THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

10 November ~ We've all been trapped in social situations where the only way to fill a deathly silence is with mind-numbing small talk. Having suppressed the desire to poke yourself in the eye with a cocktail stick, you instead ask someone what they do for a living. They duly trawl out an explanation, but by the time they stop talking you still have absolutely no idea what their job is. I got the same feeling last week when Toronto FC of Major League Soccer announced that they were employing Jürgen Klinsmann's California-based company Soccer Solutions to "consult on [the] team's soccer operations and manager search".

Any time Klinsmann is linked with a club, fans and press alike become excited. Klinsmann always brings shiny new ideas, it is commonly supposed. He helped Germany start to love itself as a nation again, and all thanks to some phases of bright, attacking football against some fairly poor teams at the 2006 World Cup. He is an innovative visionary who comes at football from a refreshing angle. Or he is, as German weekly newspaper Die Zeit once called him, the "ever-smiling sunny boy with the rhetoric of an insurance rep".

What, exactly, will Soccer Solutions be doing for Toronto FC? "We're honoured to work with a football icon like Jürgen and to have access to his wealth of experience and expertise to evaluate our current operations and support our team's development," explained the team's executive vice-president Tom Anselmi in a press release. Yes, but what will he actually be doing? Working with the team's interim director of soccer (inspiring job title) Earl Cochrane and assistant general manager Jim Brennan, Klinsmann and Soccer Solutions will "objectively look at everything from players to people to processes and conduct a comprehensive search for new leadership".

Objectively looking at people and processes? Again, what does that mean? Introducing the statues of Buddha, the yoga classes and the "holistic philosophical approach" that worked so well at Bayern Munich? The press release doesn't elaborate, but the Soccer Solutions website provides further enlightenment, outlining how Bobby Moore and Pelé shaking hands at the end of Brazil v England at the 1970 World Cup shaped the company's thinking. "The symbolism of their exchange was then, and remains today, compelling. Forward and defender. South American and European. Black and White. Small village and big city suburb. Samba soccer and traditional soccer." Seriously, that's what it says.

This in turn informs the company's business philosophy: "People and cultures of the world, however different, can come together. Leadership in an organisation can come from both the front and the back. Being champion today does not guarantee being champion tomorrow. Different ‘teams' need different game plans. Relationships matter. Being a fully committed participant is exhilarating." Especially when the participant is receiving a fat cheque for trotting out vague, trite truisms with all the substance of a tabloid horoscope.

Toronto FC might have kindly overlooked the fact that the Soccer Solutions' site offers few examples of concrete results at any of its customers. The firm did once sign a contract with Tottenham Hotspur, which in 2002 employed the company "to conduct a brand development feasibility study for their club related to the US soccer market". Eight years later, and I still don't sense a massive Tottenham presence in the United States, but I may be looking in the wrong places. Or it could just be that footage of a Gareth Bale hat-trick in the San Siro on YouTube has done more for the Tottenham "brand development" than some bogus report stuffed with overblown jargon.

And yet you can't help but get the feeling that consultants will be the next wave of parasites to infest football and bleed it of yet more cash that could be going to so many better places. Just as they have already done in so many industries, these glib pedlars of piffle will be presenting earnest, smoothly delivered reports and screen after screen of Power Pointlessness to wide-eyed executives fooling themselves that they're all taking part in a revolutionary, dynamic initiative to... to do what exactly? Gloss over the game's overwhelming corruption, greed and moral bankruptcy with some lofty waffle about enhancing market positions while transcending cultural barriers across the globe?

Klinsmann's not a bad man, you might say in his defence, and he seems to mean well. But his plausible disposition and superficial cheer make me wary. At the party you shake hands with him and think you made a new friend. But when he's turned and left, you find yourself wondering: what was it that bloke said he does for a living again? Ian Plenderleith

Comments (11)
Comment by Toto Gramsciddu 2010-11-10 11:40:29

Oh, please. Klinsmnn's job is finding us a new GM, putting a scouting system in place, and developing a salary structure which isn't based on Mo handing out large checks to whichever player's agent last walked in the room. Pretty simple, beneath the waffle.

Did we need a consultant to do all this, rather than let the ownership just hire a GM and let him get on with the rest of it? Probably. The fans wouldn't trust Anselmi to butter toast at this point. Did it have to be Klinsmann, with his accompanying large price tag? No, but MLSE is sufficiently nervous about fan revolts (esp with the Final in town this month) that they felt it prudent to look as though they were sparing no expense.

Comment by PRB 2010-11-10 13:24:47

Have to agree with Toto above. I am a season ticket holder with Toronto FC and having watched the so-so standard of play on the pitch after four years under Mo Johnson and no playoff football to speak of, it was time for a change and leaving it to an ownership group who are new to the sport and not overly knowlegable about it would be foolish. They picked Mo and that didn't work out so the idea is to bring in someone who knows the game to find the right General Manager and Head Coach while tying that together with the best possible scouting network and youth setup. It makes sense.

Fans have been critical of ownership in recent months for upping the ticket prices without any results on the pitch and it forced the ownership into a series of open house meetings with fans to discuss their woes. Plenty of good has come out of it including a ticket freeze for 2012 among other things and one of these I believe is getting someone who knows the game to find the right man going forward for what is effectivly TFC starting over.

For all their criticism though the ownership have been pretty good at listening to fans. We wanted a grass pitch last year and they installed it, we wanted a North Stand and it was built, we wanted designated players and we got it and we wanted rid of Mo Johnson and he was fired. You cant have ownership bowing to every demand but in letting a football man/company fix the football side it looks like another good step because rather Klinsmann in a suit than some MLSE Exec. in a suit.

Comment by imp 2010-11-10 16:52:02

Well, I'm pleased you're pleased, and I hope he delivers what you're looking for. To me, though, bringing on 'consultants' is the last refuge of a creatively bankrupt management trying to make it look like they're doing something constructive, and then when it all goes wrong again they can blame someone else - in this case, the preposterously named Soccer Solutions. In general, smooth-talking gurus offering answers through nebulous pseudo-analyses end up getting exposed, but only after they've run off with the cash. In football, I'm worried it could turn into a trend where a new wave of parasitic salesmen exploit the incompetent while offering very little of substance to develop the game in any sense. You seriously need these guys to set up a scouting system, cut a few salaries and look for a new GM? Your club must be an absolute basket-case. Ian.

Comment by MrTuktoyaktuk 2010-11-10 18:14:45

Then again, absent Jurgen, I don't think there would have been much occasion for TFC to even warrant comment from WSC. So, at least there's that...

To your point about quick fix artists selling hope but not much in the way of concrete results, that is definitely a danger. Consultants and front offices are in a good position to pass blame back and forth when expectations aren't met.

All your concerns raised are valid and yes, its not a great direction for the game. But I have to admit I did a happy dance when Klinsi was announced, even if all he does is make some recommendations on this or that. We do love our celebrities.

Comment by Reed John 2010-11-10 19:45:18

Consultancy has a bad reputation, I'm not sure it's really always such a failure. Big companies hire executive headhunters for a reason. Is it really always such a scam? Or perhaps maybe some of them know what they're doing.

Which raises the question - why not hire one of those companies instead of an unproven outfit like Soccer Solutions? Perhaps BCG or whomever don't have soccer expertise, but is picking a football club GM really that different than any other kind of exec? You look at the backgrounds of people who have had success in other places (scouting, assistant GM, coaches, etc) and then figure out who is out there who fits that description and bring them in for interviews. I don't have an MBA and even I can figure that out.

Comment by MoJo 2010-11-10 22:29:44

LOL @ PRB. Well if they hadnt crapped the bed by exploiting anything with 2 legs off the hop it may not have come 2 this. Effectivly 4 years in, TFC fans are now dealing with being a starting out franchise, while being heartbroken instead of jubilant.

MLSE completely buggered whay should have been a great thing up, refused to accept it, cock swaggered around bragging about ticket increases, then got crushed by a very low renewal rate.

And mark my words, Pauly, unless things get better, it will only be worse next year for "the boys on the field" and the "suits in the box"

Comment by Incandenza 2010-11-11 00:07:51

Klinsmann was an advisor to the Galaxy a few years back. I don't know if his company was fully up and running then, though, and my impression was that it was more of an informal thing than any sort of contractual arrangement. The only thing I know he did for the Galaxy was advising them to sign Andy Herzog, which was a good deal for the time he was there, but there might have been more stuff behind the scenes.

My impression of Klinsmann is that by not having a full-on managerial job, more people are convinced of his expertise and wisdom than if they saw him struggling with a team. I thought his handling of telling the media that US Soccer wanted him was rather poor and immature.

Comment by PRB 2010-11-11 13:40:10

At this stage for TFC there is no harm in trying. 4 years in and nothing to show I don't see how letting un-football educated executives from a mega-rich company that also own the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, pick the next GM and coach can work. This way we might just get a football mans input. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work.

@MoJo - while we all know ticket prices have gone up a little too much lately, in many other area's MLSE have been far from the nightmare owners that many people perceve in their minds.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2010-11-12 13:28:15

Great read on a depressing subject. I used to forget about my job by watching guys like Klinsmann on the telly - and now he's become the very kind of wannabe guru jobsworth from which I used to flee at 5pm (failure to say on and work unpaid extra hours was proof of the "negative energy" I was radiating round the office).

The second "solutions" suffixes a company's name you can be sure they will only solving the various nebulous problems which they've imagined on your behalf in order to justify their existence(does absolutely no-one in Ontario read Private Eye?).

And if Jurgen's company wants another image to inspire more belief in integration why not ditch Bobby and Pele for the man who became the first Catholic in 80-odd years to play for Rangers ... Mo Johnston.

Comment by TCompton 2010-11-12 13:36:08

My guess is that Klinnsman approached TFC. I believe he really wants to take over the US National Team program, and we've all heard about how he essentially wants "total control," but has been denied it twice by the USSF. I'm sure part of the reason for it's refusal is that Klinnsman doesn't have enough legitimate references on his resume.

I know nothing about Klinnsman's managerial (not coaching) style outside of his apparent ability to anger the establishment (for good or bad).

If his "revolutionary" ideas prove to be successfully implemented with TFC, he'll be able to point to at least one success as a reason to consider him for a National team position again.

That said, when I think of "consultants," I think of them like the Chicken in the saying that goes something like: "The Chicken participate in breakfast, while the Pig was committed to it."

At the end of the day, if he fails, it's TFC that gets burned more than Klinnsman.

Comment by FCKarl 2010-11-14 05:22:49

Oh, hey, a "consultant," eh? (that's a laugher)

Remember hearing Klinnsman's analysis several times last June-July where he commented on ESPN that the German team was "just out there having fun." Anyone recall that post Aussie or England matches?

Intelligent analysis? (Take it from someone who has had years of club time in the Teutonic Land, there is no such integration of "fun" with playing a match in a German squad -- ever.)

One only hires on a "consultant" when you need to mask that you don't know what you're doing. Better idea: Fire your present people and hire reasonably competent club management & coaching -- probably for half the price Juergen K. & Co. are receiving.

The USSF has been right to not interact in any official capacity with Klinsi. For starters, his always ultra-utopian personal salary (and benefits!) demands. He is beyond delusional.

He still has no real coaching or sports franchise management experience. (FC Bayern counts for something...but not really. It is much easier to coach there for 8 months because of its tremendous infrastructure.)

Sorry, Juergen, you might have some things to like, but you ain't worth it. (particularly after the all-too-frequent bizarre statements and objectives he revealed while with FC Bayern in fall 2008 -- even though he indeed got a tremendously raw deal from Uli Hoeness and Kalle Rummenigge.)

Klinsi's success was pulling the German national team out of the doldrums post 2004 Europa Championship in Portugal. He 1) attained the services of Jogi Loew as the DFB team "brains," and 2) he 'youthified' (got rid of the older players) the squad.

But his 'success' came because he benefited tremendously from easy prey 2006 World Cup opponents like Costa Rica, Ecuador, Poland, Sweden. The only real "win" was against the very uninspiring Argentina (a PK shootout) before losing to a ho-hum Italia.

It was almost too hard to fail. In June 2006 the German public was ripe for a summer love affair with its national team and Juergen was in the right place to help the romance. (Additionally: We all know that FIFA always seems to do ALL it can to help the host nation's team along, right?)

This "consultant" relationship with Toronto will be terminated by this time next year. Something like "irreconcilable differences."

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