The Mess Gulati Made

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 | View Comments
The President of the U.S. Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati answers a question from a reporter at a news conference in Irene June 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder  (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

With Bob Bradley signed up for another four years, and the federation claiming he's the best guy to take the program forward, Gulati and Co. were made to look silly by the comments of a certain German legend they've danced with before.

In an interview with Sacha Victorine for the Kansas City broadcast of the Wizards game with Chivas USA, Klinsmann laid it all out.  He met with US Soccer.  Verbal agreements were reached.  The legal aspects of the deal ultimately killed it, with Klinsmann rejected the job over the level of technical control.

Especially because, just like in 2006, US Soccer's Plan B is one Robert Bradley.  Good old Bob, always ready to step up with Sunil Gulati's white whale slips through his fingers.

On the PR front, Gulati has undoubtedly erred.  Klinsmann is controlling the message, and the US Soccer chief's "no comment" only serves to give the impression that he botched another chance to sign Klinsmann.  American fans who are either disenchanted with Bradley or felt all along that Klinsmann should be in charge are apoplectic.  Confidence in the federation, despite a decent showing at the World Cup by American standards, might be at an all time low.

Perhaps most important, from practical standpoint and with the USS Klinsi having set sail, is how Bradley processes the news that once again he was second choice.  In one regard, this is not 2006; back then, Bradley had yet to prove himself, hadn't won a game as the US manager, and was just an available (and respected) American coach ready to step in at the last moment.  Now, Bradley has a track record, has won important games as the man in charge, and led the US to a World Cup group win for the first time in the modern era.  To be second choice again cannot sit well with his ego.

Of course, that conclusion is predicated on taking everything Klinsmann said to Sacah Victorine at face value.  There doesn't seem to be a reason he would like or stretch the truth, and with no comment from Gulati to refute him, it's we have no reason not to, but nothing is ever simple with this guy, this organization, and the continued long-ago-tired effort to bring him in as manager.

Does Bradley forge ahead, unconcerned that he's been flat out dissed?  Never mind "does he" because he's a professional, and certainly will make every attempt to; how about "can"?  Or perhaps "can he effectively" is more appropriate, because it would be unreasonable to think that Bradley is completely unaffected.  For all of his stoic demeanor, he is human after all.

Gulati's gravest mistake wasn't in not getting Klinsmann, as Frank Dell'Apa believes, it was in mishandling the situation to the point of poisoning Bob Bradley's second term.   Klinsmann is not a magician.  In fact, there are very real reasons to believe that he's ill-equipped to handle the US job.  His resume is shiny with German success, but he hasn't worked since being sacked at Bayern Munich, and questions remain over just how much of Germany's run in the 2006 World Cup was his doing.  The Jogi Loew factor cannot be ignored.

So now, instead of having a fairly successful coach entering his second cycle with a mandate to take the program forward and build on 2010 progress, US Soccer has a coach hamstrung by questions (again) about his status as second choice.  When the team returns to the field in just a few weeks in Chicago and Philadelphia, focus won't be on the team Bradley chooses or how he sets them out.  Instead, attention will naturally fall on Bradley's tenuous position, US Soccer's second go-round with Juergen Klinsmann, and Gulati's refusal to address what is now a very public mess.

Whether US Soccer should have bowed to Klinsman's demands is different question. It appears Gulati promised (again, provided we buy what Klinsmann is selling) more than he could deliver. For some, refusing to give up the control the German wanted was a smart move. For others, like the aforementioned Dell'Apa, the decision not to do so reveals a lack of sophistication. The truth it probably somewhere in between, and perhaps it behooves Gulati to give the public a bit of insight.

The shroud of secrecy is doing no one any good, and that includes Bob Bradley.
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