Vanney may vote himself off the island
He is an American soccer player in France. Or, as Greg Vanney puts it, the only American soccer player in France.
It's not said proudly with his chest puffed out, as though it's a badge he feels comfortable wearing. It's said more in a "I wish there were others over here to hang out with" fashion.
At first glance, one would wonder why Vanney would need anyone other than his wife, Amy, and jumbo-sized English mastiff, Bailey, to enjoy his stay at SC Bastia.
Located on the northeast coast of Corsica in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Bastia is the island's largest city and chief commercial center.
People come to Corsica from all over the world to enjoy its mountainous terrain for hiking and skiing, sandy beaches and, of course, the wine, which is something Bastia, in particular, is known for.
But as Vanney and his wife have found out over the past two-and-a-half years since he joined the side from the L.A. Galaxy, living on an island isn't all that it's cracked up to be.
"It sounds great some times, but it's not as great as it seems," said the 30-year-old defender from Tempe, Ariz. "There's very little to do. The winters are very dead. A lot of the things we're used to, convenience-wise, in the U.S., we just don't have."
It's much like living on, say, Nantucket, where the island buzzes all summer before turning into a sleepy town for the rest of the year.
"It's very much a tourist economy," he said. "In summer, it's wonderful. The weather is great, there's lot of people, it's bustling, everything is open, and lots of stuff is going on. Come the winter, everything shuts down. It's like hibernation almost. It gets very difficult, really. We spend a lot of time in the house on the computer or watching TV. All of that wears on you over time.
"Islands are supposed to be for vacation, not for living."
Vanney has found it odd, as well, since he's technically in France, but in reality he's able to get to Italy a lot easier than anywhere. He's a lot closer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa -- just 89 miles away -- than the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He and Amy have spent days in Cannes, Monaco and Nice, but the quicker ferry ride is to the western coast of Italy, where the two have spent a lot of their free time in the off-season.
"We throw our car on the ferry, and then drive to places like Rome, Florence and Milan," said Vanney. "If we ferry, we can go for a few days. If we fly, we can only go for a day or a day-and-a-half because we have to get back for the dog. In that time, I've learned a lot about Italian culture. Same goes for Corsica, as Corsica is a people in its own. They're completely different from French people, and they're not Italian either. They're their own people. I've learned a lot.
"I've grown as much or more as a person than as a soccer player, for sure. And that was part of the experience I was looking for."
That might be coming to an end, though. Despite having two years left on his contract at SC Bastia, Vanney's place on the side is uncertain since François Ciccolini is coming on board for the 2004-2005 season, replacing Gerard Gili as the team's manager.
In addition, Louis Multari, the chairman of Bastia since April, has named former AS Saint-Etienne director Christian Villanova to be the general manager.
The shakeup occurred after the club avoided relegation by one point. In French Ligue 1 standings, Bastia finished in 17th place out of 20 teams with a 9-17-12 record.
Vanney started 19 of the team's 38 matches, and is unsure of what direction the new coach will go.
"Any time a new coach comes in, especially in Europe, they only have so long to make their impact on the team," he said. "They're going to go with guys that they've known for a long time and that they feel comfortable with. Their jobs are on the line, and they're being evaluated right from the start. So you just never know what moves will be made. You just hope that you're in his plans, or that he'll at least give you the opportunity to show what you can do for the team. We'll see. I don't know what to expect.
"It changes things, though. We're going to have a new coach, a new GM, and a new president. When I initially went to France, I played every minute of every game, and the team did well. And I was a big part of that. But then a new coach came in the next year, and we changed to a 3-5-2. It essentially took the position that I play off the field."
Vanney is much more comfortable playing in a four-back system that allows him to play as a left back. He's confident that if the team goes with a 4-4-2, then he'll be on the field and have a secure spot. If they don't, then he will push for a transfer for the remaining two years of his contract.
"They either have to play me or they have to get rid of me," said Vanney, who has been looking around in both France and England for opportunities should a transfer need to be worked out (His return to MLS will be down the road). "They'd need to find some place where I can go, because at 30 years old that wouldn't make sense for me not be playing. For anyone. I'm also fairly confident that I'll find something, since I'm fairly ambitious to get off the island.
As it stands right now, Vanney appears to be first on the depth chart at left back for the U. S. National Team, which makes it vital that he play on a regular basis as the team starts the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying on August 18 in Jamaica.
"We meet once every camp, so Bruce (Arena) knows my situation and that I'm looking around," he said.
As Arena has continuously said throughout his five-and-half years as manager of the U.S. side, he just wants players in situations where they are able to improve themselves, which is what Vanney has done since leaving MLS after the 2001 season.
"The French League has put him in a real competitive soccer environment, which has been good for him," said Arena. "The French League has also allowed him to play in the left back position and concentrate on it. When he was with the Galaxy he was circulated around to a few different spots."
That left back position in the U.S. system allows for Vanney to have even more freedom since the midfielders pinch in, which allows for advancement up the flank. With a cannon of a left foot -- seen against Grenada on June 13 when he torched the nets for the team's third goal in the 3-0 victory -- it's an ideal situation for him.
"I enjoy it," said Vanney. "That's how we play in France. Our wide midfielders play tucked in, so the wide backs are the guys who provide the width on the team. So when I came in here it was the same. It's an easy transition, since it's what I've spent the last few years doing."
It's helped him improve each and every season, which has earned him a call-up to the National Team when available on a regular basis for the past two-and-half years, which included his being named to the 2002 World Cup roster before suffering an MCL sprain just four days before the team left for Korea.
"It's helps that I'm playing in a good league," said Vanney. "It's more fast-paced, sort of more like international soccer than MLS is. I'm playing against great players day-in and day-out. It's helped me get sharper overall. And I'm a better player now because I truly believe that your form gets better due to little nuances that come into your game from having experience. All those factors are starting to come together for me a little more. I feel great coming back into this team, and it's been going well so far.
"We have a long mission ahead of us, and it'll be an exciting time to be a part of this team."
Marc Connolly covers American soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.