I always get asked about my opinion on United and the Premier League when I’m in the US, and when I’m in the UK, I’m often asked what I feel about the game in North America and how it’s developed. This time around, with the States doing so well in the World Cup, that too has got plenty of attention.
“What is the mood like in America, what’s the reaction been?”, I have been asked. But when you’ve been around it for so long, you find it a lot tougher to give the kind of sweeping generalisations which people want you to give. I had to hold back from giving an opinion straight away because there is too much of a tendency to be knee jerk about these things.
I thought that Jurgen Klinsmann sent a very strong message before the competition by dropping Landon Donovan. Jurgen’s a football man and made that decision for football reasons. You don’t just take big names and be done with it. You could even argue that Klinsmann was one step ahead of Roy Hodgson in that respect but that’s for another day. And of course Jurgen was proven right.
There was a lot of coverage to focus on what the US achieved and rightly so but to me it seemed like a hypocritical message to continue to run the MLS at the same time. I noticed that Seattle faced Portland in the US Open Cup just a week after the US were eliminated from the World Cup. The priorities don’t seem to be in the right order.
That brings me on to the other thing I’m asked most often, and that’s about how the grass roots development is coming along. Anyone familiar with the set up in the USA will know it’s a class based development system which frustrates me no end. Football isn’t a middle class sport, it should be enjoyed by everyone. I do as much as I can to coach kids all over the country and I believe it should be made accessible to all… I try and give them a better understanding of the game the way I believe it ought to be understood, which is part of the reason for the tours I bring over to England twice a year.
Near to me there have been developments with Orlando City and the Miami franchise headed by David Beckham but I’ll hold my breath on that score. One thing I will say is that Orlando City are a perfect example of what’s holding the game back in the country – not because of anything to do with the club, but the structure of the competitions. There should be a more conventional promotion and relegation system but money talks. Priorities, again. And until that is sorted out then you won’t get a natural, healthy love for the sport.
What I will say is what I’ve said to everyone else – it’s getting there. There’s no point misleading everyone and saying that football is suddenly the number one sport because it isn’t. There’s no point saying that kids are doing what we did when we were young because the system makes it pointless.
More and more we’re seeing the kids who want to be the next Tim Howard come over to England and try their luck with clubs over here. Whenever I come over there are always Premier League clubs wanting to take a look at some of the kids I bring over and that’s great, but it should be done back in the US. I have no problem with providing that platform for kids but I’m just one man doing what he can – the game needs clubs and the system pulling in the right direction for the right kind of change, and that is for the numerous facets in the sport which need to develop.
So while I say it’s getting there, I don’t stop and pat everyone on the back for a job well done, let’s all go home. I say, “Show me what you can do next”. Thankfully for the States they’ve got a coach in charge who knows what he’s doing. But it should be more than just his playing squad who should be listening to him.