Club of Cantona and Pelé enter the second tier
19 July ~ The New York Cosmos are back. What's more, the latest manifestation of the franchise have plans to play some football matches. Last Thursday the club announced they will be playing in the NASL (North America's second division) from 2013. Many of the facts have yet to be clarified and this team are a very different proposition to the much-loved and mythologised original club. But, by joining a league, the new organisation have already gone one better than the hubristic regime headed by ex-Spurs vice-chairman Paul Kemsley until 2011. Many fans are already very excited about seeing a Cosmos team play again.
Kemsley had several unpleasant habits, such as not delivering on some very bold promises, getting into financial scrapes, betting on the Lehman Brothers collapse and appearing on The Apprentice. His stewardship was more about selling expensive merchandise and featuring Eric Cantona on huge hoardings in Times Square than playing any football. Even his shirt flogging had gone awry when Cosmos shirts started appearing with 30 per cent off in TJ Maxx (the discount retailer known as TK Maxx in the UK).
Following Kemsley's departure in October, the club was left under the shared ownership of Sela Sports, a consortium from Saudi Arabia, and the Singapore-based chairman Seamus O'Brien. Encouraged by MLS, who are desperate for another football team in the New York area, many thought the Cosmos would return to action in that league. But MLS are still deciding on where to put a new stadium. The latest favoured location is Corona Park in Flushing, site of the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs, accompanied by an irritating slogan: "The world's game in the world's park."
With no New York stadium in sight and the standoff with MLS continuing, the Cosmos have clearly decided that nearly 30 years without a match is enough. O'Brien encouraged the possibility of playing in MLS in the future in Thursday's announcement, however: "Our ultimate goal is to play at the very highest level and we feel today's announcement is the first step in that direction." For now, it has been reported that the club will play at Hofstra University in Long Island, around 23 miles from Manhattan and once home to the old Cosmos in the early 1970s.
While nostalgia fans appreciate that New York Cosmos against Tampa Bay Rowdies will become a real fixture next year, the present is very different to the past. The current version of the NASL broke away from the United Soccer Leagues in 2009, but only began games in April 2011. The new Cosmos also have a radically different approach to the original club. Instead of attracting ageing superstars, this organisation are promising to build and develop talent slowly. O'Brien stated: "I'm conscious of the recent issues, and you won't hear hyperbole from me. I've always built for the long term, not for the short term."
Yet O'Brien has also bluntly boasted of the wealth of the new Cosmos owners. They might well need it. It is thought that MLS will ask for an initial $100 million (£64m) for entry to the league. There is also the excitable rumour that the new club could spend without limits in the NASL – unlike MLS, the second league doesn't have a salary cap – and then qualify for the Concacaf Champions League by winning the US Open Cup. All will become clearer over the next few months.
New York football fans would be well advised to remain patient and in control of their expectations. But it's quite a relief that Cosmos shirts may soon start appearing in more relevant places than TJ Maxx. Ed Upright