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Critical Analysis

Job description for U.S. Soccer's new General Manager position disappoints

Following the failure to qualify for the World Cup, U.S. Soccer created a GM position to, in theory, run the U.S. national team. As the specific details of GM job description become more known, ASN's Jamie Hill is disappointed in what it all entails. Here is his latest.
BY Jamie Hill Posted
May 31, 2018
12:00 AM
AFTER THE FAILURE to qualify for the World Cup, U.S. Soccer announced its intention to create a General Manager position to oversee the men’s side of the game in the US. It is now widely rumored that U.S. Soccer is in the final stages of hiring Philadelphia Union GM Earnie Stewart for the job. As details emerge about the nature of this position, however, the GM role outlined by the federation is taking shape as a relatively toothless job that lacks the power to enact change.

No Control Over Youth

The most notable part of the GM job description is what is not part of it: anything to do with youth development. U.S. Soccer staff does not directly develop players, but the federation plays a major role in youth development in the US. The USSF employs youth national team staff, it develops and maintains a coaching licensing system, and it administers the Development Academy. The GM position does not have authority to hire youth national team coaches and does not mention anything about the youth development system in the United States

The Micromanager-In-Chief?

A number of the GM’s duties do not significantly differ from the responsibilities of the manager. The GM has been tasked with analyzing the player pool, developing depth charts, and “driving the culture of the team”. These are tasks that are generally under the purview of international managers. This raises significant questions about the working relationship between the manager and GM. How much freedom will the manager be given to implement his own tactics and man-management style?

It is important to ask whether or not having a GM with such responsibilities will make the managerial post less appealing to top candidates.  Will the prospect of a GM will little to do except manage the manager deter top foreign coaching talent from exploring the position?  And will the manager and GM step on each others' toes over a long cycle without clear boundaries between their positions?

Hiring the Next U.S. Manager: The Buck Stops Elsewhere

The General Manager was, at the very least, expected to have full authority to hire the next manager of the US national team.  However, the GM role has been denied even this power, according to reporting from ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle.  While the GM will be an key part of the hiring process, the USSF Board of Directors will have the final say.

A Long-Term Style of Play?

U.S. Soccer's job description tasks the GM with enforcing a style of play that, in theory, would create a culture that persists beyond the tenure of any one manager. However, what does that really mean? Development does not occur at the national team level. Since development occurs at the youth levels, the next manager of the U.S. national team will have minimal ability to influence the quality of the player pool. Therefore, the best chance of success for the USMNT will not be to rigidly enforce a dogmatic style of play, but to give the manager license to piece together his own tactics that best fit the particular collection of talent in the player pool at that moment in time.

In a general sense, it is possible to encourage the development of specific traits in soccer players. The Dutch are famous for their attachment to the 4-3-3 and they seek to develop players to fit specific roles in that system; for example, the Dutch place high value on defenders’ passing ability. In the U.S., however, coalescing the entirety of youth development around one particular style of play seems not only wildly unrealistic, but entirely impossible for a GM who lacks even a modicum of authority in the realm of youth development.

To be effective in truly driving a style of play, the GM needs to be able to control all channels that funnel players into the national team.  The GM position as currently designed controls none.

What’s the Point?

The GM will not have full authority to hire a manager and will have no authority over anything in the realm of youth development. Half of the GM’s eight job responsibilities overlap with those of the manager. So what is the point of all this? In the wake of the World Cup qualifying disaster, nobody in the federation wanted to take the blame. Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena are both managers notorious for blaming others for their failures. Sunil Gulati and federation officials were quick to cite “one bad game”, as if the entirety of the qualification failure began and ended on a sodden field in Trinidad.

The creation of the General Manager was an opportunity to create a central figure who could be held accountable and empowered to make major decisions for the overall direction of the men’s side of the national team and youth teams. But because the GM position is given so little authority and responsibilities that are independent of the national team manager himself, it seems entirely possible that the GM will be little more than a toothless figurehead.

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