Coaching Carousel Could Start in a Flash
Long after the last of the fireworks had showered its cascade of light over Olympic Stadium, long after the last note of music had died in the night sky Sunday, the question hung like gunpowder smoke in the air:
For many of the world’s soccer powers, the answer is simple. World champion Italy, runner-up France, tournament host Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal and a handful of others either need to find a new coach or persuade the incumbent to stick around.
For the United States, the same thing applies, but with a difference. The U.S. does not have the pick of the litter, unless Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, can pull off a miracle and land Juergen Klinsmann or Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Barring that, there are problems.
As a new four-year cycle begins, one that will end with the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, the U.S. is in danger of falling behind.
If Bruce Arena decides to stay as U.S. coach, then fine. If not, then the search for a replacement needs to be taken up with urgency.
The best of the candidates are disappearing in a hurry.
Guus Hiddink would have been an excellent choice, but after taking the Netherlands to the semifinals in 1998, South Korea to the semifinals in 2002 and Australia to the second round in 2006, he has opted to become Russia’s coach.
The Russians pulled off that coup before the World Cup, so Hiddink was not an option for the U.S., but the man who has worked at his side for the last few years certainly was. If not Hiddink, who better than Hiddink’s second in command?
That’s what South Korea thought, so it wasted no time and snapped up Pim Verbeek two weeks ago.
South Korea finished fourth in 2002, but, like the U.S., was eliminated in the first round at Germany ’06.
“We will create the best Asian team for the coming years and we will do everything for the next World Cup to go back where we were,” Verbeek said. “That means in the last 16 or the last eight.”
Verbeek replaced Dick Advocaat, 58, who also might have been a good fit for the U.S. team. Advocaat coached the Netherlands to the World Cup quarterfinals in the U.S. in 1994 and to the semifinals of Euro 2004. He also is familiar with the U.S., having played for the San Jose Earthquakes in the North American Soccer League.
But, like Verbeek, he is no longer available, having agreed to become coach of FC Zenit St. Petersburg in Russia.
Australia, meanwhile, is wasting no time in replacing Hiddink.
The Australians have made overtures to several candidates, most notably Gerard Houllier, a former France national team coach who was France’s technical director when it won the World Cup in 1998. He is coach of French champion Lyon.
If the U.S. wants to go to South America for a coach, it might have pursued Zico, the former Brazilian World Cup standout who has coached Japan for the last four years. Too late now, though. Zico has signed a two-year contract to coach in Istanbul.
Brazil Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira might be available, assuming he resigns, as expected. But Parreira was a bust as coach of the then-MetroStars in Major League Soccer, and despite winning the 1994 World Cup has been lambasted by Pele for a perceived “lack of strategy” on the field in 2006.
According to reports from Rio de Janeiro, former coach Wanderley Luxemburgo is in line for the Brazil post, even though he failed to bring home the gold from the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
Another coach in line for Brazil is Paulo Autuori, who won the Copa Libertadores with Sao Paulo in 2005 and has coached Peru’s national team.
Neither would be on an American shortlist, however.
The Czech Republic had little difficulty defeating the U.S. in its opener, but there is no chance of landing its coach. Karel Bruckner is poised to sign on for two more years as the Czechs’ coach.
There was talk that Trinidad and Tobago’s Dutch coach, Leo Beenhakker, might have been a good fit for the U.S., but he also is close to moving on to greener fields as coach of Poland.
Australia also is eyeing Beenhakker in case the Houllier talks break down.
Money is not the problem in the U.S. Rather, the problem is finding a coach who recognizes the unique challenge coaching the national team in a largely indifferent land with a pro league that is still trying to find its feet.
When Japan sought a replacement for Zico, it quickly received a lesson in reality from its prime candidate, Ivica Osim, 65, who coached Yugoslavia to the quarterfinals in Italy in 1990.
“The Japanese are mistaken to believe that they are in the company of the world’s top teams,” Osim said. “They may be so in the economical and political fields, but not in football.”
Ditto for the U.S.
There was a small window during which Henri Michel was available. The 58-year-old Frenchman has coached the national teams of France, Cameroon, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and the Ivory Coast.
But he was snapped up Wednesday by Qatar’s Al Arabi club.
Gulati and U.S. Soccer have their work cut out for them. Jose Pekerman, 56, who led Argentina to three FIFA World Youth Championships but who came unstuck against Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals, is stepping down. He could be approached.
Scolari, who won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and took Portugal to fourth place here, has not made up his mind if he will stay. He could be approached.
Klinsmann is a national hero in Germany for his team’s World Cup showing and there is immense pressure on him to stay, at least through Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
But Klinsmann has a home and family in Huntington Beach that play into his decision. He has asked for more time to make up his mind.
Gulati also is being cautious. He has appointed a panel to look into facets of the national team program. This review could be a months-long affair. The trouble is, the longer it takes, the fewer coaching choices that will remain.
That’s bad, but not if Gulati already has Arena sewn up as, say, director of coaching and Klinsmann in hand as national team coach.
So far, no one is saying.