Lengthy search for new U.S. coach nears conclusion
When the ax finally fell on Bruce Arena's career as U.S. national team coach, there was tangible excitement in the American soccer community about the opportunity U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati had to bring in the type of coach to build on Arena's eight-year tenure.
That was more than five months ago. Excitement has long since faded into exasperation as Gulati's November deadline came and went, leaving fans wondering just who will lead the U.S. team and when will they take over. Instead of pondering a new coach's impact, fans have been left to replay the bad memories of the World Cup and watch as the U.S. national team became an afterthought on the world scene.
So why such a long delay in hiring a national team coach? Here is one list of theories, delivered David Letterman style:
Top 10 reasons Sunil Gulati still hasn't hired a coach.
10. He can't decide what's worse, Bob Bradley's Spanish or Jose Pekerman's English.
9. How quickly would you hire somebody if you had 10 jobs to juggle?
8. He needs just a few more airline miles to reach platinum elite status.
7. Spent first three months trying to find a coach he could see eye to eye with, then decided Richie Williams wasn't experienced enough.
6. Still trying to decide which candidate is most likely to flop so he can pull an Isiah Thomas and coach the team himself.
5. Too busy entertaining an offer from Dietrich Mateschitz. The Red Bull U.S. national team has a nice ring to it.
4. Juergen Klinsmann won't take the job unless Gulati promises to have Eric Wynalda whacked.
3. Delay gives him an excuse to keep calling Sepp Blatter for "advice."
2. Lost a bunch of resumes during one of his Super Fan conventions.
And the No. 1 reason Sunil Gulati still hasn't hired a coach: Too busy deleting hate mail from Bruce Arena.
Joking about the delay is all you can do when we are left with rumors, fishy news reports and constant reminders from Gulati that he hasn't reached a decision yet. Should we believe him or should we take seriously the words of U.S. national team defender Steve Cherundolo, who told German media last week that he had heard Klinsmann had in fact been hired?
If Klinsmann has indeed been hired, then what has this near half-year delay been about? Klinsmann was the obvious choice in July and every month since. We have heard interesting names in the interim, such as Pekerman and current Lyon coach Gerard Houllier, but was it all for the purposes of making Gulati's search look thorough and not a case of him offering the job to the first big name to express interest?
The thing is nobody would have complained if Gulati had hired Klinsmann months ago, at least not many Americans would have. German fans still upset about Klinsmann's abrupt resignation certainly would have been, which is what made a delay in Klinsmann accepting the position a possibility since Klinsmann probably didn't want to make it too obvious that his intentions were to take over the U.S. team all along. That would have made a two- or three-month delay understandable, but five months has been overkill.
Was the contract really that difficult to hammer out? Was the adidas-Nike conflict truly a sticking point? Maybe there was truth to the rumors that Gulati almost gave up on Klinsmann as his pick because of high salary demands.
Perhaps the first real piece of evidence that Klinsmann is indeed the man came when U.S. Soccer announced that its first match of the 2007 season would be against Denmark. Considering this is a year when the U.S. national team is set to play in two major tournaments dominated by Latin American countries, why would the United States play a European squad? If Pekerman were actually the choice, don't you think he would have called on his ties in South America to line up a friendly that might help the U.S. player pool for this summer's steady diet of Latin opponents?
Then you have Denmark coach Morten Olsen, who has strong ties to Germany, having played and coached there. In fact, he played for FC Koln around the same time Klinsmann played at Stuttgart and the two also faced off for their respective national teams. Olsen was also regarded as a favorite to land the Germany job before Klinsmann was hired. Would it be too much of a stretch to expect a new coach (Klinsmann) to ask a long-time colleague (Olsen) who happens to coach a tough national team if he would be the first opponent for his new team? This sort of speculation is what we have been left to practice because a five-month wait for news is enough to drive anyone crazy.
So here we are, in the first full week of December. Gulati promised an announcement this week and all signs point to it finally happening. If Klinsmann is his pick, then Gulati should stop wasting time and pull the trigger already. The sooner Klinsmann is aboard, the better, because he has a lot of work to do. He has established players to talk to, new talents to identify, a player development system to help fix and a fan base to win over. Here is hoping Klinsmann works out, because if he doesn't, there is no telling how long it would take Gulati to hire his replacement.
Ives Galarcep covers MLS for ESPNsoccernet. He is a writer and columnist for the Herald News (N.J.) and also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.