Michael Farrow's sports blog

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…on the departure of Gullit and Lalas and the arrival of Arena and Sarachan

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Dave Sarachan, Bruce Arena and Cobi Jones

Dave Sarachan, Bruce Arena and Cobi Jones - When did Cobi start resembling a butch lesbian?

Goodbye Alexi, goodbye Ruud. The LA Galaxy let Ruud Gullit go earlier this month, sending General Manager Alexi Lalas with him out the door. Whilst Gullit didn’t seem happy and wanted to go, Lalas seemed content to keep going in his third GM role with owners AEG. They wanted him gone.

Say Alexi Lalas to the lay-person and it conjures up the 1994 World Cup, long hair, beard and the folk songs. As a player and broadcaster, he was considered one of the characters of the US game. Now, after three GM jobs, I feel the prevailing view of Alexi is that of a corporate shill who has failed upwards as a sports executive. The former Galaxy defender was installed as GM of the San Jose Earthquakes, following the departure of fan’s favourite Johnny Moore. Moore searched for a new stadium and adopted an “over my dead body” stance on moving the Earthquakes to Houston which ultimately cost him his job. Alexi gleefully did their awful dirty work in San Jose, even banning the San Jose Ultras from the ground seemingly based on a personal vendetta from his playing days.

After a brief period in New Jersey, overseeing the sales of Metrostars to Red Bull, he wound up in LA, GMing the last team he played for. He’s presided over great changes but you never felt he had any impact, merely there to smile, use his charm and sell it all to the paying public. Considering this was the guy with the guitar, it all seemed a world away. Considering this is the guy who “retired” so he could leave the Wizards and join the Galaxy, I think he had a lot less soul than people thought.

Alexi can talk a good game, it’s pretty much all he can do. I expect that MLSnet or somebody will pick him up so he can do what he should have done all along; go into the commentary box or into the studio. Before he was a dreadful GM, he was actually a pretty decent commentator. However, I fear his spell with the Galaxy will have ruined any chance that he can be taken seriously as an ambassador for the game.

If reports are to be believed, Ruud Gullit was a good coach but awfully work-shy. He seemed to think things were like they were in the Premier League, with a large coaching and scouting staff to do much of his work. However, coaching in the MLS is like coaching in the lower leagues. At best, you have an assistant, a first team coach, a goalkeeping coach and an athletic trainer. Most, like Kinnear and Yallop, make do without the first team coach. Gullit was said to be lazy when he was at Chelsea and others picked up the slack. In MLS, there is nobody to pick up the slack.

Over the past few years, AEG have made a real mess of the Galaxy. They are the ones who continually use the Galaxy as the petrie dish for whatever madcap scheme they’re trying next, while they leave Houston Dynamo, their other team, to just get on with winning titles and being massively successful. This is why it was so shocking that AEG brought in Bruce Arena and gave him free reign. Writing the article before his hiring, I said that AEG should employ competent people and stay out of it, where they’d previously employ unsuitable people, constantly meddle and then whinge when things go wrong.

Since returning to MLS, Arena has been searching for the right team and the free reign to create the right role. He’s not interested in being the coach with a GM above him. He wants to be a classic English manager and being given the dual role of GM and head coach and being allowed to delegate the parts of the job he doesn’t want to do is right up his alley. I think the key appointment for Arena is appointing Dave Sarachan as “associate” head coach. As manager, he’s going to need a strong number two., thus associate head coach Sarachan, a good number 2 and an average if unlucky number 1, could well be his best signing.

However, AEG need to stay out of this. To a long-term observer of MLS, they are either the saviour or the evil empire. While AEG have been involved in this league, they have managed to acquire, or acquire the promotion rights to, several stadiums around the league. They’re now in several markets in which they did not have a presence before. They get involved in a franchise, get a stadium plan going which involves them receiving exclusive use of the stadium as an event or concert venue and when the franchise is breaking even, they sell it off at a profit and then make money from using the stadium as a concert venue. Come 2010, Houston will have a new stadium downtown, AEG will sell the remaining 50% to Brener and De La Hoya and have a nice new concert venue in downtown Houston.

The exception is the Galaxy. David Beckham can do as he pleases and travel backwards and forward to Europe and it’s tolerated because of merchandise and ticket sales. When he plays for England, he’s building brand recognition for their franchise and thus driving the franchise’s value up. They use the stadium for whatever they want, rent it out to Chivas and make money. Let’s not take our eyes off the endgame for them; it’s all about making money. Eventually they will sell the Galaxy for $500m, whilst creaming profits off the several soccer specific stadia with which they have been involved. Then people will realise what they’ve been up to all this time. This is why they can’t sit on their hands; there’s too much money at stake.

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Written by Michael Farrow

August 24, 2008 at 10:58 pm

Posted in Football

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