Political outrage prompts Montreal pro soccer team to backtrack on controversial coaching hire

Sandro Grande, left, played professionally for the Montreal Impact between 2004 and 2009 and was the technical director at FC Laval until recently. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Sandro Grande, left, played professionally for the Montreal Impact between 2004 and 2009 and was the technical director at FC Laval until recently. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The CF Montréal soccer club on Tuesday reversed its decision to hire a controversial former player who made anti-sovereignist comments and appeared to have encouraged an attempted assassination of former premier Pauline Marois.

The hiring of Sandro Grande as head coach of CF Montréal's reserve team drew unanimous condemnation from Quebec politicians.

The team responded to the wave of criticism by issuing a media release just before 10 a.m. on Tuesday saying it was terminating its relationship with Grande, the day after he was hired.

"We recognize that the hiring of Sandro Grande was a mistake and we regret the repercussions caused by this decision," said Gabriel Gervais, the president and CEO of CF Montréal. "We sincerely apologize to everyone who was hurt or shocked. Clearly, we were insensitive and greatly underestimated the comments he made and actions he took several years ago."

Earlier Tuesday morning, elected officials, including party leaders and Premier François Legault, issued statements denouncing the club's decision.

"Mr. Grande has made unacceptable and hurtful comments in the past," a statement from Legault's office said.

"His appointment is disrespectful and sends the wrong message. This is a major lack of judgment on the part of CF Montréal."

In the wake of the Sept. 4, 2012, shooting at the PQ's victory party at Montreal's Metropolis Theatre, Grande's Twitter account read: "The only mistake the shooter made last night was missing his target! Marois!!! Next time, buddy! I hope!"

The shooting left one person dead and another injured.

Grande has maintained that his account was hacked, according to La Presse. The former Montreal Impact player did, however, admit to calling separatist voters "hillbillies," adding that they were "so stupid it's unimaginable."

Grande's statements came three years after the Montreal Impact released him for having grabbed teammate Mauro Biello by the throat during practice in 2009.

In a statement released by the team Monday, Grande issued an apology and admitted to having made errors in the past.

"I am very grateful and happy to have the opportunity to return to the club I have loved since I was a child," Grande said.

"I made some serious mistakes several years ago and I am deeply sorry if I disrespected anyone. I have learned a great deal from them and know that I am joining an organization where the values of inclusion and diversity are fundamental. I think it's important to use our personal experiences to continually improve and correct our past mistakes."

But Quebec political leaders said Grande's apology wasn't good enough.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said in a tweet that he had read Grande's apology but that it was "insufficient and failed to mention the group it targeted (sovereignists) or the person he wanted to see killed (P. Marois)."

He said Grande "did not make a single trivial mistake or one tweet too many one night, he repeatedly made filthy and criminal remarks aimed at more than two million pro-independence Quebecers."

Isabelle Charest, Quebec's sports minister, said in a statement the decision to hire Grande lacked judgment.

"The comments made by Sandro Grande are unacceptable and have no place in our society," she said. "We have to question the message that all this sends to young people, especially those for whom Mr. Grande will be responsible."

The Quebec Liberal Party said the hiring decision was a mistake. "We must not trivialize the violent comments he has made in the past," the party said in a statement. "Sport should rather be used to promote values of respect and solidarity."

Pascal Bérubé, a Parti Québécois MNA, called on the Quebecers who sit on the board of directors of the Bank of Montreal, CF Montréal's main sponsor, to oppose Grande's hiring.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, said the club owed sovereignists and Marois an apology. After the club announced Grande's departure, he tweeted: "All of this could have been avoided if the Club had shown some basic common sense."

Jeremy Olson/Radio-Canada
Jeremy Olson/Radio-Canada

Legault also said the team had made the right decision. "I welcome the decision of CF Montreal to end its contract with Sandro Grande," he said in a tweet. "This story should remind us of the importance of never trivializing the Metropolis attack that occurred in September 2012."

CF Montréal had also announced Patrick Viollat would be Grande's assistant coach. The club said Grande's departure will not affect Viollat's hiring.

Grande had been the technical director at FC Laval since October 2021 and was previously technical director of the Étoiles de l'Est from 2011 to 2019. He led the men's and women's soccer programs at Collège Montmorency from 2017 to 2021. As a player, he played for the Montreal Impact in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.

Viollat has been technical director of the Concordia Regional Soccer Association since 2019 and before that was the technical director of the Lac St-Louis Regional Soccer Association, and served as assistant coach for the soccer teams at McGill University.

CF Montréal also announced on Monday that its main academy team — fomerly CF Montréal U23 — will now be called CF Montréal Reserve. The team plays in the Premier Soccer League of Quebec (PLSQ).