[INTERVIEW] Former U.S. international Eric Wynalda, who has coached club teams and academy programs in Southern California during much of the past decade, has taken a position with Mexican third division club Murcielagos to assist in its scouting and development of players. In a far-reaching exclusive interview, Wynalda talked about coaching and player development in the USA -- he holds a USSF ‘A’ coaching license -- and national team coach Bob Bradley, whom he played for with the Chicago Fire.
SOCCER AMERICA: You exasperated a lot of coaches during your playing career, yet in the past year you accompanied the U.S. U-20 team to a competition in Guadalajara and interviewed with U.S. Soccer and a few MLS club about joining their coaching staffs. Why do you think you can coach effectively?
ERIC WYNALDA: I’ve looked at coaching in the United States in an objective way. I’m trying to understand why we are where we are and why we’ve hit this state of stagnation. At times it’s confusing why we haven’t grown faster and it interests me. The way that guys like me get torn down is because of this attitude of, "No good player would ever be any good as a coach." It’s like a backwards compliment.
SA: Well, isn’t the perception also that because of your rifts with coaches and outspoken attitude, you’re just not equipped for a job that can be tedious and frustrating?
WYNALDA: Coaching is management, which is really what we should call it. I love it when people forward me this stuff about, "Wynalda will never be a coach because he doesn’t have the experience." I want those people to define what they mean by experience. As far as Americans go, there’s only about four or five of us who are qualified about understanding the dynamics of a group, understanding what it takes to win, understanding how to talk to players.
SA: Not many great players have become great coaches, but there are a lot of very good players have been successful coaches. How does this apply to you?
WYNALDA: I don’t want to go off and say I was a great player. I really don’t think I was but still had something to offer. But I was a student of the game and I have a soccer brain. I see things that most people don’t see. It’s just because I’m an extremely observant person.
There’s this stigma attached to coaching of "experience." I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why you always have to have coaching experience. If you’ve been through a professional career and you’ve paid attention, you end up pulling a lot of information.
SA: What kind of information?
WYNALDA: The French coach, Laurent Blanc, when he started out [as a coach] at Bordeaux, he did what I did when I was a player: He kept a journal. I had different coaches and different styles of play, and I tried to write down the things I wanted to take with me and what I wanted to remind me about a situation that was handled poorly.
SOCCER AMERICA: So what can you do with this information, and your experience? What’s the best environment for you to work in?
WYNALDA: Our positional awareness and our ability to recognize players who are special is pretty bad to a certain extent. We would rather have a bunch of guys who are average at everything instead of a guy who’s pretty good at one thing.
I just think there are so many times when we over-think these things and I want us to do better. You go to Mexico and you watch a Mexican practice, and what strikes you about that exercise is that it really comes down to habit. At the end of it all, you have to say, their habits are better than ours.
Think about that. If you go through your list of your five favorite players, those players are really good at one or two things. The reason they are your favorite players is that they’re different, they’re special. The reason you watch David Beckham is that he can cross the damn ball. In our country they probably would have said, "That’s pretty good with the right foot, now let’s try the left." That would have happened a long time ago and David Beckham would have been average with both feet. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened to Diego Maradona. That would have been fun.
SOCCER AMERICA: Is this what Peter Nowak is talking about, the presenting of situations that the players have to solve and using repetitions until it’s ingrained in the players’ thinking?
WYNALDA: I would say that he’s in a position where all the givens that he grew up with are a form of frustration, where he has to explain A-B-C, when he wants to give his players D-E-F. That’s a really hard thing to do if your expectation of the starting point for each player is not where it should be. That usually generates a lot of frustration with coaches when that path of progression is that much different from what it was for them as a player.
SA: You’ve discussed a lot of aspects of soccer, not just a coaching role, with Bob Bradley. What are your impressions of him and the job he’s doing?
WYNALDA: Since I had the opportunity to play for Bob, I have a lot of respect for the way he goes about his business. He’s a thinker, and I like that. I enjoyed playing for him. We’ve always stayed in contact and we exchange ideas all the time about various things.
The fact we sit together and watch games at Home Depot Center, because there’s speculation about him and his job all the time, doesn’t mean he’s ready to take it to another level. Right now, we’re just two guys who talk about soccer. That’s something we both like to do. Whether or not that equates to him thinking I have something to offer at the national team level is completely up to him.
It wouldn’t be right for me to make any assumptions about what Bob’s thinking is, but all of the decisions he makes are for the betterment of our national team.
SA: Did you talk about possibly taking a long-term position with the U-20 team?
WYNALDA: I tried to do that. I want to get involved at the U-20 level, I think that’s the most impressionable age. That was where my interest was and a good place to prepare these guys for the next step and actually give them good advice about, "This is what’s next and this is what you need to be ready for." I really enjoyed that opportunity, to see what the next wave of players looks like, where are they in their careers, and where are their heads.
I was really glad and thankful that Thomas gave me that opportunity. It didn’t amount to anything, at least not yet.