By Paul Gardner
After the upheavals to personal lives and routines imposed by the World Cup, things are getting back to normal. What a relief that must be to those poor guys up at ESPN -- Chris Fowler, Mike Tirico and Bob Ley, the studio hosts who had to spend a whole month pretending they were English.
It didn’t quite reach the stage where they got dressed up in bowler hats and said Pip! Pip! all the time, but it was bad enough. Someone in the upper reaches of ESPN, one of their soccer geniuses, it might have been the executive producer Jed Drake, decided that they must use English, rather than American terms. Why? Anyone have an answer to that question, one that makes any sort of sense , I mean?
So we got these guys using, awkwardly, terms they would never naturally use -- terms like match, and pitch, and nil-nil and clean-sheet and, inevitably, football when they meant soccer. My sympathies to them -- especially to Bob Ley, with whom I have worked in the past, and who I know to be sympathetic to soccer -- that they should be subjected to this childish nonsense.
The development of a truly American soccer culture, built on American conditions and attitudes and traditions and language is not helped by incidents like this.
We’ve had a similar happening here in New York quite recently. The Red Bulls announced a tournament -- to be titled the New York Football Challenge. I’ll pass over the New York bit (it should be New Jersey) -- but why the word “football”? What on earth could possibly be wrong with, who would object in any way to, using “soccer”?
While I was wondering whom I should hector about this, the title suddenly changed. It became the New York Challenge. No explanation, of course. Football had gone -- but it had not been replaced by soccer. Then the title changed again as a sponsor appeared, and we now have the Barclays New York Challenge. Still no sport specified. The people at the Red Bulls profess mystification. I was referred to a group called The Football World Series, or maybe it was the World Series of Football -- whatever, this is supposed to be an American company, I gather. Enough already. On the not unreasonable assumption that they would have changed the title again by the time I found out who to speak to, I gave up. I’ll wait for the next change before I pounce.
Yesterday I was assailed by yet another example of how fatuous Brit soccer traditions are lapped up by our sport, or at any rate, by the mindless marketers who now infest it.
On a sweltering summer’s day, some 150 journalists and photographers, waited in the Red Bull Arena for Thierry Henry to make his appearance. When he walked on to the field, accompanied by, among others, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe and General Manager Erik Soler, there they were ... wearing scarves. On a 90-degree day.
OK, OK, calm down -- I know the scarves are not really being worn, they’re only symbols, but, heck they are scarves and they’re winter accessories. Did I add that they’re also rather cheap looking, and quite ugly? And they didn’t look any better indoors, at the press conference, when everyone on the dais continued the farce, sitting there with the scarves draped over their necks. Everyone except MLS Commissioner Don Garber, that is -- I would congratulate him, except that I suspect his motivation to be political correctness rather than common sense.
And so to Thierry Henry. One of the world’s most famous players, maybe a year or two past his prime, but surely good enough to play up a storm in MLS. Backe made it clear that he expects Henry to inspire the rest of the team -- to bring it to life, really.
That is certainly an important requirement. Last time out for the Red Bulls was a soporific 0-0 with D.C. United. Players too intent on their defensive duties, not enough risk-taking, lamented Backe.
The hope is that Henry’s dash and verve -- and that’s what the Red Bulls and MLS are relying on him to still have -- will change that. The image forms of a prolific goalscoring partnership with Juan Pablo Angel, who has never really been offered much skilled support during his three-plus seasons with the Red Bulls.
Maybe, though I haven’t seen that sort of thing -- when one new player galvanizes a whole team -- happen too often. Maybe it would happen, though, with two new players ... and so the rumors persist of the arrival of Mexico’s Rafa Marquez as the Red Bulls third Designated Player.
Now, that would be an event to stir some memories ... of the days when the Cosmos used to announce big signings every season, and introduced the players at press conferences that featured food and drink ... but never scarves.
Agreed, that was 30 years ago, and times have changed. Scarves are in, but maybe I shouldn’t bitch too much -- it could have been worse. We could have had the whole dais wearing fancy dress and blasting us with the latest soccer marketing lunacy, this one direct from the South African World Cup, those ghastly vuvuzelas.