Thursday, May 17, 2007

Meet the New Boss; Same as the Old Boss!

US Soccer announced that the interim label affixed to Bob Bradley has been ceremoniously removed on Wednesday, as it appears that the rumored hush-hush negotiations with other candidates (i.e. Juergen Klinsmann and...Juergen Klinsmann) have apparently reached an impasse, thus granting Bradley more permanent control of the US Men’s National Team managerial reins.

In an exercise of near comic futility, US Soccer President Sunil Gulati successfully demonstrated how far away soccer is from ever getting its act together here in the States by conducting a ten-month long process of determining the "winner" of the US MNT coaching competition.

What does this exercise in futility showcase? First and foremost, it displays complete ineptitude to fill one of the most important vacancies in American sports. Could you imagine any other professional North American sports team spending ten months to determine its manager or head coach? The talking heads at US Soccer preoccupied themselves with Klinsmann for so long that when he ultimately replied nein, the heads scrambled to find a quick-fix replacement. Enter: Bob Bradley, fully equipped with the insufferable interim tag.

Secondly, granting the job on a temporary basis to Bradley only instilled the idea among anyone with a pair of functioning brains cells that this was merely a front to buy more time for Gulati & Friends to try and sweeten the deal for Klinnsman, or to find the next best alternative. Note to readers: the next best choice was not Bradley.

Of course, all the while US Soccer was attempting to get its act together, Bradley admirably conducted himself in the very manner his bosses had miserably failed to do, by displaying leadership and integrity all while the guillotine hovered above. Bradley guided his charges to a 3-0-1 record with the scarlet letter "I" placed on his chest. By posting an undefeated record at the helm, Bradley saved US Soccer immeasurable face in the wake of the circus that became trying to find his replacement.

After the Germany ‘06 debacle, and Bruce Arena's accompanying unceremonious exit, Gulati needed to make a firm statement that its priorities were to address the deficiencies uncovered during the summer. Arena's removal was the first step. The second one should have been to hire a reputable manager to steer the squad back toward the success it experienced back in 2002. It was absolutely critical that the situation be handled with the utmost precision and care.

What did they do instead? They embarrassingly stumbled before the press days before Christmas, after failing to deliver the toy at the top of nearly every American soccer fan’s Christmas list, and hastily packaged the best available option in Bradley, with the caveat that he was merely the handed the job on the interim basis.

What’s the matter, Sunil, Bora Milutinovic wasn’t available?

Did US Soccer make the right move to hire Bradley on a full-time basis? Yes. In essence, it was the only move Gulati & Friends could make, after leaping through circus hoops and rings of fire to find themselves a manager. In the process, they came out looking like the laughing stock of international soccer. Of all the things the world's lone superpower can accomplish, hiring a manager to lead its national soccer team seems to be its Achilles heel.

In little over a year, US Soccer went from the sanctioning body overseeing one of the world's rising soccer squads to the present-day joke that no respectable international coach, like Klinsmann or Jose Pekerman, would even take, despite the allure of taking a over a squad that will more than likely qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

By vanquishing Bradley's "interim" label, Gulati did what any nearsighted bigwig would do: maintain the status quo. Sadly, this move is, quite frankly, the only decision it could make after months of continued mismanagement. After all, which self-respecting coach would throw his hat into this kind of three-ring circus?

Where else in professional sports has such a spectacle occurred? It took four months to name an interim, and another six to fill the vacancy permanently with the very same gentleman who carried the interim label. Talk about "meet the new boss; same as the old boss."

How the hell is soccer ever going to win over American fans when the shot callers at US Soccer continue to undermine the efforts of its own national team?

It's quite sad really, that after years of progress on the field, the suits and ties that probably haven't kicked a soccer ball since the Carter Administration have undermined its own players by running a program with the kind of misguided direction that Britney Spears would be envious of. Nothing gives the air of stability like bungled negotiations with your first, second, and maybe even third choice, for a managerial vacancy.

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