Commentary

The first 100 days: Advice to the next U.S Soccer president

Looking at the title, one might think that I am presumptuous, arrogant and even pompous. I have listened to all eight candidates in Philadelphia during the United Soccer Coaches Convention and met a few of them in person. All of them have different levels of understanding on how to run a federation. All of them are highly knowledgeable about soccer. All of them are very respectable people in the society and in our soccer world.

I have been involved at different levels in the executive management of a prominent soccer Federation for 13 years; first as the director of referee instruction and the head of refereeing in the 1990s. In the 2000s, I worked as the advisor to the president, then as the director of soccer development and finally as the secretary General of the Turkish soccer federation. I worked with four different presidents, including the legendary Senes Erzik. I also attended numerous international soccer meetings, including AGMs in UEFA and FIFA. I was involved in numerous national AGMs and I know the pressure and drama lived prior to AGMs with a presidential election. As far as I know, Hank Steinbrecher and I are the only former secretary generals of a prominent soccer federation who are living in the USA; though Hank’s tenure is considerably longer than mine.  So I believe I am entitled to advise the presidential candidates with regards to what they should expect in the first 100 days and how they can overcome some of the problems intrinsic to our soccer world in those first 100 days from the perspective of someone who has lived through similar processes.

As the readers of Soccer America know, I have been criticizing the status quo in my articles. If you need radical change in any system, you have to look at the status quo and see what can be changed to reach your goal. 

All candidates should know and I believe they do why this election is taking place. This election is not the result of a business failure; on the contrary U.S. Soccer is extremely successful on the business side, though I have to remark that the current budget of over $100 million  is hardly sufficient for the federation to satisfy its mission. One has to compare the size of the country, its population, its GDP and the number of registered players with other similar countries who are at the top of FIFA rankings. We have to increase our player base while developing top-level world-class players, coaches and referees in both genders with a transparent and inclusive governance style in the Federation; this is the reason why this election is taking place. This is not my idea; it is the common perception of all candidates why we are having this election.

I also personally believe that soccer is not business; it is a passion and a sport before one can call it an entertainment business. Otherwise, you cannot explain why so many clubs in Europe spend millions of dollars in soccer and except for a few most of them are in the red, although that is not how soccer (or football, baseball, basketball) is perceived in the USA. Here it is primarily a business from the professional leagues to the fractured youth landscape. Changing this approach will be extremely difficult if not impossible. One should not forget that in order for any president to reach its goal of developing top level players, coaches and referees she/he would need considerable finance. Attacking and trying to change the business side of status quo radically will not help the new president’s or the federation’s mission. My first advice is to suggest that the changes she/he will implement should not hurt the business side of soccer -- on the contrary, the changes should enhance the finances of the Federation.

The first action of the new president should be to convince Dan Flynn to continue his function as secretary general/CEO for at least a couple of years more. Flynn, who has a long tenure of 17 years, represents the corporate memory of the federation. I have never heard anything negative about Flynn from anyone. I met Flynn in Philadelphia for the first time. There and then, I realized the importance of this secretary general to our soccer establishment. The candidates should not even fantasize about other alternatives.

The very next step would be to understand where we stand for the 2026 bid. The new President should get a briefing from the staff about the soccer-political relations we have built for the bid as well as identifying and recognizing the key contacts in international soccer. She/he should meet with the bid committee right after the Election Day. Although about a year ago the USA-Mexico-Canada bid looked like a big favorite over Morocco, the current political climate does not indicate that. The election will be by all 200 plus members of FIFA and it will be an open vote. Let us not forget that -- except maybe for 40-50 countries -- the federations are not autonomous like one would like to think. Those countries might have to vote according to the directives of the political establishment in their country. Although big sponsors and FIFA would very much like the 2026 World Cup in North America, the political climate in Washington, D.C., and the world might dictate otherwise. Losing the 2026 bid might be more harmful to U.S. Soccer than not going to Russia. So winning the 2026 bid must be the primary agenda for the first 100 days

In the first 100 days, the new president should identify the mechanisms through which the new USMNT head coach will be selected. This mechanism should be as inclusive as possible. After executing the selection mechanism, the USMNT head coach should be appointed and announced to the public.

Most presidential candidates announced various new professional positions like the general manager and director of diversity. Without waiting too long to identify the correct organizational chart through an organizational development process, these positions should be filled in the first 100 days. Both the general manager and director of diversity are extremely important positions that must be filled immediately. My experience showed me that delaying these appointments for whatever reason might end up with procrastination. Also the concept of general manager in the American sports industry indicates to a position that hires coaches and players. Although there is a need for a general manager to select coaches for various NTs, the selection process itself is as important. What U.S. Soccer needs is a chief soccer officer (CSO) working alongside the CEO. This person will be responsible for the development of the game at all levels; youth through the structure of professional leagues; coaching through refereeing; futsal, beach soccer though Paralympic soccer. Along with a successful business model already in place the CSO should create a development plan working closely with all the stakeholders and constituents of the federation. Although identifying and appointing the correct CSO in the first 100 days might a very ambitious goal, still the process should be started.

Towards the end of the first 100 days, the process of developing a four-year strategic-plan should commence. The strategic plan is of vital importance to any administration; it should be a process which should be inclusive and the end results should be transparent so that Administration can be accountable to the stakeholders of USA soccer. 

These are some of the things I would advise to the new president for the first 100 days of her/his presidency. Needless to say, the new president should identify other areas of priority for the first 100 days from her/his perspective. I hope that my advice can help the transformation of our federation to one of the best in the world. We definitely need change and one should not think that this change was initiated by our loss in Trinidad & Tobago. Unfortunately, the problems of the development of the game were deeper and older than most people would like to think. The business success of U.S. Soccer camouflaged the fact that we were not developing players, coaches and referees at a level we should and could. The loss in Trinidad & Tobago helped us to see what is under the camouflage.

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.

 
6 comments about "The first 100 days: Advice to the next U.S Soccer president".
  1. Wooden Ships, February 2, 2018 at 1:53 p.m.

    Provided change does take place, not going to Russia, will be the silver lining. Problems inherent in our system will have continued. I am also far more interested in adhering to the international game, standards and calendar. Pro-rel, training-compensation as you’ve stated are requisite to actual change. Winning the World Cup bid doesn’t hold the same fancy for me. If we get it fine, if not fine. I’d hate to imagine that hosting would be our best chance of competing in one again. Also, Wynalda is maverick enough to actually make a diversity appointment real. For the last 50 years, diversity, inclusion (into the club) and outreach have been lip service.

  2. Craig Cummings, February 3, 2018 at 8:47 p.m.

    I have to reject the  Pro-Rel thery  Wooden Ships with all  due respect as my LA Galaxy would  be an USL team next season or as of now this comming season. MR. A would not be a happy camper.

  3. Bob Ashpole, February 5, 2018 at 8:56 a.m.

    Ahmet, excellent article and excellent advice.

    The need to split management of soccer from business is something I feel strongly about. I especially like your suggestion of a CSO. The change is about increasing focus within the organization on the sport itself, not a criticism of any existing managers.

    I don't put too much weight on what the candidates say about changes before election. The politically correct move would be for them to suggest bland changes that do not antagonize anyone while apprearing to be progressive. They seem to be following that pattern.  

  4. R2 Dad, February 5, 2018 at 9:16 p.m.

    Thanks for your contribution to this discussion, AG.

    "Here it (soccer) is primarily a business from the professional leagues to the fractured youth landscape. Changing this approach will be extremely difficult if not impossible." And yet this change is necessary. To recognize it is difficult should not be justification for avoiding to do it, or acceptance of this status quo. I read the same thing about how big our country is and thus how difficult it is to implement any change across the board. At some point we have to get on with progress towards the goal(s). I believe that point is now. Your advice not to revise the professional side of things may be prudent, but I'd like to see a roadmap from the president of US Soccer giving all those MLS owners 20 years to make hay, pay off their stadia, and/or sell their team (but not move them). If 20 years isn't enough time for pro-rel, then have the owners counter with their own timetable. But soccer supporters in this country are owed a vision of the future and how to get there, and MLS won't offer this up unless their feet are to the fire. US Soccer should be able to sort out D2 and D3 in a couple of years without having leagues fail/flounder. Teams are changing leagues because of inherent instability driven by MLS. Once MLS is no longer king-maker cities won't have to worry whether their clubs will fail due to national soccer politics. This MUST be fixed NOW. Don Garber will never do this voluntarily, but hopefully the next president won't be another MLS toady.

    Same thing with the Nats program. All this cloak and dagger about who is coaching which teams, who is promoted, who is sacked--this is all done without the consent and/or approval of the soccer community. There is no transparency; coaches with little/no professional experience/skill with little to offer are still routinely coaching U teams (google Kenny Arena Nepotism). The system has failed at the top and thus Americans have the right to demand change because the insiders have failed. Turn them out and start from scratch. A clean sheet with fresh eyes will allow new faces who have proven themselves but are currently shut out of the Nats old boy/girl network. Sunil, Arena and all the rest keep saying everyting is just fine, but they've failed--should we still tak their word for it?  Because of the lack of transparency the system has lost the trust of the public. (The women's side, incidentally, is not exempt--in fact, they have more to lose and further to fall than the men, yet still make retrograde appointments: https://www.soccerwire.com/blog-posts/shawhan-the-depressing-cynicism-of-the-u-s-u-20-womens-national-team/).

  5. Alan Gay, February 7, 2018 at 9:44 p.m.

    I get the "pro" side of the pro/rel debate, but I also note that all the big European leagues are dominated year after year by a few clubs, many of them now owned as "trophies" by some non-resident fat cat.  Surely there is the occasional Leicester City, but it doesn't last long.  So do we want an MLS more like the NBA, or do we want the parity that is more like the NFL (dang Patriots excluded until TB retires)?  Parity is driven by salary caps, without which we don't get a 28 team MLS.  But with the caps, all 28 teams truly have a chance, not just a theoretical chance.   And owners who will drive the game forward (like Arthur Blank) aren't going to invest with a salary cap if there is relegation.  Just not going to happen.

  6. R2 Dad, February 9, 2018 at 9:47 p.m.

    Maybe Germans have the best idea as it relates to league & team ownership:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/50%2B1_rule

Next story loading loading..