It doesn't get too much more bizarre than this: Peter Nowak is apparently blaming fans, and maybe media, for Carlos Ruiz's somewhat abrupt departure from the team. Try to wrap your mind around that for a second.
The head coach of the Philadelphia Union, the man with seemingly more power than anyone else in the organization, is claiming that fans forced him to ... what? Sell Ruiz? Release him? We still don't quite know for sure, but it looks like rumors of his transferring to Mexico were maybe not quite as outlandish as Nowak claimed just a week or so ago. What we do know, at least judging from Nowak's postgame comments after his team's loss to the Colorado Rapids, is that Ruiz is gone and this was his explanation:
All of us looked at the whole picture before Carlos arrived. My message to him and the conversations we’ve been through were that he was going to be different than he was in Toronto, Dallas or L.A., and I think he embraced in a great way, as a really true professional, the way he was supposed to play.
There were a lot of fans, even in the stands here, that have a pre-bias towards Carlos, and made some bad comments about him being a diver, or this, or that, not working hard enough, and all these little things.
It was getting tiring to all of us, and we accepted an offer from a club. Carlos is no longer going to be with us. We are finalizing stuff right now, it’s probably going to take a couple of weeks.
We are all getting tired of this stuff. Finishing the chances we have, yes, it’s a problem. It’s not a problem - it’s to have the killer instinct that Carlos possesses. We will make a further announcement later, but as of now, this is the situation.
Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com tries to make some sense of it all, but I'm not sure there is sense to be made of it. No matter how you look at this story, something just seems wrong.
You can take what Nowak said at face value. That would mean he basically got rid of an otherwise productive player -- a player he would have us believe he is upset over losing -- just because some members of the media didn't like him and some fans wrote mean things on the internet. If this is, indeed, the case, it would seem that the Union are run more like a youth sports team than a professional sports organization.
The alternative is to believe that Nowak is simply lying. That there's another more reasonable cause for Ruiz's leaving. Maybe he doesn't like Philadelphia or MLS or Nowak. Or maybe Nowak doesn't believe his style of play fits in with the rest of the team. There could be a million reasons, quite frankly, and Ruiz is far from the best player to ever have been moved from his team midseason.
Maybe Nowak is annoyed that fans are critical or that media members question some of his moves. He certainly wouldn't be the first coach to feel that way. But to then use that criticism as a shield for the real reason you're making a move. That just seems weak and petty.
I've never really been a fan of Nowak. His personnel decisions all seem to lack any kind of big-picture thinking, one rarely seems to be connected to the other. But this might be the move that takes the cake. Either Nowak failed his team by not helping people understand Ruiz's value or he's so thin-skinned that he's using this an excuse to complain about fans. Neither looks good.