Not so Fantastic: Advice to the MLS from The Special One

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

Love him or hate him, you cannot ignore Jose Mourinho, because he is the proverbial moth drawn to the media spotlight. This recent FIFA International Break found the Special One in the United States as he prepared for the World Football Challenge, which will be occurring here this summer. While paving the way for Inter Milan’s first appearance in the United States in 40 years, Mourinho took some time to talk to the press about a variety of topics, including the MLS and the state of soccer in the U.S.

On the whole, it seems that Mourinho has a much more realistic view on the state of the Beautiful Game in the U.S. then a number of pundits and journalists on both sides of the Atlantic.

“I’ve been quite impressed. I lost a game with Chelsea to an MLS team, they lacked precision but showed enough quality. I think it’s good for American football when some of the boys play in Europe – and they’re playing every week in the Premiership, in the Bundesliga. Their inclusion is good for them, good for the [US] national team because then they go back to the national team and bring the experience of high level football in Europe. MLS loses without the best talent, they go down, the players go to Europe, they leave MLS, but you cannot have everything at the same time.”

Mourinho stated that he watched last year’s MLS Cup and found it to be enjoyable. He understands that one of the problems facing soccer in the US is that the sporting culture of this country revolves around baseball, American football, and basketball, and it is not easy to compete with these sports. But, the U.S. is a country built on immigrants and there are large communities in the U.S. that love soccer, and it is those communities that need to be invested in, presumably, by the MLS and US Soccer.

I agree with Mourinho that the MLS’s focus for fan growth should be on the existing soccer fans in this country, not just the immigrant communities but all of the native born who get up early on the weekends to watch the Premier League and other foreign leagues. Something Don Garber initially recognized when he took on the role of Commissioner of the MLS. Of late though, it seems that MLS on the whole has lost sight of this concept and it’s only the media and marketing savvy teams pursuing this goal. I can understand someone who has never watched soccer having no interest in the MLS, but people who follow football teams in Europe, Mexico, South America, Asia, etc., should be given a reason to go to a local MLS or USL match.

According to Mourinho, the MLS should not invest in just one big name player from Europe, like David Beckham, but rather the MLS needs to bring in two real players from Europe for each MLS team and several coaches from Europe. What’s interesting is that Mourinho initially talks about the MLS having to do this without controlled budgets or financial walls. He believes that the MLS needs to view this as an investment in its future. On first blush, it seems that Mourinho is advocating that the MLS follow the path forged by the NASL, but then he goes on to state that the players and coaches who come to the MLS need to come here with the goal of making an impact on the sport here in the U.S., of growing the game, not with the goal of making a bunch of money then going back home. To sum it up, Mourinho states: “People coming here must have the mentality of give more than receive. More worry about giving and not going home with pockets full of money.” (Don’t worry, it isn’t lost on me that Mourinho is taking a shot at Beckham too.)

I like Mourinho’s thinking, but I fear that in this world the almighty Dollar, Euro, or Pound is the driving force. Maybe, one day, there will be some players willing to come to the US for the primary purpose of growing the Beautiful Game on our shores, but I fear those players might be in the twilight of their careers, with little gas left in their tanks.

The more interesting component of Mourinho’s statement is his suggestion that the MLS bring in more coaches from Europe. I suspect Mourinho was thinking that more MLS teams should be coached by Europeans, but I would prefer it if the coaches brought in from Europe are brought here not as head coaches, but as assistants who can work with MLS players on their technical skills and soccer IQs. Instead of spending a large amount of money on bringing over head coaches, such as Mourinho, who would have too many difficulties adjusting to the financial and bureaucratic constraints on acquiring players and building a squad, the MLS would be smart to lure aware coaches/teachers from the youth academies or lower rungs of the European coaching hierarchy. These coaches could focus on developing and enhancing the skill sets of the MLS players without having to worry about the big picture issues of fielding an MLS team.

It is refreshing to see that someone with the stature of Jose Mourinho has paid attention to the MLS, can be critical without bashing the game here, and can provide serious suggestions on what can be done to grow the game in the US. Some diehard fans of the MLS might not appreciate everything Mourinho has said, but his comments should not be ignored. There is still work to be done on growing the MLS’s stature in the U.S., some of that work needs to be done by the people drawing paychecks from the MLS and some of that needs to be done by the fans of not just the MLS, but of the Beautiful Game. I really do not care if the MLS ever achieves the stature of the NFL or MLB, but I do want the league to reach a point where nobody can seriously call it a Mickey Mouse league ever again.

In the end, Mourinho stated:

“To come here – we have nothing to learn from you about our game – we have nothing to learn. But we have a lot to learn from you about sports. Not about our sport, but about sports and about sports organizations, sports investments, sports marketing, sports merchandising. We have everything to learn from you.”

Well, in exchange for teaching the rest of the world about the business of sports, let’s be willing to let them teach us about improving the product on the pitch. I think that would be a fair trade. The history of the Beautiful Game in the U.S. is long, proud, and oft forgotten. Let us not be too proud to ignore the criticism and advice from The Special One.

20 thoughts on “Not so Fantastic: Advice to the MLS from The Special One”

  1. I think that Jose Mourinho was stating what the league needs to do to be taken more seriously and more specifically some of the changes he feels would be needed for European managers and coaches to come to MLS. I do think that spending exorbitant sums of money on one player is not very wise because so many different things can happen. I think MLS should focus on targeting USL players before trying to lure all of these European players.

  2. So who are the people who say things opposite of what Jose did? He sounds like pretty much everyone with a realistic point of view. I cannot count this site among that group.

  3. European players have generally been busts in MLS.

    I’d stick to Latin players, African players, Asian players, Kiwis. Hungry players from other parts of the globe who won’t come here and preach to us how its done in Europe, whine about the types of training and then give half an effort on the field.

    If we had no European players or coaches MLS would probably be better than ever.

  4. people who follow football teams in Europe, Mexico, South America, Asia, etc., should be given a reason to go to a local MLS or USL match.

    Why isn’t “support your local team” enough of a reason?

    The Eurosnobs shouldn’t be allowed to get away with the “it’s not good enough” dodge. I’m writing this on Final Four weekend, and I haven’t heard anyone say they won’t be watching it because “it’s not as good as the NBA”. Everyone understands there’s a difference, and they accept the college game for what it is. For some reason, a chunk of America’s soccer fandom can’t do that, and the rest of us aren’t challenging them on it.

  5. I also think a problem with getting young players involved is money. Peole never seem to realize that Arod and Kobe make more money in salary then Kaka,Messi,Ronaldo. There arent any english rugby players making as much money as top english footballers. Europeans dont reallize that football in this country competes against sports that can make you filthy rich, unlike in most European countries where its basically football and thats it.

  6. Jose you have never sounded more reasonable. Looking for a coaching job in LA soon. Remember that you have no real success unless your a hit in America. Ask Beckham.

  7. Jose you have never sounded more reasonable. Looking for a coaching job in LA soon. Remember that you have no real success unless your a hit in America. Ask Beckham.
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

  8. Kartik, you have an excellent point about using foreign coaches in roles that allow them to contribute their technical knowledge without having to worry about team building and whole team psychology in MLS. Individual players can always learn better technique from anyone who knows technique. Foreign head coaches often fail because they have a hard time adjusting to the unique circumstances of our league and the game as a whole.


  9. Enough already! Just fold that Mickey Mouse League once and for all. Watch the REAL major leagues on weekends and make road trips to the foreign football matches.

    Garber’s league is s**t. I’m sick of hearing 10000 ways to improve it. It’s been 13 years already. Put it out of its misery.

  10. Dude, to be honest, it’s a damn good league for the salary restrictions that are enforced. When fringe national team members will be able to stay in the league, and get the same amount of money in Scandinavia, the league will get better. I still think young talent should go abroad though. If they don’t find playing time, come back to prove your talent. More and more players are doing that now.

  11. @Lars: How do you expect us to take your league seriously when…

    1) It’s called “major league”, when we ALL know it is NOT a major league. Who are they trying to kid?

    2) You call football by its outdated Cockney nickname. That’s ridiculous, don’t you think? Further proof of its MickeyMouseness.

    3) Your league did horribly in the CONCACAF CL.

    I and many others simply laugh at your league and your football. TBQH, I would stick to the other American sports if I were you, they are more suited for your fast food culture.

  12. “Why isn’t ‘support your local team’ enough of a reason?”

    I feel like I have a responsibility as an American soccer fan to support our domestic league, but the league constantly tries my patience, especially during the summer months, good god. The fact is the MLS is often painful to watch. Especially when I have to watch LA and Toronto’s back lines duck out of the way of ball en route to their own nets.

  13. How do I expect you to take our league seriously? I don’t. I could give two shits what a non-North American thinks about MLS.

  14. If that guy is on here, he’s from America. Or an idiot with too much time. Either way, to me, it’s important to (through slow development) show European clubs and leagues that eventually we will be a great league and prove ourselves. That accomplishes two things: we have top players in their prime coming to play in America and the Americans will slowly come to support our teams. It’s not possible to do it the other way around, because American sports fans have no dedication, and if a team has one bad season, no one will show up.

  15. Honestly it’s those of us who have watched this league from the beginning that are most dismissive of it. Some of the early promises still haven’t been met and the league is further and further off course than ever. Give me a circa 2000 MLS and I am happy. Give me today’s MLS and I will bitch. Got it?

  16. Eric:

    Your comment indicates that it might be time to set Garber loose and bring in a new Commish. It’s Garber’s early push to make the rules of MLS more in line with the rest of the world that got you 2000. Maybe he has overstayed his welcome and it is time for someone with both a business and a soccer background to take over MLS.

  17. Why does MLS not allow you to create a youth team and sign as many players as you want? They dont allow teams to train young talent, but they keep on expanding the amount of teams. This leaves you with less quality players on each team and sub par quality.

  18. “Your comment indicates that it might be time to set Garber loose and bring in a new Commish. It’s Garber’s early push to make the rules of MLS more in line with the rest of the world that got you 2000. Maybe he has overstayed his welcome and it is time for someone with both a business and a soccer background to take over MLS.”

    Unfortunately thanks to the league’s protectionist measures such people do not exist in the MLS.

    Maybe Jose might be interested in the position.

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