Well now — I’ve just finished reading — twice over — a long (nearly five pages, wow!) story about Earnie Stewart. Telling us that he is leaving his job at the U.S. Soccer Federation (where he was the Sporting Director) and returning home to the Netherlands to work for PSV Eindhoven. And telling us what a grand job Earnie has done here working on the development of soccer in the USA.
I have absolutely no quarrel with the article when it is wishing Stewart well in his new job with Eindhoven. But I have a massive problem with the article relentlessly heaping praise on Stewart for the job he did in the USA. Frankly, I cannot discern anything done by Stewart that has had any overtly positive effect on the situation here.
For a start, as one proceeds through the article it becomes pretty clear that originality does not feature among his attributes. Get an earful of this: “I think we need to develop a different type of player ... creative players who are capable of creating goal-scoring opportunities.”
Yikes! Talk about the effing obvious! How many times over the past decade or two have I heard a version of that loudly asserted as the cure-all for a continually under-performing national team?
Maybe you think Stewart should be praised for spelling it out? No, he shouldn’t. The only praise surrounding that totally unsurprising discovery will be due when someone does something about it.
Stewart, clearly, did nothing. Or if he did, he got it wrong. The problem persists. This is particularly unsatisfactory in the USA, a country surely among the world’s most resourceful when it comes to nailing problems.
When I first became involved in the sport in this country — around 1960 in New York — we (noisy, mildly belligerent groups of self-appointed experts, most of us foreigners) used to regularly moan that we needed more boys playing the sport, and more coaches.
The first of those difficulties got solved fairly quickly as the pro game — hence the Cosmos, hence Pele — led to the sudden sturdy growth of youth soccer. The second need, too, was “solved” by the creation of the coaching schools and the subsequent deluge of dubious diplomas and lightweight licenses. I say “solved” because the ubiquitous licenses have created quite as many problems as they have solved.
But the need for more skillful players was soon noticed — and that need has never been thoroughly satisfied. Stewart’s efforts to tackle the problem — if indeed he made any — are not known to me.
No matter, it seems, because Stewart is alleged to have had a vision for the future of the U.S. game. In the 5-page article (really more of an encomium) that I am referring to, that word vision crops up six times. It would seem that vision is one of Stewart’s great strengths, yet I cannot see any evidence whatever to support such a claim.
Stewart himself makes no claim to vision. But he does announce that “Development is my passion.” Which is a significant claim — but a hollow one if the development does not involve a vision. And Stewart, I insist, has no vision at all.
I can be quite certain of that, not because of anything he says, but more damagingly, because of what he leaves out.
We are back to a situation that I have been writing about for quite some time now. The place of the Hispanic soccer community in the development of the U.S. game.
I am far from impressed — indeed, I’m appalled (though not, of course, surprised) — by the bald fact that Stewart, after over three years as one of the most important people involved in soccer in this country, seems to be blithely unaware that there is a sizable Latino soccer community in this country.
In the article to which I am referring, Stewart is liberally quoted. Not once does he bring up the Latino question. The community is routinely forgotten — or is it ignored? — when it could be making an enormously significant contribution to American soccer.
The utter blindness of the ruling powers in American soccer — that is, the Federation, U.S. Soccer — on this issue has been going on for so long, that I feel quite justified in referring to it as traditional. So traditional that one might get the impression that even talking about Hispanic soccer is an embarrassing faux pas, something that just isn’t done. And done it certainly is not.
Back to that word — vision. Something that Stewart is supposed to have. More, he is praised for leaving behind him, as he returns to the Netherlands, a vision for the future of the U.S. game. A vision for the future of American soccer that doesn’t have a place for the Hispanics. An utterly slipshod vision. Quite incredible.
To deal with just one detail: I mentioned above Stewart’s cri de coeur: “I think we need to develop a different type of player ... creative players who are capable of creating goal-scoring opportunities.”
There are two reasons for regarding that statement as an inadequate response to the American problem. First: has Stewart not surveyed the global scene to discover if there is a country where such players are produced? Had he done so, he must surely have focused sharply on Brazil, long a source of brilliant attacking players for European teams who find it difficult to produce such players.
And Stewart must surely then have taken a long look at the World Champions, Argentina. A nation that is now rivaling Brazil in the number and the quality of its creative players.
Stewart, then, would perforce have realized that what the USA needed was a supply of Latin American-style creative players, the ones who create goal-scoring opportunities. And any vision he would then entertain for the American future must be built on that need.
But it is stretching matters too far to imagine Stewart coming to that conclusion. Here is the answer to Stewart’s belief in “a different type of player” — but he did not see it, of course he didn’t. If he were genuinely receptive to the idea, he would have spotted it years ago. And if he really knew about the U.S. scene, he would have realized that a wonderfully convenient breeding ground for such creative players already existed in the USA — in the Latino community.
For a few years, Stewart was in a position to make a vital contribution to American soccer. He failed totally to do this. To picture him as someone with vision is sheer claptrap. His legacy in the USA is non-existent. He achieved, and has left, nothing of great value.
In short, it is what he did not do that is so regrettable. The chance to broaden the influences on the American game — to bring in the Latin element — was lost because Stewart, far from being the visionary portrayed in the 5-page article I have before me, was in reality a narrow-minded European unable to take in the news that the USA was not part of Europe and that in the case of soccer, the Latin influence is a better bet than the European.