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