By Paul Kennedy
Soccer tryouts, like the adidas MLS Player Combine that runs through Tuesday in Ft. Lauderdale, aren't
unique. We've all gone through the paces of a tryout at one time or another.
In 10th grade, I went out for my high school JV soccer team. I tried out at right wing. My thinking was if I
hugged the sideline, I'd be sure to catch the eye of our coach standing nearby. Bad idea. My only consolation was my high school required everyone to play a sport. I got to play on the JV "B" team.
A decade ago, our son, Paulie
, decided to try out for soccer in the local youth league. Ten-yard lanes with cones were constructed, and 20 kids at a time tried to weave through the
cones with a ball at their feet. Back and forth they went for what seemed like 15 minutes. Paulie decided to stick with baseball. Good thing: he's about to begin his sophomore season in college.
Elsewhere, tryouts are a little better organized. They might be at "centros de detección," as they call them in Mexico, or on "journées de détection," as French clubs
Tryouts of the soccer greats have usually gone well.
When 13-year-old Lionel Messi
arrived in Barcelona, they threw the tiny Argentine on the field
against a bunch of bigger players. Barcelona official Carles Rexach
walked only three-quarters around the sidelines before he decided he had seen enough.
, needed convincing that Barcelona was serious about signing his son before he uprooted his family and moved it from Rosario to Spain. Rexach invited Leo and Jorge for lunch at a local
tennis club. All he could find was a napkin on which he scribbled out a contract agreeing to meet Jorge's demands.
When Waldemar de Brito
to Santos for a tryout at
the age of 16, the recruiter boasted, "This boy will be the greatest player in the world." Pele's talents were so dazzling that the other players stood and stared at him. The tryout was over.
Santos signed Pele, and the next year he led Brazil to its first World Cup championship.
But sometimes, first -- and second -- impressions aren't good. In the housing projects
north of Marseille, Jean Varraud
discovered a 15-year-old boy who, as he put, "had hands in place of feet."
Varraud brought coaches from nearby Cannes to check out Zinedine
playing on his neighborhood team. Only problem was, Zidane's coach didn't get word that pro scouts would be watching. He played Zidane at sweeper, where he needed a fill-in, and Zidane
Zidane was later brought into Cannes for a tryout. He was given a week to show what he could do. All the coaches watching him did was point what he couldn't do. He wasn't
good with his head. He needed more work in the fitness room.
Exasperated, Varraud pleaded with Cannes head coach Jean Fernandez
to at least watch Zidane once. Fernandez agreed to
walk over to an adjacent field where Zidane was training and watch for a minute. The first thing Zidane did was take a ball out of the air and gently play it off his chest to his feet. That's all
Fernandez needed to see. Cannes signed Zizou.
There is, by all accounts, no Messi or Pele or Zidane among the dozens of players who'll be trying out at the MLS Combine. But all it
might take is one piece of magic for a player to get his name called at next Thursday's SuperDraft.
And for everyone to heed my advice: don't hug the sideline.