Quote Sheet: U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati
U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati discusses the decision not to renew U.S. Manager Bruce Arena's contract at the end of 2006.
July 14, 2006
“Thank you everyone for showing up on short notice. Obviously, what we are talking about today is follow-up to the World Cup and the situation regarding the leadership of our National Team program. I want to make four essential comments. We outlined a timetable immediately after the Ghana game, that was then confirmed the following day, that we weren’t going to be making any decisions until after the World Cup was over, after we had a chance to reflect a little bit and, certainly, after we had a chance to talk to our coach, Bruce Arena.
"In a later statement we said that might be expedited a little bit because of some external pressures and some other opportunities. And those, frankly, were some other opportunities, potentially, for Bruce. We’ve done that. Dan Flynn and I came back from Germany last week and we met yesterday with Bruce for four or five hours, reviewed the eight years, reviewed the last 30 days, talked about the future and so on. Following that, I’ve talked with Bruce a couple of times today and I’ve reached the decision that we will not be renewing Bruce’s contract. He’s our coach through the end of the year, but we will start an immediate search for someone to guide the program going forward.
"It would be hard to put in words the personal affection and professional compliments that I would want to pay Bruce and what he’s done for the Federation, for the National Team and frankly for the sport in America. He has been extraordinarily successful at every level he’s coached at, and what he’s done with our national team program over the last eight years is unrivaled. To be there for eight years is unrivaled anywhere in the world. To be at two World Cups with the same team, to have the level of success that he’s had in where we were and where we are, he’s certainly left the organization and the program in much stronger hands and in a better position than when he started. Frankly, he’s given us credibility world-wide. It was that credibility that was achieved, a large part of it, in the summer of 2002, which is what caused so much consternation 15 days ago because people’s expectations were higher. Bruce has nothing but the strongest possible compliments for his accomplishments, for his achievements, for his integrity and everything he’s done with us.
"In terms of next steps, we will begin an immediate search for a new national team coach. It’s been important to me and the organization that we have lived up to what was said the day of and the day after the Ghana game, that we had a coach, we were going to meet with him first and we weren’t doing anything until then. We’ve lived up to that. I’m pleased that we have been able to do that. We have not talked with any potential coaches, we haven’t had other people talk to potential coaches on our behalf, or any of those things. We will start that process now. But the first part and the first decision we needed to make was the status of Bruce. We’ve reached that and now we’ll start the second part of the process.
"Having said all that, I guess the last thing I wanted to say was that the organization is in a unique place in our history. Obviously, the expectations that were for the team this past summer weren’t met but given so much else that’s happened that is positive, if nothing else evidenced by the number of people on this call and the interest in what we’re doing with our national team coaching situation, the number of spectators that were in Germany from the U.S., the television ratings that you’ve all read about, the water-cooler talk is maybe the greatest sign of where we are and where we’re getting to as a soccer country. I think, my own theme, is unification in Germany this summer where we joined the rest of the soccer world in appreciating what the World Cup is all about. That part will continue to grow and we want to make sure that our team continues to qualify and does well. We’re realistic in our expectations and how good the rest of the world is."
On the decision not to renew Bruce Arena’s contract:
“It comes down primarily to eight years being a long period. I’m not going to say we saw the need to change direction. I don’t know what that means, and I think the direction that Bruce has set has been very positive. If anything, we want to continue the progress that has been made, and it’s not linear progress at World Cups. But I think having a fresh approach after eight years, which is a very, very long time to be with a national team, is the strongest factor. Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted at the World Cup, but as I’ve said repeatedly, Bruce Arena didn’t become a bad coach in three games or with a bad bounce of the ball. It has much more to do with eight years and us thinking it’s time for a fresh look.
“Bruce expressed a desire to continue and he also has opportunities. A great credit to him, he had a very good opportunity prior to the World Cup but it required a commitment on his part prior to the World Cup and it wasn’t a lack of knowledge of what we were going to do, but he didn’t want to be distracted at all with the World Cup and preparations. So, he missed what was a very good opportunity for him and I give him a lot of credit for that, and the whole organization does. I have no doubt that he will have multiple opportunities in the soccer world inside the United States and outside, if he wants them. Frankly, I look forward to working with him in one of those roles.”
On what he’s looking for in a new coach:
“The search will be worldwide. We are not restricting ourselves to anyone with an American passport or anyone that currently resides in the U.S. We will look for the best possible person for our program. Having said that, I think there is a big advantage to knowing something about the American setup. And that is the soccer setup as well as the cultural setup. Is it a pre-requisite? No. But we have some unique institutions in the U.S., whether it’s our league setup, whether it’s the NCAA setup, whether it’s youth soccer, whether it’s the geographic challenges. All of those things make this a different sort of place to try to learn quickly than in England, or even in Germany, or even in Italy, where it’s 20 Serie A teams, you see who the best players are, play eight games a year or 12 games a year, qualify the team and that’s it. It’s a challenge here. It will be a worldwide search but we think there are some advantages to people who understand the game in the U.S. That doesn’t mean you need to have a U.S. passport. What we’re willing to spend, I think it’s far too premature to talk about that. We’re going to find the best coach we can for our team. We’re in a situation where we have more resources than we’ve had in the past. We’re not going to spend those resources foolishly, but we will find the best person we can, or the best people, to coach our team and to lead the national team program.”
On whether Jurgen Klinnsman fits the criteria for U.S. National Team coach:
“I have outlined one criterion, which is some knowledge of American soccer. That’s not the only criterion. Obviously, someone with experience, someone with leadership, someone with a track record of success, someone that is a good coach - fundamentally, that has to be the starting point. Someone that we believe can provide the leadership that we need, both to qualify the men’s team, hopefully to provide leadership with some of our other teams as well as be successful if and when we get to the World Cup. Does Jurgen Klinnsman fit all of those criteria? I think he probably does. He’s played at a very high level, he’s now been very successful with the German team, he has a much better handle on the American soccer scene than someone who hasn’t spent time here and he’s a very, most importantly, he’s a very inquisitive guy. I’ve spent quite a fair amount of time with Jurgen in the past years, not in the past six months—let me be very clear, I have not talked to him in the last six months—he’s a guy that wants to learn, so he’ll come to the USYS soccer convention, he’s come to the national coaches convention, he’ll talk to Anson Dorrance about how he motivated teams at UNC, those sorts of things. I think he’s an intelligent guy, a multi-lingual guy and he has a lot of very positive qualities.”
On whether he will contact Klinnsman about the U.S. Manager position:
“I’m sure I will talk to Jurgen. I sent him an email after their quarterfinal game, which was nothing more than, ‘Congratulations.’ We exchanged emails after our game in Germany against Germany. He’s somebody that is a very interesting coach that lives in America that has expressed desire to remain in America, so I’m sure we’ll talk. Whether we’ll talk seriously about this, we’ll see. I don’t think it’s productive for me to get into specific candidates at this point, but I understand from doing a lot of reading, that there are a lot of people who believe he would be a good candidate.”
On whether Arena will hold a different position within U.S. Soccer:
“In the broad U.S. soccer, U.S. soccer with a small ‘s,’ absolutely yes. I think he’ll be involved if he chooses to be. Like I said, he will have multiple opportunities and he’s going to have to decide what he wants to do. He told me he wants to take some time off and then he’ll have to make some decisions. Do I see the possibility of him being involved with the Federation, formally, sure, down the road. But we haven’t talked about that. There is an absolute open door. The last words with Bruce when we talked the second time this morning were, ‘We look forward to working together, however that is.’”
On how Arena took the decision:
“We talked for the first time this morning after meeting yesterday and he took it like a professional. He’s a competitive guy. I think he’d love to see the second half of the Ghana game again and basically be playing Brazil in the Round of 16. Or, as a last note with the National Team, maybe the summer of 2002. You always like to end it on a positive, upbeat note. But I also think he fully understands that where he’s left the program and what he’s done for the team is extraordinary and I think he’s looking forward to the next challenge now. We talked again an hour ago and it was very positive, about working together, about growing the game and making it better in the U.S., about the national team program. We spent a lot of time yesterday talking about things we could do to make the program better, to make MLS better, all the soccer things that you’d expect a guy with the intelligence, the capability, the experience, the competitive drive that Bruce has.”
On what would have made him consider renewing Arena’s contract for another four years:
“I guess a lot of things could have happened. We would have still been faced with the eight-year-period issue. We had some discussions prior to the World Cup, starting at the end of last year, and I think it’s safe to say from my perspective, we needed to wait until after the World Cup to make any decisions to see what everyone was feeling like, to see what the results were at the World Cup. I don’t want to speculate on, ‘If certain results had gone a different way and everyone felt differently.’ That’s just hypothetical. But the driving factor for us is eight years, so I don’t want to think about, ‘if things had gone slightly differently would we be thinking about it differently?’ That’s really a hypothetical at this point.”
On whether he felt that eight years was enough, even before the World Cup:
“I don’t think I focused on that directly like that. Eight years is a long time, so we knew that. The answer is yes, but we have an extraordinary coach. And, to put it in a nutshell, that’s what the balance came down to for us. In normal circumstances you wouldn’t be thinking about a third run for virtually anyone. The difficult part of this process was that we have, in my opinion, a guy who has done an extraordinary job for our national team. He’s capable of coaching our national team and if we had a game tomorrow morning I don’t know that I’d want anyone else coaching our team, if it were a critical game. We were weighing that up against the eight-year issue and in the end came up with the decision that we needed a new-ness, a freshness. Under normal circumstances, worldwide, it would have been a much easier decision, but I think that shows how much respect we have for Bruce, what he’s done and what he’s capable of doing.”
On what makes the U.S. unique when looking for a National Team coach and whether that dissuades or attracts potential candidates:
“I think there’s a bunch that makes it unique, which makes it different and challenging. I think there are also some huge pluses, which make it a great place to come. It’s some of the very things that make the United States a great country that also pose some of the biggest challenges. For example, we have a large country, which is good because we have 300 million people, all of whom, I guess, are potential soccer players. The other side of that is you’re not going to have a trial or a camp where everyone is an hour drive away, the way you might in a smaller European country. The geography in the United States, in terms of weather, the seasonal year of MLS poses a challenge with the European seasons being different, the role of education—which, certainly, while I’m in my Columbia office, I wouldn’t argue against—is very important. Sven Goran Eriksson wasn’t worried about whether (Theo) Walcott had classes or not. The average 17-year-old in the United States, or the well-above-average, the talented, gifted 17-year-old, is just as likely to be thinking about UVa or UCLA as he is about thinking of playing for the Red Bulls or New England Revolution. That’s a different challenge than other people face across the world. The plus side is that we have an extraordinary base of players. We have four slots in CONCACAF and we’ve qualified for the last five, which is a big plus. I don’t think in our preparation and our support for our National Team, we are second to anyone around the world. That doesn’t mean we are as good as anyone on the field, I’m not saying that. But in terms of our technical support, in terms of our nutrition, our medical, our physio, all of those sorts of areas, our travel, whether it’s a charter plane, everything you would want, the environment that’s created for the players on our National Team is as good as anywhere in the world. And I couldn’t have said that 15 years ago because we didn’t have the resources to provide that. All of those things, plus, obviously, it’s a great country to live in. So if you want a challenge and a great place to live, it’s probably a few less dollars than you could make somewhere else, I think it’d be an open thought for a lot of people.”
On whether there are enough viable American coaches who could replace Arena:
“I wouldn’t say there are no options. There are a number of people who may be suitable and ready and willing to take on the responsibility. Clearly it is not the situation of eight years ago where there was one individual whose track record at university level and at professional level was just so extraordinary, as was the case with Bruce. I accept that. But you have a number of people in MLS who have had a lot of success. Some who have played at a high level, others who have not, some who have coached at university and understand the system. So, I think in the case of domestic coaches, or domestic-based coaches, they bring something different to the mix. We have coaches in MLS who have coached in the World Cup or have been assistant coaches in the World Cup. So, it’s a different mix. I clearly think anyone who is going to be a serious candidate for the national team job is somebody that does have professional coaching experience or has played at a very high level, or brings some other attribute. I don’t think, unless one has been part of the professional scene, in most cases in the United States, it’s going to make a lot of sense. I don’t think we’d be willing to go quite that far.”
On whether there is any urgency to name a new coach:
“No, we’re not feeling an urgency. We needed to come to some sort of resolution, for a number of reasons, on the situation with Bruce. But, he’s under contract until the end of the year, so if we have some games, and I think we will have a couple of games, we’re covered. If something else changes then we’d be covered in a different way. The real meat of the program won’t start again until January, but we will have some games this fall. If we have the right person and they can’t start for a few months, whether it’s an MLS person or an outside person, I think we’d be willing to wait. And if the right person is available three weeks from now or two months from now, then that’s the way we’d be willing to go. The sooner the better but I don’t think neither Dan nor I are feeling any urgency on it.”
On what the bigger picture is for U.S. Soccer after the World Cup:
“We had started a complete technical review of all our programs. We started that in March. That was independent of any results. There was a reason, prior to the World Cup in ’98, that we announced a number of technical programs, and that was because we didn’t want anything that happened at the World Cup to dictate or dominate our thinking. So, if our best player over the last decade, maybe ever, doesn’t make a mistake that he’s never going to make and doesn’t get injured on the same play and we beat Ghana and we qualify, does that mean everything is okay? The answer is, ‘No, clearly not.’ The ball bounces in funny ways. That’s part of it. We’re undertaking a review that’s addressing all of those things. The level of competition for the team and if we need to play in more competitive environments, for example, in Copa America. MLS has talked often about their season. It’s not going to be switching to a European type calendar in the short term. That’s just not going to happen. Are there greater opportunities for that as soccer-specific stadiums come online? The answer is, ‘Yes.’ But, it’s still pretty cold in Boston in January, and New York, and in Columbus and Kansas City, and those fields don’t all necessarily have under-soil heating and so on and so forth. Youth development, well, our teams have done pretty darn well and we’ve produced a lot of pretty good young players. I think a big part of that is going well. We’re going to look at it and see how we make it better. We’re going to look at what we can learn from some places that we think do it better in different cultural environments. What works in Brazil isn’t going to work in the U.S. necessarily. So we have to modify all those things. MLS is getting into the development space like it did on the reserve team space. I think that will be a plus. The academy we have at the IMG facility in Florida was a stop-gap measure, but it’s going to continue for a while until we figure out whether it can be replaced by something different. We will continue to have some players playing abroad, some playing in the U.S. Two areas that I’ve talked about, and we will talk a lot more about in the next six months, is reaching out to two important minority communities: the Hispanic community and the African-American community. We think that there are players there, in the talent pool, that over time can help our teams, and by neglecting 20 or 25 percent of our population—maybe neglecting is not the right word—but by not having them engaged in programs, we’re missing out on something. We’ve started to have some pretty serious discussions about that. There are different challenges in those two communities. Again, we were going to do these things regardless of which way the ball bounced, regardless of if there was a penalty kick called, regardless of whether Claudio (Reyna) got stripped of the ball and regardless of who was in our group. The other thing I take out of it is that we’re doing some things pretty well in terms of getting the country behind the sport. More people are talking about it. Those things will all be positive. To close on this, we had an extraordinary meeting the day before the final with FIFA leadership, the President, the General Secretary, the President of Marketing, the top MLS people, the Federation was represented with Dan Flynn, Jay Berhalter and myself. Our TV partners, one of whom is a key person on the Disney side, came back for the meeting before going back for the ESPYs, Univision leadership and the key marketing partners of FIFA. The discussion was about how do we continue this momentum, because they had seen it. All that is part of what was discussed earlier, creating a soccer environment, a soccer culture. Those things can help us naturally if we can activate those sorts of programs, if we could get more kids playing, to get kids more interested in being part of the National Team. What I say is the connectivity between what was going on on the field three weeks ago when we were playing, to what they’re doing in a park on a Saturday afternoon in Long Island.”
On specific outreach plans for the Hispanic and African-American communities:
“You will see, probably in mid-Fall, us roll out some programs in those two areas. We’ve had a number of discussions, some of which took place during the World Cup, some prior. There will be some different approaches in the Hispanic community and the African-American community. In some cases there will be some pilot programs. We’re going to have the support of FIFA, we’re going to have the participation and support of MLS, we’ve talked with CONCACAF about some of those, we have some resources ourselves that we’re going to put against it and we’ve started some very gentle discussions with some key people, whether it’s a parks and recreation department or an influencer that might be involved in the entertainment industry, whatever. I’m not ready to go into more specifics but it’s a high-priority issue for us. It’s not a short-term fix, but I think we’ll see the benefits of that in two, four, six, eight, 10 years down the road and it’s something that has to get done.
“The obvious ones are things like having more of our publications in Spanish, having our website in Spanish, all of those sorts of things. We started doing some of those and we’ll continue doing some of those. The less obvious ones, frankly, the ones that are going to take a lot more effort, are the ones we’re talking about here.”