Vieira appointment could forge new MLS path for European coaches


The conventional wisdom in recent years around Major League Soccer has been to employ head coaches with some kind of North American soccer experience. Whether that’s as a former player or college coach, clubs have preferred to appoint candidates with some familiarity with the league. The thinking has been that these coaches can get the best from their respective teams, as they understand the intricacies and labours of MLS.

New York City FC have now gone against that grain by hiring Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira as manager. The Frenchman’s hiring, promoted from within due to the team’s connectios with English Premier League side Manchester City, should be seen as a landmark moment for MLS. Not since Ruud Gullit’s ill-fated hiring at LA Galaxy has such a high-profile former player entered the league as a coach.

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Vieira’s coaching career has been one of humble beginnings compared with some former players that are thrust into management following retirement. Even former NYCFC manager Jason Kreis became a head coach immediately after hanging up his boots. The former striker retired in May 2007 and promptly took over for former coach John Ellinger on the Real Salt Lake bench. Two seasons later, Kreis’ RSL lifted the MLS Cup.

Prior to this week’s appointment, Vieira had spent all of his coaching career working with Manchester City’s reserves and Elite Development Squad, a fancy name for the club’s youth team. Under Vieira, the EDS captured the 2015 Premier League International Cup, and the players he has helped develop can be seen in both the US and Europe due to various loan deals struck by the Citizens. Currently, the ‘next’ Paul Pogba, France under-19 international Olivier Ntcham, is on loan at Italy’s Genoa, while closer to home, Manchester City loaned both Shay Facey and Angelino to NYCFC. Both made tremendous contributions to the MLS team in 2015. The three Manchester City EDS alumni are just a small sample size of Vieira’s work at the Etihad Campus in Manchester, and all three are now gaining first team experience to build on what was learned from the former Manchester City midfielder.

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Taking nothing away from Kreis or the other former MLS players turned coaches, an influx of European educated managers could greatly help the league develop. The argument that coaches without MLS playing experience fail to understand MLS’ rules is a simple cop out. With a general manager working hand in hand, a European coach working on team development and tactics would further player growth, giving a GM the opportunity to piece together a squad while tiptoeing the lines of MLS rules. If MLS clubs continue to look at Europe or South American for designated players to shape and improve teams, it’s time the same is done in management.

Recently, former US men’s national team player and Borussia Dortmund reserve team coach David Wagner joined English Championship team Huddersfield. One couldn’t help but think MLS clubs missed out on the German-American. Although prior to his appointment at Huddersfield, few knew of the coach who played a mere eight times for the US during Steve Sampson’s national team reign from 1996-1998. Yet a coach like Wagner, with a specific ideology for playing soccer, would change the landscape of faceless counterattacking or long ball soccer.

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The league can bring in as many designated players as it wants. However, if coaches with fresh ideas and methodologies aren’t brought into the league as well, MLS will suffer. Vieira has the opportunity to change the tactical and development problems of MLS by implementing his approach into an expensively assembled team.

Just as Jason Kreis influenced the former player straight into management trend, his exit from the NYCFC hotseat may usher in the return of the European educated coach. Vieira’s success still depends on results, but just signing the former French international shows one MLS club is thinking outside the box.

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  1. Tony Butterworth November 11, 2015
  2. Kei November 11, 2015

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