MONTREAL — CF Montreal president and chief executive officer Gabriel Gervais says he expected some backlash over the hiring of Sandro Grande as coach of its under-23 academy team.
Fifteen hours later, after widespread condemnation from politicians and fans alike, Grande was out and Gervais admitted the Major League Soccer club made a mistake.
Grande's hiring came under immediate scrutiny after it was announced Monday over comments he made on social media in the wake of the 2012 Quebec election night shooting outside a Parti Québécois gathering with leader Pauline Marois.
A post from his Twitter account read: "The only mistake the shooter made last night was to miss his target!!! Marois!!! Next time buddy! Hopefully!"
"We were aware of these unacceptable actions,” Gervais said Tuesday. “What we saw in him are the good things he's done over the last few years and the maturity he's gained. We don't want to trivialize what he said but we did have to acknowledge that he had made strides to better himself."
On the night of the election, a gunman shot dead lighting technician Denis Blanchette at the rear of the venue and seriously injured a second technician, David Courage, who was struck with the same bullet.
“The only thing I can tell you is that these are unacceptable and reprehensible remarks, I do not want to make any other comments,” Marois told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “A solution has been reached and all the better.”
While Grande claimed his account had been hacked, the former Montreal Impact midfielder did admit to calling separatist voters "hillbillies" and "stupid."
Current PQ leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon responded to the hiring with a Twitter thread expressing his discontentment with the club’s decision and questioning how a team that sports Quebec’s Fleur de Lys so proudly can hire a man with Grande's past.
"I have read his apologies (Monday) which are insufficient and which fail to mention the group he was targeting (the sovereigntists) or the person he wanted to see killed (Pauline Marois)," St-Pierre Plamondon wrote.
"He repeatedly made filthy and criminal remarks targeting more than two million separatist Quebecers; this tacit endorsement by CF Montreal is untenable and extremely uncomfortable," he added.
Liberal member Marwah Rizqy also denounced the hiring, while Premier François Legault welcomed the club's decision to cut ties with Grande.
Gervais said while there was a hiring committee involved and the decision to bring aboard Grande was unanimous, he accepted full responsibility for the mistake.
“It was the thought of giving him a second chance that really blurred our decision-making process,” said Gervais. “We underestimated the impact that it would have on the community.”
Before his dismissal, Grande was expected to make an appearance in front of the media to apologize and he was expected to work with the club's young players to teach them about the dangers of social media.
"But it obviously didn't get that far," Gervais said.
The sheer amount of backlash ultimately forced the club's hand. Gervais says he had to speak with several of the club’s sponsors in order to explain the hire and appease any concerns.
"We are a public organization, and we have to make decisions that don't just get results, but act in the best interest of our entire community," said Gervais, who played with Grande when the team was known as the Montreal Impact, both at the academy and the first-team level.
"I look on social media I see a lot of fans and members of our community that are upset and that's completely understandable because we failed to put ourselves in their position. We now have to go out there and win back their support as an organization.”
This is not the first time Grande’s dismissal from the club left a sour taste in the mouths of fans and management alike. In 2009, when Montreal travelled to Minnesota for a United Soccer League game, he clashed with teammate and current Canadian men’s under-20 head coach Mauro Biello and grabbed him by the throat.
Grande dismissed the incident as something “that happens everywhere in the world,” but the club and the league did not agree, suspending him indefinitely before releasing him.
Patrick Viollat, who was hired along with Grande, will take over the coaching position of CF Montreal's under-23 squad while the club searches for Grande’s replacement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the comment about the election night shooting was made on Grande's Facebook account.