By Paul Gardner
It surely cannot be too long before the attraction wears off these tedious and astonishingly over-priced summer exhibition games. I've just finished watching Tottenham beat the Red Bulls, 2-1, a thoroughly insipid game that was supposed to -- well, I'm not sure what it was supposed to do, apart from make money for the promoters.
Spurs didn’t put too much effort into this one. They didn’t have to, because the Red Bulls played with their customary lack of style and precision. That has been the way the Red Bulls have always played. As it happens, it was the way the MetroStars played before them. Always a team without a style. Seventeen years of formless soccer, players running around, often energetically, usually to no avail.
That takes in scores, though it seems like thousands, of players and a dozen coaches, and it’s never really worked. Ah, I just recalled -- one of the points about this semi-inert friendly against Spurs was to show off the Red Bulls’ new signing, midfielder Tim Cahill from Everton -- a DP no less.
That, too, turned into a non-event, though he did manage to get himself knocked down and gain the penalty that gave the Bulls their only goal. Other than that, Cahill looked a tired player -- maybe that makes sense, considering it’s been some two months since his last game with Everton.
On the ESPN telecast, Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman struggled mightily to infuse some excitement, or at least interest, into this yawner. They did mention that Cahill’s signing was something of a surprise. Well, yes and no. A surprise in that during the Red Bulls’ long search for another DP, Cahill’s name had never been mentioned. But definitely not a surprise if they mean it was unexpected. Unexpected is what these Red Bulls -- particularly since 2010 under coach Hans Backe -- are best at.
Predicting Red Bull moves related to player acquisition or dismissal is a waste of time because there is rarely any evidence of careful thought or methodical team-building. The Red Bull modus operandi seems to be merely to decide -- suddenly -- that a certain type of player, say a forward or a goalkeeper, is urgently needed, and to rush off and buy whoever happens to be available. Or -- even more chaotic -- to purchase a player merely because he happens to be available.
It was rumored that the Bulls were after Kaka. Oh, really? A genuine play-making ball-artist, and a Brazilian at that, being sought by Backe and the Bulls? I’ll take a lot of convincing on that one.
When it comes to scouting, to looking around to find out who is available, it cannot be said that the Bulls exactly exert themselves. Kaka, for sure, is way beyond their horizons. Backe, who is Swedish, along with Sporting Director Erik Soler and assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen (both of whom are Norwegian) rely heavily on their contacts back in Scandinavia. So we have a nice smorgasbord of players for you, Markus Holgersson (Sweden), Teemu Tainio (Finland), Jan Gunnar Solli (Norway), Victor Palsson (Iceland) and Joel Lindpere (Estonia, which I judge to be nearly Scandinavia). And how about this -- you can add in the Costa Rican Roy Miller (who played in Norway for four years) and Jonathan Borrajo (with one year in the Norwegian second division).
Four of those players were regulars on the Red Bulls last year and showed pretty clearly that they are average players at best. Worse, they are -- apart from the occasional burst from Lindpere -- routine, non-exciting players. Yet Backe persists with the Scando connection -- just this week comes an announcement that the club has signed defender Babajide Ogunbiyi --- he’s American but, you’ll never guess, comes direct from a short stint with a Danish club.
In between all those signings there was the disaster of bringing in -- as a DP -- German goalkeeper Frank Rost, who did absolutely nothing for the Red Bulls and left as soon as the 2011 season was over. And the offloading of the young Juan Agudelo whose main problem -- and I’m not joking here -- may have been simply that he is not Scandinavian. Plus the hopelessly bungled signing and then trading, of Dwayne De Rosario.
De Rosario was the one signing amongst that frenzy of unfocused activity who would have brought what the Bulls do not have, have never had: a midfielder to build a team round, a playmaker, a regista as the Italians have it.
Maybe that role should belong to Thierry Henry, but he has shown little inclination to want it. Cahill is not the man for that job either. If we are to be condemned to a midfield in which Cahill and Dax McCarty pull the strings, then we’re in for more style-less helter-skelter.
None of which is to say that you can’t win games that way. The Bulls, on the strength of Henry’s goals, have already done so quite a few times this season. But you cannot rely on the Bulls, ever. The latest loss, to the Montreal Impact, typified just how disorganized a team without a firm playing style can get.
There is the added awkwardness that the Red Bulls continue to call themselves a New York team. A New York team without some sort of style? Frankly, in soccer terms, it’s difficult to conjure up an image of anything less New York than Backe’s Scando-based Bulls.