By Paul Gardner
It hadn't occurred to me to judge the worth of a soccer league by looking at whether coaches like it or not, but since Jose Mourinho brought the subject up recently I've given it some thought.
Mourinho has let it be known that he much prefers coaching in England to coaching in Italy (where he is currently employed at Inter Milan). "English soccer," he says, "is like a paradise for coaches, who can look to the future without fearing criticism, without pressure."
Are we supposed to take that seriously? Surely not. Mourinho got himself fired by Chelsea because he didn't get results -- and, it is said, because his team was playing a rather bland style of soccer that owner Roman Abramovich didn't appreciate.
No, the remarks sound tongue in cheek. I would bet that he made them more as a criticism of Italian soccer, which he compared unfavorably with the English Premier League. Italians are too obsessive, he says, they worry too much about results -- "Here it's just about results, results, results, there's too much drama."
Again, he cannot possibly mean what he's saying. Results aren't important in the EPL? And as for drama, Mourinho himself saw to it, during his time at Chelsea, that there was plenty of drama, and usually managed to place himself at the center of it.
Mourinho ended his Philippic with what surely was a joke, alleging that more coaches go grey in Italy than in England. You could almost imagine that Mourinho is angling for a return to coaching in England.
That thought is supported by Mourinho's criticism of English soccer, the game as played on the field. He didn't like this weekend's enthralling 4-4 tie between Arsenal and Liverpool. Why? Well, he didn't spell it out. It was hardly necessary, because we know how coaches think about high-scoring games.
Obviously, there were too many goals. Mourinho says simply that "As a coach, I don't like to see a game like Liverpool vs. Arsenal ... it means that technically something went wrong." And presumably, if Mourinho were invited back to England he would ensure that such technical slip-ups would not happen with his club.
That seems to me to be about the only part of Mourinho's comments that one can take seriously. He is telling us, as many coaches -- modern coaches that is -- have told us before, that soccer should not be about scoring goals, it should be about preventing them. We are confronted, for the umpteenth time, with the anomaly that a highly entertaining game is viewed with distaste, virtually condemned, by the coaches. "I understand that these games excite the fans ... it's wonderful for those who buy tickets or watch the game on television ..." says Mourinho. But he'll do whatever is within his coaching powers to make sure they don't happen.
No, 4-4 games evidently do not fit into Mourinho's vision of England as a coaching paradise. But his remark about being able to work in England "without pressure," fanciful as it is, would be on anyone's list of desirable attributes to any job.
Taking that as the most obvious of sign of coaching paradise, then I must inform Mourinho that the real soccer El Dorado lies right here in the USA. In MLS. A growing league in a country where the two main sources of pressure for the coaches -- hordes of critical and impatient fans, and aggressive media coverage -- have yet to appear.
I must have attended hundreds of postgame press conferences in this country -- from high school through college and so on up to U.S. national team games -- and I've never seen any of them get heated. Never, not a single one. The coaches have got it made here.
If Bruce Arena's hair turns white overnight -- or Juan Carlos Osorio's or Frank Yallop's -- it won't be because of the sort of pressure that is associated with pro coaching in country's like England or Italy.
Pro soccer coaching is, for the moment, a rather gentlemanly affair in this country. The idea of two MLS coaches getting into the sort of verbal spat that has recently erupted between ManU's Alex Ferguson and Liverpool's Rafa Benitez is unthinkable. It would be pleasant if it could remain that way, but the lack of such outbursts will be seen by MLS critics as a sign of the league's immaturity.
Probably, that is so. I'm not exactly advocating that press conferences should all end in fisticuffs, but I'd have to say that the tranquility that Mourinho sees as a sign of paradise, too often comes over as simply boring.
If that sounds like a criticism of MLS coaches, it is not meant to be. It is more a criticism of myself and my fellow journalists for being too mild, almost apologetic, in our questioning of those coaches, and for helping to maintain a coaching paradise.