It Seems To Me . . .
Gulati has tough task in finding replacement for Arena.
By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, August 17, 2006) -- United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati might have bitten off a bit more than he can chew in his search for a new men's national-team coach.
The relationship between former manager Bruce Arena and Gulati, the new head of the USSF, did not end very well. After a good eight-year run, Arena probably deserved a classier ending than that he was accorded. Gulati might well have said that the parting of ways was a mutual decision between he and Arena and the fans and media probably would have accepted that as a proper end to a long and mutually beneficial relationship.
Instead, Gulati made it quite clear that Arena wanted to stay, but was not given the option. In other words Gulati all but said, "We fired him."
Arena, for his part, now says he knew his days were numbered in January when it became clear that past USSF president Bob Contiguglia would not run for a third term and Gulati would be running unopposed. Arena says he told his staff to start polishing their resumes.
So, the Arena era did not end well, but the past is past. Gulati is now faced with finding a new coach and the task he has set for himself is not going to be easy.
It didn't help when, in announcing that Arena's contract would not be renewed, Gulati set forth his criteria for a new coach -- a solid knowledge of the American soccer system and the American player; an understanding of and sensitivity to the USSF's somewhat unique relationship with Major League Soccer, the country's top professional league; as well as a track record of winning and achievement. He easily could have been describing Arena.
So Gulati's first task is finding a coach who, a case can be made, will be a step up from Arena. On paper, the replacement must be better, or why let Arena go in the first place? Given Arena's success -- the most victories and best winning percentage of any U.S. coach, not to mention the historic run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals -- the field is considerably narrow.
Then too, Gulati does not have an unlimited budget. Arena was paid a base salary of about $600,000 with bonuses for things, such as qualifying for the World Cup and then advancement in the Cup. This was a lot of money compared to what other American coaches make in MLS, but at the international level it is not all that much.
These days, a big-time international coach can command $2 million or more. Russia, for instance, is paying Guus Hiddink considerably more and South Africa had to dig deeper to bring Carlos Alberto Parreira on board.
Contiguglia, when he hired Arena eight years ago, and then gave him a more lucrative contract four years ago after the 2002 Cup success,, had to fight a considerable battle within the USSF and its constituent elements, to be able to put together a package Arena would accept.
It will be interesting to watch Gulati try to sell bringing someone on at perhaps three times what Arena was earning. Likely, the only way he would be able to do that would be to find new sponsorship money to underwrite such a multimillion-dollar paycheck.
The field has narrowed already with recent coaching changes and hirings.
Gulati apparently is seriously looking outside of the U.S. for the coach. In a possible slip of the tongue in a recent interview with ESPN analyst Julie Foudy, he said he intends "to talk to a lot of people in South America and Europe."
"The U.S, too?" Fouty asked. "Oh, of course," Gulati quickly responded.
He also noted that an announcement on Arena's replacement could not be expected until near the end of this year.
Gulati has set himself a daunting task. He needs to find a coach who has won at the highest levels, one who is willing to work within this somewhat odd American soccer universe and one who is willing to work for what Gulati will be able to pay him.
I have a modest solution for Sunil to consider. It's obvious the man he wants is Jürgen Klinsmann and it's just as obvious that Klinsmann is serious about wanting to be with his family in California and not roaming around places like Guatemala, Barbados, El Salvador, etc, trying to get the U.S. qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
So, in my humble opinion, the USSF should hire Klinsmann to become the team's technical director, the one who sets the style and the overall direction. Then hire D.C. United's Peter Nowak to coach the team on a day-to-day basis. Until this season, I was not a Nowak fan, but no one who watched United draw with a Real Madrid team that was really trying to win can deny the fabulous job he is doing.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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