In Limbo: Arena Mouths Off
|by Tim Froh|
Ah, Bruce Arena. His dramatic rise and fall in the estimations of American soccer fans was practically Shakespearian. Where once he could no wrong, now every word he speaks is scrutinized. Some call him a hypocrite, others an egomaniac, and still others a ruthless opportunist. For some fans, he has become the arch-enemy of American soccer, whose bitter musings are the marks of a man driven mad by the bruising of his own ego. But who exactly is Bruce Arena, and more importantly, is what he says true?
When reading through his recent interview with Grant Wahl, one is struck almost immediately by his supercilious, cynical tone. Comments such as, "Let me tell you this: I wasn't convinced I would come back if they wanted me back," demonstrate Arena's arrogance at its very worst. This was a man who gave every indication that he wanted to come back to the job after the U.S. lost to Ghana in the World Cup. And honestly, who could blame him for wanting to redeem his legacy? He feels that American soccer reached its apotheosis during his tenure as coach (a sentiment that National Teamer Bobby Convey disagrees with). He tells Grant: "Oh yeah. They're going to win the next World Cup, from what I'm told. So I wish them the best. Because we did so poorly over the last eight years, I'm sure they're going to win the next World Cup." He even goes as far as saying, "I've probably showed them the finest eight years of the national team they're going to see for a long time."
But for all his faults, Arena is outspoken about the problems that face American soccer. He rightfully distrusts the relationship between MLS, US Soccer, and their advertisers. When Grant brings up the new MLS television contracts, Arena is quick to point out that the league's first focus should be raising the standard of play. He's said what many fans have said: raise the quality of play and many of those stay-at-home soccer fans will start watching. Most importantly though, Bruce recognizes a good thing when he sees it. The Red Bulls organization, which has at times struggled in its first year as owner, is good for the league and good for the sport and has invested too much money to suddenly cut their losses and run.
The anger that has been directed towards Arena since the World Cup by American soccer fans is understandable, if not somewhat regrettable. While fans claim that Arena's adherence to his 4-5-1 formation was a surprise, it shouldn't have been. On the South American program Los Technicos, Arena revealed his line-up several months in advance of the World Cup. Fans had the opportunity to question and criticize those tactics then, but only a few did. Indeed, Arena's rigidity as a tactician got the better of him, but fans ought not hate Arena for what were seven and a half years of quality service to US Soccer. All sports fans (myself included) are fickle. We loved Arena's loud mouth when we were winning, but were disgusted when he refused to take the blame for the U.S. Team's failures in Germany. Sometimes, you just have to take the good with the bad.
Recent rumors have DaMarcus Beasley returning to MLS to play with Real Salt Lake, while West Bromwich Albion of the English Championship have supposedly offered MLS two million dollars for Eddie Johnson of the Kansas City Wizards.
Who would've thought that of American soccer's so-called "golden generation," the player that would emerge as its most mature and dedicated would be Bobby Convey? Santino Quaranta has suffered through a career plagued by immature personal choices, injuries, and squandered opportunities. Eddie Johnson, who still has the chance to turn his fortunes around, suffered a horrible foot injury, the long-term psychological effects of which are still hurting his game today. Landon Donovan, Clint Mathis, and now perhaps DaMarcus Beasley, have all returned from Europe, tail firmly between their legs.
Beasley though, who in recent months has seen the quality of his play diminish, and who seems more and more depressed as time goes by, could perhaps use the return home. His time at PSV, once filled with Champions League glory and a career-high goals tally, seems to be coming to an end. Like Convey, he could try to stick it out and raise his game with the hope of securing a transfer to another European club. His problems may not be physical though, but mental. A DUI arrest last year and a long distance relationship, and a difficult and heavily criticized World Cup would certainly demonstrate that something's not right with Beasley. If a move back to MLS will help DaMarcus recover physically and emotionally, then more power to him.
As for Eddie Johnson, there's only one thing that MLS can do: sell. Who cares whether the situation is right? That anyone is still willing to offer two million dollars for Johnson after a disappointing World Cup and MLS season is remarkable. Johnson supposedly rejected the five million dollar deal offered by Portugese club Benfica last year. He'd be unwise to do so now. Yes, West Brom is a Championship club, but it's also one keen on returning to the Premiership, and one that would provide an opportunity for Eddie to prove that he really is a "grown ass man" and not an immature kid.