Gulati Comments on National Team Coach Search During Teleconference
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati discusses the search for a new U.S. MNT coach on a teleconference with reporters.
Oct. 30, 2006
On why there has been six months of inactivity for the U.S. team:
“We thought it was critically important to take our time and hire the right person, not hire someone for the sake of getting on with the program. It has been our tradition that in the six months after a World Cup we have been very light on the schedule. Both in 1998 and 2002, we’ve played one game in each of the six months following that World Cup. There is a number of reasons for that. One is that the second half of the year is a critical time for Major League Soccer. Second, it is the beginning of the season in Europe. If you start looking at the European-based players, a number of them are with new teams and our players going back to their teams generally aren’t walking into Manchester United like Wayne Rooney and having an automatic, guaranteed spot no matter what. We’ve got players at new teams, a couple of players who are now playing in the Premier League for the first time, and so on. Trying to pull those players out when it involves trans-Atlantic travel and missing a bunch of days of training, even on fixture dates, doesn’t make any sense for us. It’s possible that we would have a get-together in December. Three of the people we are talking to would like us to have a get-together in December. In one or two of those cases it would be an assistant coach that would have to take that session because the coach is involved in a job that they couldn’t leave. In a couple of cases the coaches have said we’re better off giving the players time off. The program has generally started in earnest in January, that will again be the case. We have games being scheduled for January and February and we have a training camp that will take place. We’ve discussed those dates with all of the candidates and they are very comfortable with that plan to date.”
On if U.S. Soccer is having discussions with Juergen Klinsmann:
“I’m not going to sit here and deny that we’ve talked to Juergen Klinsmann since he told both AP and The (New York) Times that he has had some informal conversations. I am not going to deny that. I’ve said before, Juergen brings some very positive qualities to the possibility of coaching the national team. He had also indicated a desire to take some time off, and has said that he has now taken some time off and would be open to having a discussion. We have not made any decision about who will be coaching our national team, we certainly have not made any offers to anyone to coach our national team, and we certainly have not made the offers along the lines that have been mentioned in various publications. That is as clear as I can be on it. Further, I said a couple or three weeks ago is still the case. We are being very respectful of two or three different things, one of which is that most of the people we are talking to are coaching teams currently. Some of that is changing as the MLS playoffs wind down, but at least in a couple of cases internationally we are talking to people that are involved in coaching and it is a process that for a lot of different reasons needs to remain private. We aren’t prepared to say who those candidates are. We haven’t made any decisions yet. I am still very hopeful and expect that we will announce a coach in November. It will not be in the first half of November, it was never the intention to do it in the first half of November because of MLS Cup. The following week is Thanksgiving, so if it falls into the first week of December I am not going to lose any sleep but it’s our intention still to make that announcement in November.”
On whether the qualities looked for in a Men’s National Team head coach have changed after beginning the process of interviewing coaches:
“I think, the first and most important has always been someone who can, not ensure, but we’re trying to predict success with our national teams. Someone who has a track record of success is the number one criteria, in coaching. That hasn’t changed at all, that is still the number one criteria. After that, you start looking at other things. How do you quantify the likelihood of success, what they’ve done on the field with teams as a coach, what they’ve done as a player, what they are as leaders, how they come across in the interview, those are all important but the first thing is the track record of success. That was certainly the most important criteria in Bruce’s selection and that will be the most important criteria in the next selection. Other issues like knowledge of the American system and setup are important, for sure, but that’s only because they’re important in predicting success. As I said, that is important, more important in the United States than other national teams because of the peculiarities of our system and our structure. Third, what that person can do in all those other areas that matter for overall direction of our programs. That means our other teams, that means the technical director role and helping us sell the game continuously. I’m still very much of the opinion that the best way to sell the game is success on the field and so that comes back to number one. I’ve talked about having a coach, and I’ll stick to that pledge, of having a coach that will speak Spanish. It might not be on the first day of the job but it will certainly be while they are with us. Some of the candidates we are speaking to do speak Spanish now and others speak other languages.”
On whether the coaching search has been delayed or if he is still working under the same timetable and whether he would be equally satisfied with any of the five current candidates:
“The process isn’t delayed. In fact, here on Oct. 30, it’s the same timetable that we announced in the conference call regarding Bruce (in July). We talked about November, late fall, so we’re on that timetable.
“Would I be equally satisfied with any of the five coaches? No, that wouldn’t be fair to say, I’m not planning to throw dice and say, ‘It’s one for coach X and two for coach Y.’ We’re clearly in this process. We’ll have a priority and we’ll offer this job to someone who we think can guide the team, but it won’t be because we woke up one morning and said, ‘This is the right way to go.’ It will be through a process. We started now to include a couple of other people in that process on the Federation side. Up until now, it has been Dan Flynn and myself that have met with all of the candidates, and met all of the candidates on multiple occasions. Now we’ll probably introduce some of them to some of the other people on our board who have technical expertise or involvement in the game.”
On how much of a factor money is in the negotiations with potential coaches:
“The answer is: money is always a factor. So I’m not considering, say, if we made an offer to one of the people we’re talking to I know they’d accept the offer. That’s a process that will be conducted. We have started talking about economics, in some cases in very general terms and in some cases a little bit more specific. There were some people early on in the game that we talked to, that it became very clear, either from our perspective or from their perspective, that it didn’t make sense to engage in discussions unless we had a better idea. So we met with some people and said, ‘Look, this is where we are in life, this is where you are, does it make sense to even have a conversation or is the price going to be such that it doesn’t make any sense for us.’ You have certain coaches who are in contract around the world, so for example, I am sure that we could get one of those coaches at some price. Are we going to pay what it takes for them to be released from their contract and match or increase their salary, the answer is no. It’s not a situation where we started with every potential candidate out there. We haven’t called David Dean and asked for permission to talk to Arsene Wenger. We haven’t called the Portuguese Federation and asked for permission to talk to Mr. (Felipe) Scolari. We haven’t called the Russian Federation and asked for permission to talk to Guus Hiddink. They’re all employed, leaving aside the economics, they are employed and we wouldn’t do that without talking to those people. So, economics matter, sure. I don’t think there’s anybody in the world, even some of the richest federations, that say money is no object.
“There’s no one that we did not talk to because of economics. A couple people contacted us. We knew of their current situation or what their situation had been and said, ‘Look, it doesn’t make sense to me if you’re going to need that sort of salary.’ In those two cases, specifically, we met with both individuals because they said, ‘Well, we understand that your compensation level might be different but we think it makes sense to meet.’ So, in fact, no one has been out of the game strictly by economics, but we haven’t approached a number of people that are currently employed.”
On how U.S. Soccer weighs success at different levels on a coaching resume:
“Well, that’s a tough one. Obviously someone who has been involved at the highest possible international level, that’s a different level of competition than not just MLS, but any domestic league. That’s a plus, for sure. But someone who has won multiple championships or has led a team to a lot of success in the league, those are plusses. Someone who hasn’t had a chance to coach in the World Cup, how do you evaluate him then? The best way of looking at it is Juergen, who you have mentioned. Two years ago the German federation saw something very special in Juergen. He hadn’t coached until then, and they asked him to guide the national team and he was very successful. Predictability of success is why they offered him the job. Success in the past is not the only criteria for that. The DFB looked at a terrific player and terrific personality, a great leader, and said this is the way we want to go. Franz Beckenbauer when he coached the German national team didn’t have a lot of coaching experience, where as in our case Bruce Arena had an extraordinary track record at the domestic level when we hired him eight years ago. Those things get weighed differently. I’m not going to sit here and say how coaching in a semifinal is like coaching in MLS Cup, in the Premier League, or Serie A, that’s impossible.”
On how much influence the new coach is expected to have on the Youth National Teams:
“The conversation that Dan and I have had with all of the remaining candidates involves three possible setups. One where the senior team coach is also coaching the Olympic team, as has been the model in a couple of South American countries. Second, where he is having his first assistant coach the Olympic team. And third, where he is having someone who is not the first assistant coach the Olympic team. I guess the most popular view of the people that we’ve been talking to is to have their first assistant coach the Olympic team but remain very closely involved with the Olympic team themselves, especially over the next 12 months before we get into qualifying. All of the coaches we’ve talked to would be involved in the technical side of our program. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve come to the general agreement with, I won’t say all of those candidates but certainly four of the five, that we would probably have someone else be the technical director down the road; split the role. It’s become a very big job and whether it’s by title or not, but have someone else whose day-to-day involved, very much in conjunction with, very much working with the national team coach, that’s involved with all those other issues, whether it’s youth teams, whether it’s coaching schools, whether it’s technical direction in general.”
On whether the new coach could bring in coaches from abroad to head all of the men’s national teams:
“Bring them in from where? If we’re talking about a situation where a head coach would like to coach our national team and says, ‘I have eight coaches that I would like to bring from country X,’ the answer would be, that person is not going to be our national team coach. It’s a question that we’re asking of each of our candidates, what their philosophy is about their staff. Those that are not domestically based all understand the importance of having people around them that are domestically based. I understand that some coaches in various countries have brought their entire staff. That’s not what we’ll be doing here. For the most part, the people that we have talked to abroad have talked about the need to bring one, maybe two people, to be involved. Now, if a coach takes over and says, ‘Look, after spending six months or a year looking at your programs, I think we need to make some changes,’ we’ll certainly sit down and talk about that. But someone walking in tomorrow and saying, ‘I’d like to do this and here are the new coaches for the U-17s, the U-20s, U-23s and the in-between teams on the men’s side,’ the answer would be, our predicting his success rate would not be very high. We don’t think that works.”
On how many candidates have been given a formal interview:
“The number of people that I would say we have formally talked to is 13. I think in all of those 13 meetings there have been three people, in one or two cases the candidate had someone else with them, but Dan Flynn and I have met with all 13.”