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Sep 15, 2006

Arena retracts his comments

To most people who have read Bruce Arena's recent comments aimed at U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, the sequence of attacks have come off as bitter and petulant. Arena's harshest critics chuckled, considering the remarks to be the latest example of Arena's ego getting the best of him while the coach's most ardent supporters cringed as the most successful coach in U.S. Soccer history did his best to tarnish a reputation that took decades to build.

Arena couldn't help himself really. As much as the general consensus was that a third World Cup cycle as U.S. national team coach was too much to ask for, that didn't make it any easier for Arena to accept what he felt was an unceremonious ejection from a post he did so well in. Anger and resentment filled Arena, but he didn't have the chance to get over that on some prolonged vacation away from the public eye. No, Arena would carry out his recovery from his national team divorce in New York, where cameras and microphones were waiting to capture his responses to questions about being fired for the first time in his career.

Arena took the bait and proceeded to take target practice at Gulati every chance he got. The verbal jabs were a form of therapy for Arena, a way for him to let go of the resentment that was eating at him. The therapy worked. Arena finally let go of the anger, only to wake up and realize just what he had done.

"My frustrations and anger with the circumstances around my departure from U.S. Soccer is no excuse for the way I commented publicly," Arena told ESPN.com. "I went through a good deal of criticism, whether it was fair or unfair, and had to deal with all this stuff that I don't think I handled right.

"I'm very much at fault for expressing myself the way I expressed myself, and it was due to frustration," Arena said. "I have to grow up and move on and I feel comfortable where I am now.

"I felt my public comments from the articles with [Sports Illustrated] and [The New York Times] were completely inappropriate," Arena said. "I want to publicly apologize to Sunil."

To some, the change of heart will be seen as a form of damage control, but the look on Arena's face suggested that he really had a moment of clarity, which seemed to be confirmed when he aimed that sharp tongue at himself.

"I'm at fault for being honest and I'm also at fault for being stupid," said Arena. "I should walk around with a sock that I can stuff in my mouth once in a while.

"I have to be man enough to say, 'Arena, this is stupid,'" said Arena, who insisted that apologizing was no one's idea but his. "This is absolutely foolish because Sunil and I have had so many great experiences together and I wish him the best."

Arena's remarks that stirred up the controversy were aimed at Gulati.

"I think he's a super fan who now is president," Arena said of Gulati in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "That's the way our organization is. That's unfortunate, and you add another micromanager to an organization that's already micromanaged. I don't think that's necessarily good."

Arena also criticized Gulati's apparent search for a foreign coach to replace him.

"I don't think [Gulati] knows," Arena told the New York Times when asked why Gulati was targeting foreign coaches. "He has no idea. He's never been involved at soccer at that level to understand that."

On Thursday, Arena admitted that his comments were out of line and even went so far as to say that Gulati was correct to not renew his contract.

"It is absolutely on target that eight years is enough," said Arena. "As I step back I think that's an appropriate decision and there's nothing wrong with change.

"For me, personally, I probably needed to get away from there," Arena said. "There were frustrations in the job and philosophically there were issues that I had in how we were doing things and where we needed to go down the road."

As for his relationship with Gulati? Arena has written an apology to Gulati, who never did reply publicly to Arena's verbal jabs. Arena says he will now focus on his new job as head coach and sporting director for the New York Red Bulls and he insists that there will not be any more negative comments aimed at Gulati or anyone at U.S. Soccer.

"I think Sunil is going to be a great president," Arena said. "This past week I have completely gotten over my anger and frustration from my departure from U.S. Soccer. I was wrong in expressing myself the way I did publicly because, at the end of the day, I had eight great years at U.S. Soccer."

Ives Galarcep covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet and is also a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.). He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.