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Cantona signing puzzles
by Paul Kennedy, January 19th, 2011 8:57PM

TAGS:  mls, my view, new york cosmos, soccer business


[MY VIEW] The New York Cosmos' announcement that Eric Cantona was joining the prospective club as director of soccer certainly had its effect. I was awoken early in the morning here in California to calls from French radio stations wanting to know what I thought about Cantona and the "nouveau Cosmos." I would have sooner expected to hear Cantona -- an accomplished actor -- was headed to Broadway than he was hired to handle soccer for the Cosmos.

But other than the buzz that Cantona's signing generates, the move puzzles. Cantona has had no coaching or management role in soccer (other than beach soccer) since retiring from Manchester United in 1997.

The closest thing the Cantona signing reminds me of is the Los Angeles Galaxy's hiring of Ruud Gullit in 2008. Gullit was another celebrity signing -- assisted coincidentally by Cobi Jones on the sidelines as Cantona will be in the front office.

The other connection between Gullit and Cantona, of course, is David Beckham adviser Terry Byrne. It was Byrne who pushed the Galaxy to hire Gullit as coach, and he is one of three men -- along with Cosmos chairman Paul Kemsley, the former Tottenham vice chairman, and ex-Liverpool CEO Rick Parry -- seeking to get the revived Cosmos off the ground as soon as 2013.

At least Gullit had the advantage of having previous coaching experience and a front-office backing him up to teach him the ways of MLS, but we all know how long Gullit's stint lasted. All of a half a season.

The Cosmos group, which still needs to line up big-money investors and build a stadium (probably in Queens), is several years away from joining MLS, if ever.

MLS spokesperson Dan Courtemanche told the Daily Telegraph Wednesday that "the 20th team is likely to be three to five years down the road," and Cantona will need all of that time to familiarize himself with the workings of MLS.

A revived Cosmos won't be like the Cosmos of the late 1970s, signing Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and virtually any other player it wanted. MLS rules don't allow it, and the transfer market of today wouldn't support it.

Only last week, MLS Commissioner Don Garber praised the Cosmos for making a lot of smart moves.

Unfortunately, the Cantona signing isn't one of them.

It reinforces the notion that the Cosmos is a gimmick to revive a long-lost sports brand rather than a serious venture to tackle the realities of the sports marketplace.

  1. Gus Keri
    commented on: January 20, 2011 at 7:40 a.m.
    I disagree with you, Paul. It's too early to judge a team that doesn't exist yet. Signing Cantona is a good thing, for now, because all what the Cosmos needs is publicity, nothing else. When the team starts playing, things will change. He might not last as long as Gullit. Who cares? We need the Cosmos back and we need it in MLS. Every thing else will sort itself later.
  1. Kenneth Barr
    commented on: January 20, 2011 at 10:07 a.m.
    I agree with you, Paul. Cantona is virtually unknown in New York, except in ex-pat Man Utd circles. we really don't need the Cosmos, especially with Kemsley and Parry running things. They are the past, glorious though it may be, but over twenty five years in the past. Unlike the west coast teams that have resurrected in MLS, the Cosmos ceased to exist. One other thing, where in Queens is there room for a twenty five to thirty thousand seat ground? Aqueduct will not be torn down now that slots are going in. This quixotic attempt to revive that which is better left in the past will fail.
  1. David Sirias
    commented on: January 20, 2011 at 11:59 a.m.
    I agree with Gus. This signing shows that NYC are serious about being the next expansion team. Cobi knows MLS. Cantona has the star power to recruit European talent that might not otherwise want to be part of the new venture. If he fails, then at least they tried. Time will tell, but I assume the money guys would not be throwing good money at something bad unless they were confident of the MLS's committment and good stadium prospects. Cosmos, if resurrected, cannot come out of the gate as a regular expansion team. They will need to be strong from the get go, and that can only happen with all key management slots filled sooner, not later. This appears to be what's happening. And THAT should be the main topic in the news cycle, Cantona's experience being secondary, not primary.
  1. David Huff
    commented on: January 20, 2011 at 5:18 p.m.
    This is another example of MLS' "marketing prowess" which is short on substance but long on promotional aspects especially when selling the "rockstar" effect. other than cantona's considerable resume as a ManU player, what sort of coaching credentials does he possess? I agree that the Cobi Jones hiring was a good move, bringing in someone firmly grounded on MLS' idiosyncracies is going to be helpful with a new franchise and a manager that knows nothing about the MLS structure. I still find it hard to swallow that the interests of the USMNT have been subordinated to promoting MLS in this country.
  1. Amos Annan
    commented on: January 21, 2011 at 5:11 a.m.
    Good publicity for the club. A big name can't hurt.
  1. Robert Kiernan
    commented on: January 21, 2011 at 8:09 a.m.
    Look about the ONLY thing that the COSMOS can do right now is to hire somebody with a "World Class" NAME...they can spend their money on this and get some attention, at least for the moment, and since there likely won't be much of a first string team PLAYING anytime soon, the credentials of this signing mean little or nothing... now just whom they trust to handle ACTUAL youth players learning their trade is a very different thing indeed, and THAT is where they really need to be judged. If they can get themselves a true TEACHING coach for their young players and have them playing in say the USL for a few seasons before this team debuts in a few seasons somewhere in the NYC area then they MIGHT have a chance to develop into a team that has any right to call itself COSMOS. I wonder what Wim Rijsbergen's status is these days...last I heard he was coaching in the Netherlands... I know Johan Neeskans has coached as well in Holland, so right there you have "Big Name" ex COSMOS players that might be coaching targets, or Carlos Alberto Torres... certainly having some connection to the old NASL team would be of great value to any future team... but frankly I'm fine with Cantona, honestly if they had hired say Giorgio Chinglia to do this sort of thing, I would have been much more skeptical, an ex player that caused both great turmoil to the original team but also has a better "Name" in the area... it would be very hard to have him in charge and then need to cut him loose when things go south... in Cantona you have a very similar type of egotistical ex Striker, but one who if things started to go badly could more easily leave... because that in the end is what we all would expect to happen in the end, it's just what he might be able to achieve until then that is the question here... mostly getting the "Brand"back out front and center me thinks!!... (ICE)

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