Part I of II: On The US Foreign Services With Greg Seltzer

Amsterdam-based Greg Seltzer is certainly a unique cat.

Seltzer

Greg decided long ago to make his name and career in soccer reporting and found himself relocated over to the Netherlands reporting for Soccer America.

With the re-vamp, or re-start if you prefer, of MLSSoccer.com and the need for a qualitative reporter on player movement became clear, Seltzer fit the bill.

Greg writes at both MLSSoccer.com and his blog “No Short Corners.” he’s built an extensive network of overseas sources and usually the first place you can go to get an educated corroboration or refutation on an American player movement rumor.

Kljestan for Anderlecht...

Greg’s been nice to engage me from time-to-time on TSG and we’ve had our moments of agreement and disagreement whether it be debating about the merits of a Jeremiah White call-in because the United States Men’s Team was in Denmark to trying to get scoops when Charlie Davies was at Sochaux to sparring on Sacha Kljestan’s expected playing time at Anderlecht (Greg was right–Kljestan is one of the minutes leaders at the club this season) or tussling over Roma news–for what’s it worth TSG doles out the snark on Roma rumors, but Greg’s got the sources and corroboration. Somethings going to give there at some point.

Greg’s been a good spirit and always been helpful in providing perspective and data that’s not available either in the States or only available to him. It’s easy enough for me to comment that he’s got probably the best true handle on pre-movement news on American players in Europe than just about anyone.

So, his perspective is quite unique.

Greg was nice enough to work on this back-and-forth email exchange–today is Part I–as good fodder here for discussion during the holiday news pre-transfer window doldrums.

We’ve broken it into two parts to focus the discussion in the comments section. Today, general American player value. Tomorrow, specific player movement and potential.

Matthew, TSG: Greg, thanks for taking the time. More important development for US players aboard heading into 2012: Jurgen Klinsmann’s rolodex or increased acceptance of US players skill set across the major league’s in Europe?

Greg, MLS: I would lean toward the second choice… only it’s not such an acceptance of of the “US skill set” – which is really more an intangible set than a skill set, to be honest. The American player has been appreciated in Europe for things like work ethic and field leadership for a good while now. That’s not novel. What’s on the rise is the actual skill set, which makes these players easier to appreciate for more than being “a typical US player” that busts his ass for the team and connects to the supporters.

Bradley for Chievo...

Now, some of our players can actually score silly goals to knock Juventus out. They can actually help Chievo beat two first place teams in a row with soak-up-pressure strategy, having just walked in the Serie A door. They can actually play some defense in Portugal, which is not an easy league for defenders. They can help Norwegian teams win their first title as a teen playing out of position half the time.

The better American players get, the more they will be appreciated. The more they’re appreciated, the more they’re brought over and given responsibility, the more cultured they are come World Cup time. It’s that simple. Scouts aren’t jingoistic and the dudes who sign the player bill don’t play favorites – these people just want players for winning and representing the shirt. Coaches are the wildcard with attitudes for or against this or that, but that’s whole other story.

Not to downgrade Klinsman’s connections or experience – or the development capability of MLS, for that matter – but, as is, growing expectations fall on the national team with a Euro-footprint growing every year. Now, it’s up to Klinsmann to fulfill the more reasonable expectations and take us up a tier. That’s his task and it’s no surprise that he’s hooking Nats up with training stints like an epidemic right now. He definitely know’s what’s up in that regard.

Matthew, TSG: Interesting take Greg. So it’s almost inverse with Klinsmann–the US player has been making strides and it’s up to Klinsmann to capitalize on the increase talent.

Here’s another juxtaposition:

All things being equal, do Americans have a fair shot in Europe when going up against a player of any other nationality? For example, if Brek Shea’s agent is angling for a transfer to say Arsenal and Arsene Wenger if choosing between he and say French U-23 player Frederic Bulot. Does it matter if one is American or not?

Anthony Brooks...

And does that adage hole true if it we’re comparing a “Euo-raised American,” say John Anthony Brooks and say England U-20 Reece Wabara and they are both the transfer target of say, Real Madrid?

Greg: MLS: That sounds pretty good, much more concise than mine.

Things aren’t equal in several countries for American signing. The Eredivisie has its minimum non-EU salary near a half-million Euros, the UK has its work permit ordeal, other leagues have homegrown roster quotas and non-EU squad limits to think about. A few countries are “the most equal” in the regard, places like obviously Germany, Denmark, Belgium.

From a player standpoint, it’s certainly possible that a coach will make more of an effort for promising domestic starlet over a foreigner, or a Dutch coach may feel more at ease with a Dutch player fitting into a 4-3-3. Other than these issues, Americans are plenty popular as targets. Even I don’t hear about everything that goes on, or maybe I hear about it much later. Obviously, Americans who hold EU passports are the most “equal” of all.

As for the other thing, if Real Madrid is after an American, where he was “raised” as a player is about the last thing on their mind. But they are quite on their own planet, really. That club could think marketing first, as they did when they had a speculative bid for Gooch rejected years back. With a regular-size Earth club, it would depend most of all on the whims of a particular technical director or coach.

Matthew, TSG: Two questions: 1) How important is the agent in the deal these days? Are there package deals? Many thought Freddy Adu getting a trial at Ingolstadt last year was the result of Edson Buddle’s signing….and 2) On average, are Americans “cheaper” than others players?

Greg, MLS: The influence of the agent depends, probably more on average when the players are less well-known. I don’t know about package deals, but having prior working contact with a club certainly helps. I’m pretty sure Ingolstadt just wanted offense to stay up and the agent had another idea for them.

On average, perhaps, but that is starting to go away a bit. And the best American players in MLS can often be more expensive because they have a major marketing value at home. If the Galaxy gave up Landon Donovan, they would not simply be giving up his playing aspects. The days of grabbing Michael Bradley for peanuts are over. That won’t happen again.

Matthew, TSG: So who are the key Americans abroad that US fans should truly be excited by? So many times one goal is enough to chop a forest worth’s of timber to power the hype machine…who are the Americans that in either good club situations or just have more talent than anyone else that fans will start hearing about in say 2013 or 2014?

Part II will begin with Greg’s answer here.

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22 responses to this post.

  1. I’d love to hear Greg’s take on the coaches being wildcards in the whole signing and playing time of a player. Michael Bradley’s situation at Villa, the Jozy/Freddy quandry, et. al. are the primary reasons US fans feel that there is a bias towards Yanks in Europe. It’s tough to make a single blanket statement because each player and situation is different but they all beg the question: Americans definitely have enough talent to get noticed, but why do we keep seeing issues with playing time; is it always a coach’s preference thing, is it an attitude/effort problem, or did the person pulling the move off (agent/GM/Technical Director) completely miss the boat and put the wrong piece into the wrong puzzle?

    The follow up question to that would be: are we just overly sensitive at this juncture in our national soccer development and therefore we have a smaller, yet highly visible, sample size from which to draw conclusions? AKA doe Norweigians get into the same level of a “huff” about Morten Gamst Pedersen’s recent lack of playing time or Bjorn Riise’s lack of continued development?

    Reply

    • Posted by Alex on 2011/12/20 at 10:24 AM

      I believe in Jozy and Freddy’s case it was a training habit/immaturity issue. At least from most things I read, but it would make sense because they were both still teenagers when they moved, and had to go to a situation where they weren’t ready to fight for a spot after one had been gifted to them for most of their short career. Donovan went through this failed abroad move phase as well during his teen years at Leverkusen.

      Reply

      • Posted by dude on 2011/12/20 at 2:24 PM

        I don’t know. I’ve always got the sense that the most talented players from countries like Brazil, Argentina, etc get a bit more leash when it comes to being young and training practices.

        There’s no coincidence that the players who impress are the ones who work their asses off. It’s cuz they’re afraid that if they don’t, there won’t be a career in Europe. Freddy and Jozy might have been immature, but how much more than fellow talents? Something we’ll never know.

        Reply

      • I’ve read the same things about Freddy & Jozy but I wonder how truthful those stories are. How much of that turns out to be player mismanagement as well? A young kid with talent and you give him next to no opportunities (Freddy at Benfica after the first managerial change) how did you expect him to react? I don’t pretend to know exactly what went on and I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around, just curious if there was any deeper intel on that matter. Did these two situations add to pre-conceived notions or are they isolated incidents that don’t bias European clubs against future US Imports?

        I’d really like to know what happened in Bradley’s Villa situation since he doesn’t seem to be the the type to mail it in.

        Reply

  2. Oh you’re good. Cut it off right where the goodness begins.

    Reply

  3. Posted by dth on 2011/12/20 at 12:52 PM

    I wouldn’t overemphasize this, but I do think there’s prejudice towards some countries or another in soccer. Soccernomics is a shoddy book in many ways, but it pointed out that there’s a “Brazilian premium.” And that makes sense–you think Brazilian player, you think good player. These sorts of submerged beliefs are very powerful, and it’s hard to believe European soccer people are completely free of them.

    I don’t think it’s a determinative factor at all, but I think it’s a nontrivial factor for some players at some times. (My guess as to who it affects most: African players, but that’s another subject for another time.)

    Reply

    • Posted by Martin on 2011/12/20 at 5:36 PM

      dth,

      Are you talking about the people who professionally evaluate players for possible transfer or are you talking about the media and fans?

      From what I’ve seen when it comes to the pros I think Mr Seltzer had it about right. Think of how influential Chris Coleman, David Moyes and Owen Coyle have been. I can’t even think of the name of more than one or two of the managers Jozy and Adu had. In the case of those two they never had an advocate like a Moyes or a Coyle who had a plan for them. I get the impression, immaturity and ego aside, those two more or less mostly got lost in the shuffle.

      The other factor when it comes to country of origin is how much of a role is played by culture shock and the inability to settle in what might be an extremely challenging off the field environment.

      Houston Dynamo’s Je Vaugh Watson said in advocating MLS to Jamaican players:

      “I think one of the big differences (why players tend to do better in the MLS) is because it’s much colder in Europe, so it’s very hard to adopt. In the MLS the weather is almost the same as in Jamaica,” he explained.

      “…The players are closer to home, the weather is good and you have family and friends nearby because a lot of Jamaicans are there, so it’s like you’re still living in Jamaica,” said Watson, who has also had trial stints in Denmark and England.”

      In my experience Europeans, as a gross generalization, wear their sterotypes on their sleeves but in general are more open to altering their view should sufficenet evidence be presented, at least on the surface.

      Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross [@BhasViswanathan] on 2011/12/20 at 6:02 PM

      I don’t think a manager or a club can afford to be biased if somebody is genuinely more talented. The issue is that while there are many talented American players, are they any more talented that players from anywhere else? If the US produced a World Class player, I can see Europe’s elite clubs fighting each other for his signature – his passport won’t make one bit of difference. If anything, I think the business side of clubs are crying out for an elite American or Asian player to be the face of their pre-season tours – but not at the expense of talent. But the reality is that as football’s labour supply has become truly globalised, the Holy Grail in terms of prestige and money has remained England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – that means a lot of competition for relatively few places.

      Obviously, there are a few protectionist measures in place, such as various rules, like the Homegrown rule WRT squad sizes. This affects many nationalities, but probably non-EU players more.

      Reply

      • Posted by Martin on 2011/12/20 at 6:35 PM

        More than one expert has claimed that if England did not have such stringent work permit rules you would be seeing a lot more US players over there.

        The rules were originally put in place to protect the home grown British player but it doesn’t seem to have worked out that way so much.

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross [@BhasViswanathan] on 2011/12/20 at 7:37 PM

          And if England did not have such stringent work permit rules, you would be seeing a lot more players of *other* nationalities there too – providing they had the necessary talent.

          Reply

      • Posted by dth on 2011/12/20 at 7:07 PM

        They may not be able to afford it, but just because they should be one way or another doesn’t mean they are. People manage to make all sorts of mistakes you’d think they’d have sufficient incentive to avoid–you see it everywhere from romance to politics to business. Why would sports be any different? By and large I agree if a player were world class, they’d ignore their preconceptions, and of course I agree the U.S. hasn’t produced a world-class player, but I do think there are biases against some nationalities/races/peoples. I don’t think U.S. players have it particularly bad or anything, and my main recommendation to American players concerned about such a thing would be to get better at the game. But still.

        Reply

  4. Posted by dth on 2011/12/20 at 5:32 PM

    don’t know if you’ll get to this in round 2, but this might be an interesting trend to follow:

    Span was apparently just out of the Generation adidas picture; there are reports that a few other top targets are thinking about Europe. I wonder if there’ll be an exodus, and if so, what MLS’s reaction will be to it.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/12/20 at 5:46 PM

      I didn’t get to this in Round 2. But the big play here –and we were supposed to get an interview with a US “superagent” that was canceled multiple times — is that agents and the talent of the US prospects are getting more and more traction and power in Europe. So with more money to be made outside the US and as long as the league rules about foreign players remain, I think you’ll see a lot more of it.

      Reply

      • Posted by dth on 2011/12/20 at 7:10 PM

        Right. Some speculation:

        1) Future #1: it motivates teams to get much more aggressive about their academies so that they can make sure they have a claim on the American young player.

        2) Future #2: MLS teams discover that, like MLB, Americans will very happily root for foreign players and just kind of shrug at the exodus.

        Probably somewhere in between or even a third possibility, but just spitballing a bit.

        Reply

        • Posted by Martin on 2011/12/20 at 9:27 PM

          Whenever people tell me Americans can’t do really well in the world game because we are too unsophisticated a soccer nation or need more “soccer culture” or whatever I look at the NBA and check out the rosters.

          Who even knew Argentina played basketball?

          Then Manu Ginobli comes around, the Spurs win the NBA title, and Argentina wins the 2004 Olympic Men’s Gold Medal which the US had won three times running.

          Does Argentina have the basketball “culture” or “maturity” to rival that of the US? How can Nowitski outplay LeBron? No way everyone says, but foreign countries and their players can still make some noise.

          Reply

  5. Posted by crow on 2011/12/20 at 7:33 PM

    Cliffhanger! What a tease. While I wait for part 2 I guess I’m going to have to read Bleacher Report’s feature Preferred Destinations for Marvell Wynne this upcoming transfer window.

    Reply

  6. [...] with Amsterdam-based Greg Seltzer of MLSSoccer.com and No Short Corners. You can find Part I, here. Gatt and a [...]

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  7. [...] Greg Seltzer discusses Americans abroad with The Shin Guardian. [...]

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  8. [...] Guardian: On The US Foreign Services With Greg Seltzer Part 1 – Part [...]

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  9. Posted by Paul on 2011/12/26 at 8:05 PM

    “Not to downgrade Klinsman’s connections or experience – or the development capability of MLS, for that matter – but, as is, growing expectations fall on the national team with a Euro-footprint growing every year. Now, it’s up to Klinsmann to fulfill the more reasonable expectations and take us up a tier. That’s his task and it’s no surprise that he’s hooking Nats up with training stints like an epidemic right now. He definitely know’s what’s up in that regard.”

    My man crush on Greg has now grown into full man love. Damn it, the numbers prove what Greg so rightfully points out: we have more players in Europe and playing on better sides. The expectations have to be on the coach to capitalize on the growing US talent in our home league and abroad. How in the hell dipsh*ts like those writing on ESPN can say anything else is beyond me, or write as if things are otherwise.

    Reply

    • Posted by Martin on 2011/12/26 at 9:12 PM

      “The expectations have to be on the coach to capitalize on the growing US talent in our home league and abroad.”

      That is a given.

      What you do not address however is that as the US talent pool is improving so is the talent pool of our opponents.

      Based in the posts I read at this site and others, most US fans never give the opposition any credit and still think BB had no business losing to Ghana with the talent he had. As if Ghana were some pub team we should have blown away. And of course Uruguay with Forlan and Suarez would have laid down for us.

      It is possible that JK could do the job twice as well as Bradley and not have a better record in terms of results.

      Reply

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