Quote Sheet: Wilmer Cabrera and Sunil Gulati address the media
Sunil Gulati and Wilmer Cabrera address the media
Oct. 26, 2007
Wilmer Cabrera: I’m thrilled, happy and honored to receive this responsibility, and I am receiving this responsibility knowing that I have the background, I have the experience and knowledge to do it well and to represent the United States as well as possible and try to do what’s best for the kids. I think what’s important now is not only the high level experience of playing in two World Cups, but for me the two Under-20 World Cups will be very useful to try to share with the kids. All of those experiences and learning processes that I’ve had as a player, I would like to share with them. I want to share the experiences that I’ve had as a player that I’ve received from many coaches all over the world.
On whether tapping into the Hispanic community is a concern, and what steps will be taken to address it:
WC: I don’t think it’s a concern. For me, as a coach, I’m looking for good players, great players. I want players who are going to satisfy what I’m looking for on the field. If they’re good, if they have to be able to play with me and I will open the door no matter what. I’m looking for players who can play, who understand the game, and that’s the most important thing for me. I think that’s true not just of me, but for most of the coaches.
On his biggest challenge going forward:
WC: I think my biggest challenge is continuing to educate players, and continuing the adaptation process of thinking about soccer as more than a ‘free-time’ sport, and the possibility of becoming a professional and becoming a great player. I want to make them think long-term. It is a great opportunity. They have great soccer skills, so they have to think long term. They have to think that their goal is the full national team. To do that, we have to start working through the basics. That is the way I learned and that is the way I’m going to try to coach these young players.
On whether it will be difficult for young players to think long term:
WC: Obviously for those kids, they have to individually do what is best for them, and ask themselves ‘what is your passion’? If they have the passion to play soccer, I don’t have any doubt about their decision to try to play soccer at a high level. My job is to offer them the tools to understand that at the highest level the game is competitive, and that you have to be a professional beyond the field. It is a lifestyle. I want them to understand that the lifestyle is really important. If they are living a good lifestyle they’ll play well. That means a lot of sacrifice, but also a lot of passion.
On his reputation for making the game fun for his players:
WC: I think this has to be natural. The kids come to you and they expect you to show them everything. It’s not like that. They have the tools, they have the passion. You only have to be the guide for them. You only have to give them confidence, possibilities, make them have fun and show them that they can have fun and be competitive, and that they can trust what they have. That’s the way I learned and that is the way I’m going to try to teach.
On whether those two goals for the program are contradictory:
WC: Those goals definitely work together. You have good players, they understand the game and they are starting to make decisions on the field. They’re going to start playing well, and if they play well you have a better chance of winning games and tournaments. Basically, when you work well during the week you have a better chance to win games. Sometimes you’re going to lose or tie, but in normal (circumstances), you’re going to win more than lose when you are working well so your players understand that and are competitive and they know what to do on the field. They become more competitive and they want to win. So they are connected.
On the ideal evolution of Bradenton, and if he would prefer options other than Residency:
WC: We have to see how the development programs look in the future. We need to wait because maybe it looks perfect right now, but we need to see in the future how many players come through the process. So, we can’t discard anything right now and I believe the way the Federation is trying to do it is the best way. It’s not just having one program and that’s it. It’s opening up the possibility to include everybody and open up the possibilities for many players so they can have more options. And, it’s better for the coaches when you have the possibility of seeing more players and to develop more players. It’s a no-brainer situation.
On whether there will be language issues:
WC: I’d like to add that we’re going to speak the most important language, the language of soccer. And on the field if they are speaking that language, we’re going to understand each other and we’re going to move with the same ideas the whole time.
On working with the current cycle of players:
WC: I don’t want to discard any player right now. I want to give them the opportunity to play and show me that they deserve to be there. I’m going to try to work with them. I don’t want any kid to feel ‘he didn’t pick me so he’s going to send me home.’ I don’t think that’s correct and the first day I will try to say to the kids ‘you’re here because you’re good’ and try to support them as best I can. If they’re good they’re going to stay there, and if they’re not we’re going to try to see more kids.
On whether his time in the U.S. has been a ‘whirlwind’ experience:
WC: Since I moved to this country, I’ve had a goal. First, learn English. Then try to share my experience as a World Cup player through my career with the kids over here. That was my goal, my first objective that moved me to this country. From the first day, I started to work to try to reach that goal. I started to study English, I started taking my (coaching) licenses, B and A, and I tried to convert to the U.S. system of youth academies and the O.D.P. program as well as Region I. I’ve been doing all of that. I know the system, I’ve been learning it since I moved over here, so I’ve been working for this. Obviously I had to wait for the opportunity. Now I have the opportunity and it’s my responsibility to show that I am prepared for it.
On his goals for the Under-17 team:
WC: I want to put all of my experience with those kids. They’re very good players but I want to take them to the next level. The next level is making good players, having good touches and to try to change their mentality to be winners and to enjoy the game. I want them to understand the game, and know when is the right moment to pass and do whatever they have to do on the field to win. I need them to learn that the sport they’re playing right now is their sport. It’s not a coaches’ sport. With that goal, I hope they can express themselves on the field and give their best for themselves and for the country they are representing.
On the main differences between the youth systems in Colombia and the United States:
WC: There is a huge difference, obviously. When I started to play soccer, for me it was the only option to try to change my family’s life. It was just to survive. This is not the case here in the United States, you don’t have to play soccer to survive. It’s something that you have to learn, and something you don’t understand outside of this country, but living here you understand the big difference. The approach with these kids has to be different, and the process has to be different because they have a very good education and I love that. I educated myself because I knew I needed to. Besides the education, there is a passion for the game and we have to have synergy between education and soccer passion. Obviously I know the system over here, and I understand what it’s like to be a parent sending a kid down to Florida because I have kids, but that’s the way we have to continue working down there.
On particular challenges in the U.S., where soccer is not always the dominant sport:
WC: When you play soccer, here in the United States, more kids than any other country in the world are playing soccer. In my opinion, they play soccer because of the freedom of the game because they feel freedom to be creative on the field. They can express themselves on the field and freedom is something the kids love. We have to take advantage of that, and guide them to use that freedom in the best way.
Sunil Gulati: Welcome to the introduction of Wilmer Cabrera as our Under-17 coach. It’s obviously an important day for a number of reasons. We’re hiring a guy who has played the game at the highest level, who has been involved in coaching in the U.S. for a number of years now and who was involved in our national youth team programs as an assistant. The obvious influence of South American is something that weighed into our decision, but it wasn’t the primary factor. We wanted someone who would be a very good coach, could work with young players and the fact that he does bring a different attitude and different background is a huge plus for us. The fact that Wilmer is bilingual and played for the Colombian national team is a huge plus in a lot of our outreach program issues, and something that I think we’ll continue to focus on. But primarily he has been hired because he was a technically gifted player and a very good coach with a lot of promise.
On the biggest challenges in taking over a Residency program:
SG: One of the challenges we’ve had with Bradenton is creating a real professional environment, rather than an artificial environment that we’ve created because at the time MLS wasn’t involved in player development the same way it is now. We think that having someone who has been through it as a player at the highest level will be able to help us in shaping that environment as well as shaping the minds, in some sense, of the players we have there about what it’s like to become a professional and what it’s like to be a professional.
On player development versus winning games:
SG: I’d like to add that Argentina seems to have done a very good job at the Under-20 level of winning World Cups as well as producing quality players. Oddly, as Jose Pekerman pointed out to me, they’ve never won the Under-17 World Cup.
On whether Sunil was familiar with Wilmer before hiring him:
SG: I saw Wilmer in action long before he moved to New York, playing in two World Cups. I have known of Wilmer, not just as a player but as a person for a lot longer than he’s been in the U.S. because at one time we tried to bring him to Major League Soccer in the late 1990s. As a coach, I think he’s going to bring a lot of good attributes and I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen, both with our national team when he’s been an assistant and coaching here locally in New York. I think we’ll see some of those traits, that others have seen and that I’ve seen, start to be passed on to some of our young players. We’re excited about that.
On whether ‘success’ at the U-17 level is judged by results or player development:
SG: The expectation is no different from when I was asked the question 20 years ago by (former U-17 National Team head coach) Roy Rees, who asked whether I wanted him to win games or develop players. The answer hasn’t changed, and it’s ‘both’. It’s very hard to judge only on the development of players, because that’s obviously a long-term analysis. It’s based on how many players go on to the national team and so on, not just whether they move on to our other national teams or whether there is day to day improvement. That’s clearly a critical component. On the other side, we also want to have a progress report, if you will, on how well the teams are doing. Having said that, there are going to be players, at age 17, who may not star on an under-17 team because they haven’t fully developed physically or technically. So we’d expect those players to be retained in the program. If they can’t get into our first 11, that’s one of the reasons why we added a second group of 20 players in Bradenton. We think our coaches can keep an eye on those players and make sure they’re involved. The last thing I’ll mention is about Bradenton more so than our Under-17 program, and how we judge that is, ‘what’s the alternative?’ How would those players be doing if they weren’t playing in a Residency program like we have set up in Bradenton. If the circumstances change and maybe the Academy program or the MLS development system becomes more developed, we may do something different with it. Right now we still think it’s a good program to accomplish both goals that I mentioned – in shorter terms, two years, producing success on the field and in longer terms developing players for the senior national team.
On whether is afraid of creating a gap between players who speak Spanish and those who don’t:
SG: The number of languages spoken on any given field, like Barcelona or Arsenal’s field, there are players who aren’t speaking the language of either the coach or the other players. I would hope that the maturation process that we’re trying to create in Bradenton includes that. Wilmer, I’m sure, is going to talk to some players in Spanish at times, especially when he’s got players who may be more comfortable speaking in Spanish. I’m quite sure he’s going to be giving instruction to the team in English, and maybe he’s going to say some words, sentences or paragraphs in Spanish. But one only needs to look at the demographics of the U.S. to know that it’s becoming a lot more people who speak and understand Spanish. Communication on the field should be a lot more than just verbal. I accept that it was an issue for some players, but all I have to do is look at a bunch of teams around the world and the players who are playing long before they learn a language. The Spanish-speaking players we have in our national team program speak English because they’ve been through the American school system. So, at a minimum they are bilingual. Wilmer speaks both, and my guess is that we’re going to have about three assistant coaches on the team, and my guess is that one or two of them will be bilingual and it might be the case that one or two are only speaking English.
On his plan to evaluate the current cycle of players (those born in 1992):
SG: We’ve been talking a lot about that. Part of the timing of this decision, obviously post-World Cup, pre-Thanksgiving, is to allow Wilmer to go to Florida next week, evaluate the players who are there already and start the process of looking at other players. Because the players physically move and start a new school system, the flexibility of the short-term is a little bit limited. We don’t want to ask players to move, start a new school, give up what they’re doing and then three weeks later say ‘we’ve decided to bring in a different player and you’re going home.’ So, he’ll have the ability to add players, but in terms of players exiting, we try to do that at certain junctures in the year. We’ve got interregional tournaments coming up in November, we’ve got a lot of stuff that happens at Christmas at this age group so he’ll have a chance to see a lot of players and make a lot of decisions, but it’s not 100 percent flexibility in the next 30 days.
On his initial impressions of Wilmer:
SG: I’ve known of him as more than just a player longer than he’s been in the U.S. We tried to bring him here as a player, and the person who was talking to us about trying to bring him over as a player was telling us about a lot of personality and character traits that had nothing to do with playing the game itself. That’s now almost a decade ago. Once I’ve gotten to know him personally, I’ve found that all of those positive things mentioned to me proved to be true. How quickly he’s adapted and learned about the American side of things, I think is a plus, and him not necessarily agreeing with all of those things, I think is also a plus in terms of trying to bring some new thoughts to what we’re doing. I think we’re always in a position where we can learn from the success of others and get different ideas, so I think that’s all a plus.
On how he convinced (MLS commissioner) Don Garber to let Cabrera leave his former position:
SG: Well, as we do this conference call, Wilmer and I are sitting in Don’s office. When someone mentioned the same thing to me (about how valuable he is to MLS), he said ‘I’ve known Wilmer for a long time so he is here on a free loan with an option to return.’ Don understands the synergies and we’ve talked about it. Obviously, at the end Wilmer’s desires were essential to the decision. He’s got a great desire for coaching, for being on the field, and I think Don supports the move and understands how important Wilmer is to MLS and what he’s been doing here, but also understands that Wilmer’s first love is being on the field and I think there are ways that will keep Wilmer involved in some of the programs he’s been involved in. Frankly a lot of that outreach is 100 percent aligned with both the MLS and the Federations goals, so there is a natural synergy in some of those efforts.
On what made Wilmer stand out among the candidates:
SG: I don’t think there is a single characteristic. High-level playing experience was one thing, promise as a coach, his integrity and the fact that he brings something different. The fact that he is bilingual, from a Latin-American community, is a plus in this situation.