TORONTO — Disgruntled Toronto FC star Federico Bernardeschi took to social media for a defiant response to being benched by coach Bob Bradley.
Bernardeschi, who has 2.8 million followers on Instagram, shared his position in a two-part Instagram story.
The first portion showed an unsmiling Bernardeschi in front of his Toronto FC locker with a box next to the word "Workout" being ticked to the musical accompaniment of "Can't Stop Me Now" by American alternative rock duo The Score.
"I've climbed so many mountains, each one's another test," says the song. "It's hard to breathe when it's just you against your Everest. They say what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger. Guess I can shake the world and take the pain a little longer."
"Can't stop me now," says the refrain. "And heavy is the head that wears the crown."
The second part was a review of the Italian's statistics through the first 14 games of the season: best goal-scorer, best-per-game average chances created, most key passes per game, second-best assist provider, second-most shots on target and second-most percentage dribbles succeeded.
Bradley announced Friday that the 29-year-old Italian, the fourth-highest paid player in Major League Soccer at US$6.295 million this season, was being benched for Saturday's game against visiting D.C United.
Bradley denied the move was disciplinary, calling it instead a "coach's decision."
"A lot going on this week, a lot of internal discussions … When you think about preparing a group for this game, we felt this was the best way to handle it," he told reporters after training Friday.
"There's discussions that are going on just about how we're going to continue to work together," he added.
Toronto (2-5-7) is mired at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. And it has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons this week in the wake of Bernardeschi's unflattering comments about the team's style of play following last weekend's 1-0 loss at Austin FC.
Bernardeschi, who leads the team with three goals and three assists this season but has not scored in nine games, dropped a bombshell in a virtual availability with reporters after the stoppage-time defeat.
"We don't play," the Italian said in English. "We play long pass. We don't have any idea to play."
"I think this city, the fans, everybody, don't deserve this," he added. "And I think maybe we need to change something. We need a little bit more tactics. We need an idea how we play, because this is the real problem for me. It's impossible to play like this when we play without (an) idea."
Bradley, a three-time MLS coach of the year who doubles as Toronto's sporting director, said Bernardeschi's future in the club was not in question.
"I think that the plan is, for sure, that Fede is back in it (next week) and we put this week behind us and we all move forward," he said.
Bernardeschi and fellow Italian Lorenzo Insigne, who is No. 2 on the league salary list at US$7.5 million, joined Toronto mid-season last year. The hope was the two big-ticket wingers could lead TFC back up the standings.
But injuries and a lack of depth have Toronto 26th in the 29-team league, with Bernardeschi and Bradley feuding and rumours galore circulating of unrest and mutiny at the club.
Toronto president Bill Manning declined comment when contacted by The Canadian Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2023.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press