Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Arena Plays the Media (Again)

Bruce Arena provided some classic quotes at a media session yesterday after the MNT trained at the Coliseum in Nashville, TN, where the team will face Morocco tomorrow as a part of the “World Cup Send-Off Series.”

The US soccer media continues to ask stupid questions. And, Arena continues to display his wit in volleying back.

Just as in 2002, reporters are hung-up on lineups for the World Cup. And, of course, Arena is notorious for never announcing a lineup. When will these people learn? Arena tells you everything that you need to know, but these middle aged reporters never hear what he’s really saying.

This all reminds me of the media ineptitude following Bob Dylan on his 1966 European Tour. The media circus that was around Dylan is featured on the Scorsese documentary “No Direction Home.” In one particularly telling scene a consciously intellectual young, French woman journalist forcefully asks in heavy accent, “Why? Why do you sing?” And Dylan, who had become increasingly irritated and drained from fielding the media’s uniformed questioning responds, “Because I feel like singing.”

Some highlights from yesterday’s interview include:

Reporter 1: In your mind right now, for the Czech game, for your lineup…

Arena: I’m not working on my lineup right now. I have a game tomorrow, in Nashville, against Morocco.

Reporter 1: You aren’t…(cut off by Arena)

Arena: We might all get hit by a bus after the game tomorrow. I’m not working on my lineup for the Czech game right now. That’s the God’s honest truth. You must think I’m insane, I guess, right?

Reporter 2: Bruce how many starting spots do you think would be open? Or do you—

Arena: I don’t look at it that way. You know, I mean, write a story about players, the game, whatever, don’t worry about the opening game yet. There’s a lot of stuff that happens between now and then. If you asked me this question four years ago—“Who’s gonna be in the starting line-up against Portugal?”—do you think I would have come close? I would have missed a few for sure. So, you gotta wait.

Then later, Bruce took an opportunity to “coach” the media.

Reporter 3: Why do you think it is important for American players to have an American coach?

Arena: I haven’t said that.

Reporter 3: Well there seems to be that school of thought.

Arena: I don’t hire the coaches so I can’t tell you that.

Reporter 3: Do you think American players would perform better with an American coach? Is there something about understanding the American psyche?

Arena: I think you should talk to the players about it. You know, they’re the best ones to answer. But you know, if you’re gonna take a job as a sportswriter somewhere. I think if your specialty’s in American basketball, then the United States is probably the best place to be doing it. If you’re an experienced coach in soccer in America and you’re coaching the American team, there’s probably a lot of positives about that. That would be my reply to that.

Reporter 3: You’re probably aware, or maybe not, that a couple of the players have called you a genius, which I’m sure you hate. But, why—(cut off by Arena)

Arena: I’ve called myself a genius.

Reporter 3: I wasn’t expecting that—

Arena: No, I think they’re complimentary, but the last thing I’ve ever been accused of is being a genius. So that might be off a little bit. I think I’m a good coach.

Reporter 3: Why?

Arena: I know how to put a team together.

And finally my favorite,

Arena: (talking about the magnitude of the World Cup in response to a question about what would be a breakthrough game for American soccer)

You start in a process that began four years ago with 204-5 teams and now you’re down to 32. That’s the real animal. And maybe in this country no one understands that because we have our nice little, not little, nice professional leagues where we call whoever turns out the winner the world champion, which is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard…and never win a world championship in any of these sports anymore. This is it, this is the real world champion in sport.

Reporter 4: It’s not just beating Czech Republic, but just beating Italy, just beating Ghana, or even—(cut off by Arena)

Arena: Well believe it or not, those are pretty impressive performances for a country, on the world stage.
You know, you don’t understand that because you’re so used to, “Nashville beats Jacksonville, we’re gonna party in the streets.”

These are the best teams in the world, in the most competitive sport in the world. And, if we can build an American team to that stage, that’s pretty impressive. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time.

Reading these exchanges in print sacrifices the intonation and, thus, much of the humor and effect. So, for the full audio version of Monday’s Arena-time check out the US Soccer podcast. http://podcast.ussoccer.com/ArenaPlayers_Nashville.mp3

For local news coverage of the Morocco game, check out the Nashville City Paper.

Reckless Abandon is anxiously awaiting more of these media sessions with Bruce.

—Lee McAlilly


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