New Impact coach Rémi Garde ready to 'suffer' to bring Montreal fans joy this season

When Rémi Garde arrived in Montreal last November to assume his role as the new head coach for the Montreal Impact, he wasn’t greeted with the kind of weather that typically makes newcomers fall in love with the city. 

The 52-year-old Frenchman was promptly hit with five months of nasty Canadian winter, but he didn’t let that faze him. 

“Of course, everybody told me [to expect] that before I came, and they were not lying you know — I survived,” Garde said with a laugh. “It’s not a problem. I’m happy anywhere, whatever the weather is.”

Garde might not care about the weather as much as the rest of us because his life is consumed by soccer. 

His ideal sunny day doesn’t involve a terrace like most Montrealers — a sunny day for him is a win for his club. Garde hopes to deliver at the club’s home opener on Saturday for fans at Saputo Stadium.

“You have to be ready to suffer … Everybody involved close to the results needs to be strong and resilient to hold the difficulties that you will have to cope with,” Garde says.  

The Impact have already played six games this season, and with two wins and four losses, it’s fair to say that Garde’s squad is still a work in progress. 

But with five of those games being played on the road, and the others at the Olympic Stadium, there is a feeling that the season is only really starting now that they players are taking to the pitch outdoors on home field.New Montreal Impact Head Coach Rémi Garde sits down with CBC Montreal sports journalist Douglas Gelevan ahead of this weekend’s home opener.3:12

Training to be a champion

Garde says he has had an unwavering passion for soccer for as long as he can remember.

As a young boy, he learned the basics from his two older brothers. His formal education of the sport began when he was accepted into the Olympique Lyonnais academy. 

Rémi Garde, 52, started as a player at Lyon and spent most of his career with the French club as both a defender and a coach.(Laurent Cipriani/AP)

At Lyon, the club took him under their wing and turned him into a player that would suit up 146 times for the team between 1987 and 1993 in France’s Ligue 1. He then went on to play for Strasbourg for a few seasons, before playing for Arsenal under the legendary coach, Arsene Wenger, in the English Premier League. 

Garde says the three years playing under Wenger had a profound impact on him. 

“He’s someone who can analyze things so quickly and so accurately — that’s inspiring for me,” says Garde.

Valuable lessons

Moving outside of France opened Garde’s eyes to the world in a way that he had not experienced it before. Garde says the biggest lesson he learned was to embrace the place where you are.

“Since I moved to England, it opened something in my mind that I was very happy to challenge myself,” he says. “As long as you haven’t moved abroad, away — you don’t know what it is.” 

It was a valuable lesson, but he admits that, looking back, he realises that he could have done more to support the foreign players during his early days at Lyon. 

Before arriving in Montreal, Rémi Garde’s last job was managing Aston Villa, the English Premier League’s bottom club at the time.(Jon Super/AP)

“I don’t remember that I made so much effort to try to make them comfortable with the city, with the club, and I regret that,” he says.

“But then when you move away … you realise that you are very happy to have people around the club, or players inside the locker room, that … come to you and make you comfortable with the city, with the tradition of the club and the culture — which is very important.” 

Part of Garde’s coaching technique is to teach young players to embrace where they are, and their teammates, no matter the differences in language or background. 

Rough times at Aston Villa 

Garde’s last job before joining the Montreal Impact was full of difficulties.

He was hired by Aston Villa when the team was still competing in the English Premier League and was struggling to avoid relegation. The club hired Garde to a three-and-a-half year contract, but despite the term, it never appeared like Aston Villa was committed to Garde for the long haul.

One glaring example was during the January transfer window. The team was struggling, but instead of spending money to get better players, management decided to do nothing — hanging Garde out to dry. 

Rémi Garde describes his time with Aston Villa as ‘tough’, and left the bottom-placed Premier League club by ‘mutual consent,’ after nearly five months at the helm. (Scott Heppell/AP)

“It was a very tough situation and it was not what I was expecting for sure,” Garde says. “But, you know, all what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” 

The Montreal Impact, on the other hand, appear to have given Garde the opportunity to be in control of the team as head coach.

“I know that the club wanted to go forward, and maybe change some stuff, and I was given the opportunity to lead that.
 he says. “It was important for me to feel that.” 

The MLS is not the English Premier League and some may see coaching here as a step backwards for Garde. But he doesn’t see it that way — he sees the MLS as a growing power that won’t be underestimated for much longer. 

Eyes on the opener

Garde’s says the first game in his new home stadium Saturday is something he and the players have been eyeing for quite sometime. 

“Very exciting because I know that it’s so important to be playing in front of our fans — this is the moment we’re all anticipating,” he says.

Montreal Impact players celebrate a goal during a match against the New York Red Bulls on Apr. 14. The club is looking forward to finally playing on home field this season at Saputo Stadium on Saturday under sunny skies. (Julio Cortez/AP)

As an added bonus for the fans attending this weekend’s opener, the weather is expected to cooperate with a warm sunny day in the forecast. 

And, perhaps, the sun combined with a win would add up to a welcome to the city Garde has patiently been waiting for since he moved here last fall.

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