By Paul Gardner
In the second part of Paul Gardner's discussion with Sunil Gulati, the recently re-elected U.S. Soccer President, Gulati answers questions about key issues facing American soccer as he begins his second four-year term.
PAUL GARDNER: You took office with what seemed to me a serious conflict of interest situation over your work for the New England Revs. But it seems not to be a problem.
SUNIL GULATI: It gets brought up on various issues. There are times when there is a potential conflict -- on MLS matters -- but they are relatively few, and my involvement has been completely disclosed.
PG: Would it not make matters simpler and clearer to make your position -- that of USSF President -- a job with a salary? Why are you opposed to this?
SG: It's something that’s been suggested, and as things are turning out, it seems that more and more Federations worldwide now have paid Presidents. But it’s not something that I am comfortable supporting -- a least while I’m president.
PG: I have seen no real evidence that national team success translates into a gain for MLS. I mean does it sell more tickets?
SG: When the national team is successful, people notice the game itself more, there’s a general buzz. They certainly notice the players. Does that mean more people tuning in to MLS games? Those analyses are hard to make. It’s very difficult to isolate data points, but I do believe that as the sport is successful in one sector, that often translates into other areas - just don't ask me to prove it statistically.
PG: The demise of the National Hall of Fame is not encouraging, a reminder that things can go wrong. Should the Federation do more to support it?
SG: We are continuing our support. We continue to put money into it. We believe it's important to have that annual recognition -- the inductions of the sport’s top players and personalities. The second part is the museum itself, the exhibits. The model we have on that front is not sustainable. The Hall has been heavily subsidized for many years by the local community, the state, sponsors, as well as by the Federation and the Foundation. It’s not encouraging, true, but if you’re asking do I think it’s a reflection of where the sport is now -- no I don’t.
PG: What is the state of the Foundation? Will it get another windfall should the USA be allocated either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup?
SG: Healthy, quite healthy, though as with any organization that has investments, the last few years have been difficult. It has supported the Federation in a number of important things -- financially, that is. The national training center in Carson is a good example. And it continues to finance more local ventures, like facilities and fields.
At this stage there no decision on potential profits from hosting a future World Cup -- I can assure you we didn’t have a plan for the Foundation in 1988 when we won the right to host the 94 World Cup.
PG: Is it fair to say that the Development Academy system favors the rich clubs?
SG: No, I don’t think so. I think many clubs involved have found ways to raise funds to try and change the pay-to-play model so common in elite player development. Some MLS clubs fund their academies completely, and other clubs are clearly raising funds in different ways. The club expenses vary sharply according to where you are -- in the Los Angeles area, for instance, you can play games against top teams with very little travel. But in Colorado you’ll have to be taking flights. Certainly some clubs have had an increased expenditure, but not many. We’ve started a scholarship program and we’re paying for all the referees. We do that also in the showcase events. For the Academy finals we also pay the expenses for all the teams. It’s a start but we have a long way to go.
PG: The Bradenton situation seems unsatisfactory to me. It is still producing players for college soccer. Was Bradenton not devised in the first place as a way of keeping young players out of college soccer?
SG: No. It was meant to accelerate the development of players between the ages of 14 and 18. Some of these players will want to go on and become pros. Others will not be ready or will not want to do that. So some will go to college. If you look at our team that beat Spain last summer there were a number of players who went straight into the pros, and some others who had a couple of years of college. We are still getting players from a wide variety of sources, though increasingly top young players are turning pro at an earlier age. If Bradenton helps them -- that’s great. We are not running the program as a substitute for the colleges.
But MLS has the Generation adidas program, which is specifically geared to players who want to be pros -- those who do not want to go to college, or leave school early. I don't see a situation in the short-term where large numbers of 16- to 18-year-olds are taking the decision to bypass college. Will that number increase? Probably -- but not overnight.
PG: Diversity is one of your aims. You got it off to a good start with the appointment of Wilmer Cabrera as the U-17 coach. But I’ve seen little progress since then. In fact, I would describe the recent appointment of Jesse Marsch to be an assistant national team coach, as a glaringly anti-diversity move.
SG: Well, it’s OK for us to disagree about individual coaching appointments -- but when we talk about assistant coaches, the national team coach or any head coach in our program has great latitude in selecting his staff. So while I’m happy to discuss my decisions in appointing head coaches, I believe that assistant coaches are very much in the purview of the head coach.
Appointing Wilmer Cabrera was one very public thing. But we now have our website in Spanish, we have two or three Hispanics on our BOD, we have more Spanish-language coaching and referee programs. Very few people would think that the hiring of Wilmer is more important than, for instance, the ability to communicate, or having our courses available for Spanish-speaking programs. These are all pieces of the puzzle and an area where we clearly have to continue our efforts -- and not only in the Hispanic community.
(This was Part 2 of Paul Gardner's discussion with Sunil Gulati, the recently re-elected U.S. Soccer President. Read Part 1 HERE.)