about the culture. The culture is already in place, it just needs to be respect and with Nikola, that will happen. I wanted someone with proven experience, someone who understands the league, to Nikola advantage he has proven success in the USL. Someone who understands the high expectations of European football, whilst committed to the culture in Ottawa and Nikola has applied himself to those expectations.
SHIFTER Sports: We’ve heard a lot about the Popovic Philosophy — What’s your perspective?
Julian de Guzman: It’s a style that many coaches try to execute. It’ a very demanding style of soccer that requires every individual to perform and be at their best. Nobody can hide and if they do they will be exposed. It’s a sylte that requires 16 starters not just 11 it requires a squad of 27 players. Nikola has proven it works for him already in the USL. The amount of possession. This is the one people in North America know him for. You see a team with high possession and you say, that must be Nikola Popovic doing that. Some players may pick it up quicker than others. We’ve had 6 weeks with the team, and we are working on getting everyone on board. To play possession based football is more than just holding onto the ball. It’s a matter of how to react to losing the ball. No one can be bigger than the club, no one can be bigger than another one of their teammates. In our team, we have hungry but humble individuals. There’s a lot that goes into making a philosophy work. The style of football needs to be respect not just by the players but everyone in the organization. Our character will come through when teams up their pitch in a way that doesn’t suit our style. We will stick to our ideals. If you want us to be our best, give us that wet pitch at home, give us that wide surface and give us our fans and we will be ready. When you have a player that plays for his coach and the club, playing for the badge and applying the coaches methods, this is joy, and this is what the fans will start to see on the pitch and they will believe in it.
SHIFTER Sports: Managers transmit a feeling to the fans, players and club take Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. His passion on the touchline lets the fans know that he feels their emotions. When Liverpool win, Klopp is one of the fans, and when they lose, he feels the same pain their feel and is committed to fixing it. That makes the fans feel as though their club is safe under his management. What feelings will the Fury fans feel regarding Nikola Popovic as time goes along and they develop that relationship?
Julian de Guzman: The key word is safe. We believe in Nikola as a club, that he will be the man who turns things around, the man we trust to carry us forward and take us to that next step that we’ve been striving for for the past two years. As a GM, I’ve gambled and I’d be willing to gamble almost everything on this guy. He will change things around. This is the passion he brings to the locker room, to the organization, to the city and to the fans. I work with him everyday, in training, I’ve seen his meetings, I’ve had meetings with him. He brings passion, and this is what we need in the environment. We need passionate people who believe and who will allow others to believe too. Nikola is that man.
SHIFTER Sports: What’s your message to the Ottawa Fury fanbase going into the new season?
Julian de Guzman: We as an organization are extremely thankful, grateful and honoured to continue to have this opportunity to live a dream with you. I’m a fan of the game and we together still believe and there is hope. Fury FC from inception to today is a dream in the making. This couldn’t have happened without your support and you’re continually backing of this club. I strongly believe that we can send a very strong statement throughout this country participating in the USL as a Canadian team by not just what we’ve put in place today but by what we could possibly do this season and for you to really be a part of this movement. This could be the answer of what many fans have been asking for. We want to respect the fans needs and I played to make this dream possible. As an ex player, national team member, ex Fury player, assistant and now GM we will continue to do our best to raise that flag and represent the true believers of this game which is the fans. Without the fans, I wouldn’t be here, I am honoured and proud of everything I’ve gone through to be in this position to help create a new hope for many.
Thanks to Ottawa Fury FC GM Julian de Guzman for taking the time to sit down with us and we also echo the same message of belief to the Fury Faithful. Fury FC will be travelling to Toronto to play TFC II in their second USL game of the season on March 31st at 7:30pm.
Stay locked to SHIFTER Sports to follow the progress of Fury FC, as they embark upon this new season filled with hope.