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Soccer News, World Cup News - Sports News | Archive February 14, 2010

 

Will Freddy ever be ready?

By Martin Rogers
February 14, 2010


This was always supposed to be Freddy Adu’s year. And Freddy Adu’s World Cup.

From the surreal moment in May 2003 when Nike pulled out its pocketbook and slapped a cool million dollars on the back of a precociously talented ninth-grade soccer sensation, Adu was earmarked for success in 2010. Back then, it was not a case of if the Ghana-born, Maryland-raised 13-year-old would emerge as a superstar, but when. While the 2006 World Cup in Germany was seen as being too early, there was little doubt that by 2010 he would be happily ensconced at a major European club and be ready to spearhead the United States’ challenge in South Africa.

So now, with the World Cup just a few months away, why is Adu kicking his heels on loan in the Greek league, with fellow American Eddie Johnson for company? And why is he so far away from national team selection that his best chance of getting to the tournament is paying for his own airfare and buying a ticket as regular fan?

Adu is still only 20 but his career has hit roadblocks at virtually every turn with each new direction only seeming to lead to another dead end. As time ticks by, there is an increasing danger that he will go down as a footnote in American soccer history, a cautionary tale to be brought out when the hype machine flares up to herald the next generation’s boy wonder.

“When young players try to move their careers along, there are no givens, no guarantees, and that is the way the game works,” USA coach Bob Bradley said. “Whatever team you are in you need to establish yourself and what you are all about, show you are someone who helps, that you are a winner, someone that does things that count. That is the challenge.

“It is about the way you train, the way you act, your ability to perform under pressure, regardless of what is written or said or how good people think you are going to be. That is how the game works for everybody.”

To his credit, Adu has not given up hope. Within moments of the World Cup draw being made last December, he publicly revealed his desperation to be involved in the squad, comments which prompted some incredulous mirth in the studio of ESPN’s broadcast.

Having ground to a halt at Benfica (the Portuguese club that acquired him from Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake in 2007), Adu was loaned to Greek side Aris this month in search of some playing time. It is there in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, that he and Johnson – who looked destined for big things with the USA himself after a flying start to his international career only to flounder in England with Fulham – share a common goal that is likely to prove impossible.

At least in Greece, the pair is likely to see action and cling to the desperate hope of forcing their way into coach Bob Bradley’s thoughts before the final U.S. World Cup squad is announced.

Johnson is five years older than his new teammate, yet it is Adu whose name in more recognizable to the general sports public in America. Adu has operated under scrutiny ever since that $1 million deal was announced the same week as Nike penned a certain high school basketball star to a big contract.

Seven years later, LeBron James is an international icon. Adu would be happy just to get a game every week.

“Freddy is still young and he will tell you there are things along the way he did right and things he did wrong,” Bradley said. “Now he has to take all those things to the situation he is in and show he is continuing to grow.

“Just like any other player we watch and see how it goes. There is no other way around it.”

Both Adu and Johnson accepted the challenge of playing in Greece with the idea that it may be their best shot at World Cup selection. It is unlikely to be anything other than a forlorn hope. The Greek league has some strong teams, with Olympiakos, Panathinaikos, AEK Athens and PAOK Salonika all boasting deep rosters and dominating the top spots every year. After that, though, the level drops off significantly, meaning there are relatively few chances to produce something genuinely eye-catching against top-class opposition.

Last week, Adu produced a nice pass to set up Johnson for what was a consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat to Xanthi. Was it better than sitting on the bench? Yes. Is it enough to put them in Bradley’s considerations?

Not even close.

Group C watch

England – The Football Association has left the decision on whether John Terry remains as captain solely up to head coach Fabio Capello.

Algeria – Racing Santander’s Mehdi Lacen is likely to make his first international appearance in a friendly against Serbia on March 3.

Slovenia – Captain Robert Koren remained with West Bromwich Albion during the January transfer window after assurances of extra playing time from boss Roberto Di Matteo.

Smiles

DaMarcus Beasley was trying to put a brave face on the sickening attack which saw his car blown up at his Glasgow home. “I’m doing OK and I’m in the market for a new car,” he joked. “Just glad no one got hurt.”

Tears

It took 12 years, but finally the long-rumored saga involving John Harkes’ alleged affair with Eric Wynalda’s wife ahead of the 1998 World Cup was finally made public this week. Wynalda referenced the issue during his “Fox Football Fone-In” show on Monday, and 1998 head coach Steve Sampson broke his long silence the following day.

World Cup numerology

126 – The number of goals scored at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden where a 17-year-old Pele helped Brazil claim the trophy.

The walking wounded (Gooch, Charlie and Deuce)

Oguchi Onyewu – Gooch’s knee tendon is on the mend and AC Milan head coach Leonardo admitted last week that the big American will be back in Italy within the next few weeks. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 85 percent.

Charlie Davies – The speedy striker underwent elbow surgery this week as he continues rehab from a car crash last October. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 15 percent.

Clint Dempsey – Our Fulham “mole” tells us that Deuce is progressing “slowly but surely” as he recovers from right knee ligament damage. Likelihood of World Cup selection: 95 percent.

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The making of a legend

By Brett Taylor
February 14, 2010


The special thing about being part of a relatively new competition such as the A-League is that you get to create its history.

The clubs certainly lack tradition by international standards - that's to be expected when the league is only five years old. Some casual observers find it hard to get engaged by teams that feel more like 'franchises' than clubs, and rivalries that at times seem manufactured compared to the world's famous derbies. Many Australians take at least an equal interest in English football, with its infamous characters, its stadia full of history and its clubs founded two centuries past.

History, tradition; these things all take time to build. Club legends, classic fixtures; some of these can only be realised for what they are long after their time, perhaps only after generations have passed and they transform from mere memories to folklore.

But it all has to start somewhere. Later chapters cannot be written in a book that doesn't exist in the first place. In that sense, Lawrie McKinna's contribution to the Central Coast Mariners may not be fully understood or appreciated for years to come.

If history can indeed be likened to a book, then the outgoing Central Coast boss is author, editor and publisher of the Mariners story so far. To overplay his influence on the foundation of the A-League club would be to discount the invaluable contributions of executive chairman Lyall Gorman and others who have been involved either financially or laboriously. But in terms of identity and character, McKinna and Mariners will forever by synonymous after these first five years of the club's existence.

McKinna decided this week to call time on his coaching career - at least for now - to step back into a commercial operations role at the club, leaving Melbourne Victory supremo Ernie Merrick as the only foundation coach still in charge at his A-League club.

McKinna's results have been mixed, particularly in recent times, and his style of play has caused debate since the A-League's inception, but there is no doubting that he will be remembered for his overwhelmingly positive influence. So much more than just another gun-for-hire coach, McKinna has made his mark on the history of the Mariners and the A-League, and his contribution should be celebrated by generations of Mariners fans. Their successes will be possible thanks to the foundations McKinna has played a major role in laying.

After all, McKinna has been hard at work for the Mariners since long before a ball was kicked - in fact, he's been at it since well before the club even existed. He played a central role in the club's bid for A-League status when the FFA was in the process of forming the new national league in 2004.

In the club's formative months, McKinna spent his own time and resources meeting with stakeholders and garnering support for the concept of a Central Coast top flight football club, driving up the freeway from Sydney off his own bat, and effectively acting as the football face of a brand new franchise.

Of course, that bid was successful, etching McKinna's name into the Mariners' - and the A-League's - history books before the club even had supporters.

After successfully selling the bid to key stakeholders and FFA powerbrokers, McKinna's work was only half done. His next task was selling the product of A-League football to a Central Coast public much more inclined towards Rugby League, and one which had never had its own major sporting team.

This is where the affable Scot-turned-naturalised Aussie really proved his worth. Had the Mariners figurehead not been as down-to-earth, genuine, humble and hard-working as the people of the Central Coast, the relationship between club and supporter base may have never got off the ground. It turned out to be a match made in heaven, and McKinna soon became 'Uncle Lawrie' and a genuine member of the Coast community.

On the pitch, McKinna earned himself the inaugural A-League Coach of the Year gong, on the back of a Pre-Season Cup triumph and Grand Final appearance against Sydney FC. He's subsequently collected a Premiership Plate, registered an appearance in the AFC Champions League and made a second Grand Final berth, so his competitive record is hard to question, other than the lack of an elusive Championship.

But potentially more significant than the results McKinna has achieved are the expectations he has established at Gosford. Because Central Coast have formed their supporting culture solely around the McKinna era, their football ideals are aligned to his.

He's a fiercely loyal manager, giving players such as Nick Mrdja, Nigel Boogaard and Matt Simon relative eternities to outlast injuries and form slumps to prove their worth. He's a gracious loser, forever respectful of his opponents, but he will stick up for himself and his players if he feels hard done by. Most importantly, McKinna has demanded full-blooded commitment from his players, and the Central Coast crowds tap into this.

These are the standards by which future managers will be measured by the Mariners' fanbase. The average punter at Bluetongue Stadium might not understand the intricacies of a 4-2-3-1 formation, but they certainly know when their team is having a go. If McKinna's successors fail to get their men giving maximum effort, they will quickly fall out of favour with the locals.

Whether it was his call alone to give up the coaching side of things, or whether there was some pressure from above based on the disappointing results of the past 13 months, it's a testament to McKinna's reputation on the Coast that he was able to leave the dugout on his own terms, and stay on with the club in a role of his choosing.

McKinna was certainly no managerial Messiah - in fact his most ardent backers would admit to their fair share of grumbles about his selections and tactical approach. There was a feeling on the terraces that he had taken the team's football as far as he could in the increasingly sophisticated A-League, and perhaps this notion was reflected inside the club or even inside the man's mind as this resolution was reached.

Regardless, McKinna still commands respect from even his harshest critics, and no one would begrudge the 48-year-old this decidedly civil exit from the coaching spotlight in this modern world where unceremonious sackings are commonplace.

The difference between a club and a franchise is that a club has identity, history and soul. McKinna has helped inject a lot of these things into the Mariners. He's been privileged to build a club in his own identity, and although all things change, it's hard at this moment to imagine the Mariners as anything but McKinna's underdog battlers.

Take a look around at a Central Coast home fixture and you'll notice the abundance of youngsters clad in their yellow and blue gear. These kids might not remember the McKinna years too clearly, but they'll one day be able to tell their children "I was there when it all began".

Wherever the club goes from here, whatever heights it reaches, McKinna's part should be remembered and celebrated. For now, he should be congratulated. Perhaps it will take time, but McKinna will surely go down in Mariners history as its first true club legend.

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