Identity remains a critical part of life in Montréal. The second-largest Francophone city in the world operates at the crossroads of Europe and North America, a city situated on the latter continent with more inherent similarities with the former. The resulting blend creates a culture vastly different than any other major city in North America and fosters a fiercely protective stance toward potential infringements upon it.
The skirmishes in the political and social realms inevitably bleed into the sporting realm with language at the crux of the battle. Former Canadiens captain Saku Koivu endured years of criticism for his poor French. The team also sparked a fracas of the highest order three years ago when the team hired Randy Cunneyworth, an interim coach without any French-language skills. He exited the job within a matter of months. Former Impact boss Jesse Marsch made it a point to learn some French when he took charge in 2012, while incoming coach Frank Klopas promised to embrace the language upon his appointment to replace Swiss manager Marco Schällibaum in December. Recently departed Impact captain Davy Arnaud studied French during his two years with the club, too.
Each of those examples reinforces the importance of culture, identity and excellence within the sporting context. Montréal – both as a city and as a club – possesses a certain vision of how its representatives should comport themselves. Those perceptions – plus several other on- and off-the-field factors – make Patrice Bernier the perfect choice to captain Impact heading into the 2014 season.
Bernier, 34, probably should have garnered this honor from the moment the Impact first entered MLS. He embodies every trait embraced – Québec native, Canadian international, English and French speaker – from the external perspectives and supplements them with his tidy performances on the field. His presence as a productive fixture in the starting XI makes him a choice to succeed Arnaud – a wise choice as the club’s first captain given his importance and value to the club over the past two years, though not nearly as representative of the wider external considerations – from a competitive perspective.
The decision also offers a nod toward stability for a club prone to chopping and changing. Bernier functions as one of the few constants in the playing squad, a reliable figure within a club more willing than most to overturn its team in search of results. His steady presence in the locker room and on the field provides much needed continuity as the Impact adjusts to a third coach in three seasons and searches for a way to meet the lofty expectations set forth at Stade Saputo.
By formally confirming Bernier’s role as a leader of this group, the Impact satisfied a few of them straight away. His ascension to the captaincy represents the ideal marriage of merit and symbolism in a situation where the first quality is mandatory and the second is always appreciated. He rose to this position due to his contributions on and off the field, but his selection also ensures the identity of the city and the club are ideally reflected and represented in the Impact’s chosen leader moving forward.
At this stage of my career, having grown up here, this will be a very special experience for me and a new challenge that I am ready to take on.
Montréal midfielder Patrice Bernier on his appointment as Impact captain, per a club release.