Monday, June 28, 2010

Dear Mr. Gulati:

After writing a derivative and unimaginative postmortem of the USMNT experience in the 2010 World Cup that provided the ages of various players, I am happy to pen yet another pointless piece about the national team.

As part of my month of soccer book reading, I am working my way through Brad Friedel's "Thinking Outside the Box." As Paul Kimmage observed in The Times two years ago, if you can get over the ponderous start to the book, it is a worthwhile read. Friedel is a thoughtful and relatively candid storyteller and the book reads as a rather clinical study of how to approach a career as a professional. He neither sugarcoats the mundane details of the work required to be at the top of his game nor does he attribute his achievements to divine providence.

Of particular interest at the moment is Friedel's thoughts on former teammate and manager Mark Hughes. Friedel appears to have a large amount of respect for Hughes. He contrasts Hughes with his predecessor at Rovers, Graeme Souness, by deeming Sparky an "improver" and Souness an "importer." Friedel argues that Hughes' tenure as the head coach of Wales taught him the need to get the most out of the players in the squad and emphasizes the changes that Hughes brought to Blackburn (like the introduction of ProZone and other regular, routine metrics for evaluating performance and development).

The thought of Hughes as a potential candidate for the USMNT gaffer position would seem ridiculous -- it is a far cry from the resources he had available at Manchester City and a remarkable distance from the English Premier League -- but Hughes' current dalliance with the Dubai club Al Ahli would seem to indicate that such a job might not be terribly unattractive. I doubt that anyone in the U.S. Soccer Federation would seriously entertain even approaching Mark Hughes for the position (there is a far better chance of BB keeping the job than Hughes being recruited), but I would at least hope that he is considered as a possible option. Under Hughes, Blackburn performed better than the talent on the team would have forecasted. Hughes has previously expressed an interest in returning to "international management" albeit with England and at a more advanced age and he is therefore clearly not ignorant of the demands of national team coaching.

Hughes' time with Man City is not terribly informative of any shortcomings he has as a coach, insofar as his reign coincided with a tumultuous era at the club with heightened expectations and a lot of overpaid dead weight on the roster. However, Hughes has been criticized as tactically deficient and too committed to a management staff of familiar friends (the Welsh mafia). But these concerns are muted a bit by the deficiencies of other realistic candidates that may be available. They could be further mitigated by the introduction of Friedel -- tipped to be a future football coach himself -- as part of the coaching staff.

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