King Eric in New York? Big Deal.

By Paul Gardner

We don't do things by halves here in the Big Apple, no sirreee. If we set out to make complete asses of ourselves, expect a double dip immediately. And that's what we've now got.

Both dips have a decidedly Brit flavor to them. First of all we have the Red Bulls, evidently looking for some easy publicity, grabbing John Rooney - yes, the great Wayne’s younger brother -- during the MLS super-duper draft. What, you might ask, was Rooney doing in the draft? If he’s so good, surely he would have been snaffled by a club as a discovery player? A delicate question. Could it be that MLS was also looking for easy publicity for its increasingly irrelevant draft?

Right after the Rooney madness came the startling news that the people -- Brits, all of them -- who are intent on reviving the New York Cosmos, had appointed Frenchman Eric Cantona as their Director of Soccer. (To get that out of the way: no, I’m not sure what a director of soccer is supposed to do - it’s a comparatively new title that seems to involve a good deal of treading on the toes of the coach).

Cantona, the Cosmos Brits may be surprised to hear, is not a big deal in New York. But he is in England. So the headlines in England are far, far greater than anything that appeared in New York. Cantona is big in England because he had several very successful seasons with Manchester United, also because he once jumped into the stand to karate-kick an abusive fan, and also because he makes mysteriously ethereal remarks about seagulls, which the English mistake for French intellectuality (the English are, pardon the pun, very gullible in that area).

If you want to see Cantona at his French poseur worst, go to the Cosmos web site, where you will find him glaring at you and puffing cigar-smoke in your face. Very nice.

This Cantona business is frankly disappointing. Up till now the Cosmos group had been making some excellent moves -- establishing themselves at the grassroots level by forming associations with two top, and very well chosen, youth clubs (New York’s BW Gottschee, and Los Angeles FC). They have an office in New York, and as their Academy Director, have appointed Giovanni Savarese -- one of the most respected figures in local soccer. And of course, they’ve got Pele, the most iconic of all the Cosmos players, as honorary president, and they’ve signed up Cobi Jones as a soccer ambassador and no, I don’t know what that means either.

This is all good stuff, I think. Then comes the Cantona nonsense. Which immediately raises the whole question of just how serious this venture is, simply because the advent of King Eric (yes, that’s what they’re calling him) is so clearly a PR gimmick. It forces one to take a much harder look at the group trying to revive the Cosmos: we have Terry Byrne, one of the prime movers (and a great friend of David Beckham); the other Brits involved are Paul Kemsley (formerly a vice chairman at Tottenham Hotspur and, I gather, the major investor at the moment); Rick Parry (formerly the CEO at Liverpool FC); and Carl Johnson (founder of New York marketing company Anomaly). There you have it -- it would be difficult to imagine a more Britty group than that.

An all-Brit group means, inexorably, a very narrow-minded soccer group. That is a given, though I doubt whether any of that quartet understands that fact. If you want to get the full flavor of just how limited Brit thinking is, you could do worse than start with a long interview that SI’s Grant Wahl conducted with Terry Byrne.

Through some nine pages Byrne details his soccer background and experience. Virtually all of it English, and where not English, of a limited European flavor.

I have grown used to this. For virtually every Brit, Latin America simply does not exist. Byrne mentions 21 coaches and players in the interview -- 18 are European, only 3 are Latinos. He congratulates the Red Bulls on signing Thierry Henry, but fails to mention Rafa Marquez. It is also mighty strange that when he talks of the possibility of the Cosmos becoming the 20th team in MLS and a New York team at that (and that would seem to be the ultimate objective) he does not once mention the huge soccer-devoted Hispanic population in the metropolitan area. He talks of the need for a stadium, and gives it as the MLS “preference” that the stadium be in Queens - without giving any indication that he understands just why Queens would be an ideal site.

A reminder or two for Messrs Byrne, Kemsley, Johnson and Parry: when the pro soccer boomlet started in 1967, we had the New York Generals -- with an English coach and a lot of English players. The soccer was poor, the Generals quickly disappeared, unlamented. The Cosmos headed in the same direction -- English coaches, British players. Only when a concerted move to bring in the best players, regardless of their origin, was made (ironically, a Brit, Clive Toye, spearheaded that move) did the real, wildly popular, Cosmos emerge.

If Byrne and his fellow Brits need (and I think they do) a strong reminder on just how awful Brit-oriented soccer can still be, let them study the current MLS champion Colorado Rapids under its Brit coach Gary Smith.

That is the sort of soccer that an all Brit managing group will inevitably bring with them. Unless they are aware of the danger, their attempt to launch a genuine American team with young American players will fail, without any doubt at all. Or, putting it another way, it will be as successful as England has been at the international level for the past 45 years.

In short: the appointment of Cantona is a mistake. It raises one’s suspicions that the Brits are only interested in making headlines back in Britain. And deeper suspicions that the idea is to create an academy to raise players who can be sold at marvelous prices to the EPL. That is, if the EPL clubs don’t work out a way to get them for nothing.

Cantona can puff his obnoxious stage-prop cigar for all he’s worth, but he leaves me thinking only one thing: that Pele would have been a far better choice for whatever that title is.

20 comments about "King Eric in New York? Big Deal. ".
  1. Steve Smith, January 21, 2011 at 3:43 a.m.

    I agree that he's only been hired as a publicity stunt, but your belittling of Eric Cantona only reveals your ignorance about the man, and football/soccer in general. It's because of who he is (and was, as a player) that makes him good publicity, whether it's for Nike or the Cosmos. If he truly were as "mysteriously ethereal" and meaningless as you claim, he wouldn't be there.

  2. Jonny Sinclair, January 21, 2011 at 8:48 a.m.

    Paul, I think you need professional help to get over your hatred of everything and anything is starting to scare me just how much you can not stand them.
    Steve seems to have beaten me to my main point are supposed to be a top soccer journalist and yet you question Eric Cantona as a soccer icon? You don't get named Manchester United's player of the century (after only playing 5 seasons) for just anything you know (and yes United ARE one of the world's biggest and most successful clubs before you find a way to try to disprove that fact also). The man is an absolute legend who STILL remains the front-face of Nike Soccer. He will do wonders for the Cosmos....why? how? because he is Cantona!

  3. Ted Westervelt, January 21, 2011 at 9:45 a.m.

    Perhaps someone needs to get under the hood and take a look at the brinksmanship going on here. The Cosmos haven't cut a check to MLS yet, and I suspect the MLS hasn't agreed to bend any single entity rules to allow the Cosmos to keep rights to their name. Cosmos are still the most recognized US soccer club in the world, much to the chagrin of every MLS fan quick to point out they don't play soccer matches yet. Right now, I suspect there's more money for the Cosmos make in English press releases than MLS. Perhaps this is a black eye for the Cosmos, but probably a bigger indication of the sad state of affairs in MLS. Perhaps another symptom of the disease in which one of the more deadly strikers in MLS history going to a German D2 team trying to avoid relegation - for a 400% raise. Or the one where EPL passed MLS in US TV ratings last year. At what point do we stop blaming the game for the crimes of a messed up business model???

  4. Jarrett Osborn, January 21, 2011 at 9:54 a.m.

    Entertaining as usual, and true, the English love for Cantona is baffling, but a fact nonetheless. But your continued dislike for the Colorado Rapids is still puzzling. Ask Chivas USA how the Latin American style works. And I dare you to watch more than 30 minutes of a match on tv from the Mexican league or one of the Central American leagues. If Messi had scored while sitting on his keister, you would have hailed it as the most brilliant goal of the year - "What soccer genius!" Yes, I live in Colorado, and if we have offended you in the past, I apologize for all of us in the state. Now let it go, the Rapids one and played better soccer than Dallas. Go Dips!

  5. Jarrett Osborn, January 21, 2011 at 9:56 a.m.

    Won, of course, not one.

  6. Kent James, January 21, 2011 at 10:22 a.m.

    Yes, Paul Gardner has a visceral hatred for all English soccer, and yes, it's a bit over the top. But he does keep things interesting, he makes some good points, and sparks some good debate. Cantona was an exciting player, and I think it's a bit of a stretch to deride the Cosmos signing of a creative French player as demonstrating their focus on the banal aspects of British soccer. But the other evidence of British influence on the Cosmos is pretty convincing.
    I love the pace of the EPL, but I also love the flair of creative latin players, and I think the ideal style would be some combination of both (I don't think they're mutually exclusive; there's a time for pace and power and there's a time for deception and creativity). And I have to agree that the all-British flavor of the Cosmos might indicate a blind spot for other options. But as Gardner's example of Clive Toye points out, it is possible for Brits to make good soccer decisions. My hope is that Gardner's highlighting this English bias that permeates the Cosmos, perhaps they will be wise enough to broaden their horizons, making soccer in the US better because of their efforts.

  7. Jorge Giraldo, January 21, 2011 at 10:25 a.m.

    What in the world is wrong with you against anything that comes from england or england related?? I sit here reading blog after blog (all yours) and they all are the same!! Since when Eric Cantona is not a Soccer Icon? any team will be lucky just to have him come around for one of their games, his only presence will motivate any team to play better, sounds to me like england took a dream away from you or your passport has big bold red letters stating "not welcome in england".
    who hires you to just deliberately attack any mls team that has any relation to anything british. What a waste of paycheck!!.
    By the way im not english, Im hispanic and I dont feel offended by not seeing that many hispanics in the league like you would like to see, In southamerica we called the MLS the worst descicion for an upcoming player, and its all because of people like you, not letting the experience come and help the younger players.
    I think you should write for a gossip magazine instead!!

  8. Gak Foodsource, January 21, 2011 at 11:46 a.m.

    Paul is correct to be concerned about the British direction of the Cosmos, although as previous posters have pointed out that argument is more persuasive by looking at it's triumvirate of British directors than it's recent hire of Cantona to a somewhat imaginary position. Cantona was a genius on the pitch, hence the reason he was the man united player of the century after 5 seasons of play. No matter how British Cantona may or may not be, Id much rather have a craetive player like him him in there influencng Parry than say a David Beckham or Roy Keane. Having said that, what I love about Paul's articles is that he isn't afraid to remind us that we, the fans, have a say here. MLS is our league and the Cosmos are one of our teams. If we go to bed dreaming of Messi and Barcelona than we should put as much pressure as we can on Gulaiti, Garber, and anyone else to share that same dream.

  9. Mike Gaire, January 21, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.

    More meaningless Brit bashing! Oh the passions of the converted!!

  10. Carl Walther, January 21, 2011 at 1:01 p.m.

    For all you lovers of Brit football. Come on, British football, professional hockey; same thug mentality. But that's what makes you men, right?

  11. Andrew Z, January 21, 2011 at 1:17 p.m.

    He's making a point with cantona. The point is the british mentality of the directors of the cosmos is not the direction a team in NEW YORK needs because as they have shown thus far they are ignoring the HISPANIC market. A market which is the key to a successful team in New York.

    I can't believe I had to spell that out for you guys.

  12. Tom Kondas, January 21, 2011 at 1:40 p.m.

    The only thing that american soccer has achieved by aligning themselves with the Brits is that we hae finally reached a parity with them which means only that we , like them, have never been in a world cup final in the last nearly 50 years, and our chances of doing so slip away each year that we follow their lead. Considedr ,if you will, had we aligned our soccer programs with central and south america, where we might be at this point in time? During WWII the brits had a saying the problem with americans is that they were "over sexed and Over here" (Britain). seems the problem is reversed at least from a location point of view, I doubt the effminate Brits are "over sexed". but, alas, they are over here. including their announcers like the cyclopic Tommy Smyth whose only role is to second guess the referee. Where in the hell are the minute men when we need them?

  13. Gerald Laing, January 21, 2011 at 1:57 p.m.

    Paul, I must say the bashing of the British is somewhat over the top and I think the message is finally being hurt by the messenger. You should have made more of the fact that Terry Byrne was a part of the Ruud Gullit hire in LA, that is more alarming then where his passport is from. Or make note that the Cosmos seems to be more about marketing and less about football.

  14. Gus Keri, January 21, 2011 at 2:44 p.m.

    All these blogs and comments for a team that doesn't exist yet, on the field that is. In two days, the signing of Cantona generated interest, Cobi Jones couldn't do in few weeks. And you tell me that the Cosmos people don't know what they are doing? They have now on staff, Pele (Latin America), Cobe (American soccer), Cantona (Man Utd and England and Europe), Perry (Liverpool). Are there any people in New York left out?

  15. Mick Whitewood, January 22, 2011 at 1:41 a.m.

    Paul Gardner you are a Tool, Do you even know that Eric Cantona is French!!!
    You know absolutely nothing about football, and are indeed very annoying! Please go and educate yourself on who and what you are reporting on, and leave the football to pro's, Go and report on that game you have there..... Throwball!!! thats it! You are a Spanner and a disgrace to your great country!

  16. Tim Foisie, January 22, 2011 at 5:15 a.m.

    I agree that selecting John Rooney was a questionable choice by the Red Bulls because they need more help in defense than the midfield. Even with Marquez at centerback, the Red Bulls have over a dozen midfielders at this point including two that they acquired in the offseason, Jan Gunnar Solli & Marcos Paullo, & the recently resigned Carl Robinson. And this does not include the report that Ze Roberto is joining the Red Bulls this summer. Based on the team's on the field needs, a better pick for the Red Bulls would have been Demitrius Omphroy. I thought the body language of the Red Bull contingent at the draft was very awkward & I would guess, but obviously don't know, that some of them wanted to go a different route with the 25th pick in the 2011 SuperDraft. That said, Soler & Backe have a decent track record in identifying talent & I would bet they are out looking for additional defenders to bring to training camp to compete for starting positions.

    I don't think the draft will be irrelevant until we have significantly more professional teams with well established academy programs in the US & I don't see that happening soon. To hint that the draft is coming closer to irrelevancy is ludicrious when quality players like Teal Bunbury, Blair Gavin, Sean Johnson, Zach Loyd, Danny Mwanga, Ike Opara, Tim Ream, Zack Schilawski, Michael Stephens, Tony Tchani, Eric Alexander & Ben Zemanski were acquired by MLS teams that way just last year.

    As far as how John Rooney entered the league to me is not such a big deal. I believe that is how Arturo Alvarez & others have entered the league in the past.

    With regard to the New York Cosmos, there are different aspects to running a business, which soccer is, & that includes marketing, networking & developing talent. Until the first team is established, Eric Cantona can help with all of these for the New York Cosmos; I have no idea why the opinion piece chooses to ignore this fact. I'm not crazy about the cigar smoking image but everyone will have their own take on that one. While the opinion piece does acknowledge the excellent moves to establish themselves at the grassroots level, the author gets on the case for the ownership group lacking a latin understanding. The director of the New York based academy program is from Venezuela.

    The youth academy coaches at the New York Cosmos have no English bent; regardless of nationality, they are among the best coaches I have ever seen. It is all about attracting, developing & retaining the best players. There are many minority groups represented on the teams including hispanics & African Americans.

    The piece also knocks the New York Cosmos for what was & was not covered in the SI article but that has more to do with the editor & journalist than the Cosmos.

    What the New York Cosmos ownership group should be evaluated on is the stadium site selection and building it. Anyone in the NYC area knows this is no easy task.

    Tim Foisie

  17. Mick Whitewood, January 22, 2011 at 8:49 a.m.

    Paul Gardner,
    Please read writings of Tim Foisie and take note, That is a man who knows his stuff, unlike a buffoon pretending to know the game of football, and embarrassing himself with writing offensive drivel. It is people writing crap like yourself, that is holding the game back here in the States!

  18. Julio Moreira, January 22, 2011 at 12:03 p.m.

    Through your example of honesty and fairness for the game, you have acquired a great influence for the game, I honestly feel that the Cosmos could be a great team again if they have a mixture of South American and European Football as they did in the past with Chinaglia, Pele, Cabañas, Romero....and as I did with the Miami Toros with the signing of Sharp, Easton, Warren Archibald, Steve David, Aguirre, Arancibia, the great NASL, so congratulations for your honest criticism of to much of British influence, your courageous stand is again honest and sound journalism

  19. Jorge Giraldo, January 22, 2011 at 9:44 p.m.

    Tim Foise yeah!!! now that is writing!! not like this sir right here and your followers!

  20. Benjamin Kowalsky, January 24, 2011 at 2:40 p.m.

    There you go again, Mr. Gardner. Someone remarked that at least you 'make things interesting', and I couldn't agree more, but I don't think that makes your commentary and virulent Anglo-Phobia at all useful. Much in the same way that while I think a man stirring a punchbowl with a turd certainly makes things interesting: it doesn't make for very good punch. Again, you spare no opportunity to come after Gary Smith who took a club from the bottom to the top in less than three full seasons as head coach--a feat that cannot be boasted by many in the MLS. Also, if you take a look at the Rapids, only two of the players could be said to have come from anywhere near England (Danny Earls and Jamie Smith). Hardly Anglo-centric. You need to stop riding this. You're just embarrassing yourself at this point.

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