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Beware of Brits Bearing Baloney
by Paul Gardner, December 8th, 2008 7AM

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Barely a week goes by -- or so it seems -- without an announcement that a foreign club, usually English, has "entered into an agreement" with an American youth club.

I have in front of me the news that the Dallas Texans are now -- well, what are they? -- certainly something to do with Manchester United - an affiliated club, maybe or a farm team for Man U? For that matter, what is CASL, which has a similar "agreement" going with another of England's top teams, Chelsea?

That agreement is described by Charlie Slagle, the CEO at CASL, as "more of a marketing agreement" -- meaning that Chelsea will be supplying CASL with Chelsea shirts. With, you bet, the name Chelsea on them. Great, if you're a Chelsea fan, no doubt. It's eminently possible that all these "agreements" -- at least from the foreign club point of view -- are entirely about marketing, about creating fans, getting their "brand" of soccer more widely known, and, of course, inevitably, selling shirts.

So be it. But every one of these soccer arrangements that I've read about always includes a nod in the direction of the sport itself. This sort of thing, from Chelsea's chief executive Peter Kenyon, who maintains that Chelsea have a "holistic" approach, and that "We will be working with them to support player coaching and development ..."

I've no way of knowing whether there is genuine interest behind this, or not, but I have my doubts (the last time I met up with Kenyon, he was preaching something similar, only he was working for Man U then). Whatever -- it means, inevitably, that there will be yet more Brit coaches arriving with their super-duper training methods, all eager to show the stupid Yanks how to do things. There is always the assumption that the American clubs are not too good at coaching and could do with some help from the foreigners. The English, especially, are rather keen on emphasizing their superiority in this area.

As far as CASL is concerned, there is quite an irony there -- the relationship sprouted after teams from CASL and Chelsea had played each other in an American youth tournament. As it happens, CASL won the game -- so who should be giving coaching expertise to whom?

Slagle denies that the Chelsea coaches who will be giving clinics will be in charge of anything, stating that "there would have been objections if they had decided that they were going to impose their will on how we did things."

Brave words, Charlie, but if there's disagreement -- and there will be -- the overwhelming weight of one of the world's top pro clubs vs. an American youth club tells you that the sides are not equally matched.

The same will apply with the Dallas Texans. Back in 1999 ManU sent an under-12 team to the Dallas Cup that didn't even make it out of the first round. Yet here they are again, and just listen to the snooty arrogance of Brian McClair, director of the Man U Academy as he explains how lucky the Texans are and how they'll be expected to jump to the Man U whip: "This is a great opportunity for the Dallas Texans ... We are looking forward to welcoming them to Manchester and putting them through their paces." Quite the diplomat, our Mr. McClair.

At least Man U sits near the top of the Premier League. Another recently announced "partnership" is between the San Jose Earthquakes and Tottenham Hotspur, a club that lies near the bottom of the EPL. Never mind, the Earthquakes will be the fortunate beneficiaries of an "exchange of coaches and methodology."

So let us hope that these agreements, partnerships, arrangements -- whatever they're called -- are indeed limited to commercial matters and shirt-selling. May I put that another way, that the agreements are simply examples of good old-fashioned commercial exploitation.

Because if they are serious about the soccer, we have a problem. Looked at with a critical eye, the English academies do not do a good job. They have come under repeated criticism as being unproductive and too expensive to run. At Man U, coach Alex Ferguson last year stated flatly: "I think the academy system is seriously in danger of falling apart."

At Chelsea 15 scouts were recently cut from the academy staff amid rumors that the club was not happy at the lack of promising youngsters coming through the program.

There is something distinctly offensive about this attempt to palm off on U.S. coaching systems and "methodology" that have failed to measure up in England.

 



0 comments
  1. David Flanagan
    commented on: December 8, 2008 at 12:11 p.m.
    Nice try Paul, unless I miss your point the European Clubs see the need for cheap players coming out of the USA. MLS has the USSF Academy program to help them find players at someone elses expense. The Euros saw the light and are jumping on the bandwagon. Affiliation with American Clubs gives them direct access to players, players and families who they will market to wear their gear, support them from afar and maybe recruit their child. The first wave of european coaches have found their nitch, American coaches have discovered they are just as qualified to coach and are replacing the "Imports" at clubs. The next wave is to affiliate with experienced clubs with quality reputations, send their people over attempt to offer their way to play the game. The coaches who travel here will make their own deals with other clubs and the cycle begins once again. Will this lead to a better quality of US players? Time will tell.


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