PORTLAND, Ore. — A decidedly lighthearted press conference Monday set the stage for Wednesday’s upcoming Major League Soccer’s 2014 All-Star Game. Coaches and players from the league and Bayern Munich underscored the celebratory nature of the event throughout.
Bayern’s usually unsmiling manager, Pep Guardiola, even cracked a few jokes with young German-American Julian Green, only turning on his stern face for questions surrounding Jérôme Boateng’s future with the club.
While the German players who played in the World Cup won’t play more than 15 minutes, Green should get more playing time on Wednesday, according to Guardiola.
“He’s going to play a little bit more — for the fans, for the girls,” Guardiola said, clapping a hand on Green’s neck and smiling. “Yeah? Do you want to play?”
Green responded "yes" with a shy smile.
It’s not as though Green isn’t used to the attention he’s received since arriving in the United States, first with the national team as a surprise inclusion on the World Cup roster, and now with his club team.
Green reiterated that he’s not looking to go on loan to receive playing time, despite the challenge before him of breaking into a star-stuffed attacking lineup. He downplayed the hype he has received in the American press, speaking of his motivation to earn his way into one of the most talented teams in the world.
“You never know what happens,” Green said. “Of course, you are a little bit surprised how fast things can come. I’m 19 years old. I played in the World Cup, I played 15 minutes and scored one goal. It’s nice for me, but I’m still a young player. That’s the past. Now, I have to work, work, work, work, and that’s it.”
Green and Guardiola fielded the majority of questions during Bayern’s media availability, while Thierry Henry held court for MLS’ contingent. His comments oscillated between lighthearted jokes about friendlies involving MLS sides (“I remember back in the day playing with Barcelona, you just don’t feel tired because you always have the ball”) and more serious answers to inquiries about the cerebral aspects of Franck Ribéry and Thomas Müller’s styles.
Henry and Ribéry played together on the French national team toward the end of Henry’s tenure and at the start of Ribéry’s career.
“You could see the talent already, right from the start,” Henry said of Ribéry. “Nowadays, I find it annoying sometimes that people don’t give a lot of credit to guys that are unselfish. For me, Franck represents that. He’s very unselfish on the field. He’s trying to play for his team. Whenever he can pass the ball, even when he can score, he will try to pass it. That’s the way I like to see the game.”
Henry said he believed Ribéry should have won the FIFA Ballon d’Or as the world’s best player in 2013 because of his success at the club level and the way he embodies the collective spirit of the game.
“It’s funny how people sometimes don’t look at the game the way you should look at the game,” Henry added. “They love a guy that does stepovers, tricks and stuff like that. That’s not the game. The game is what Thomas Müller is doing for me. That’s the game. If I had a son right now playing, I would say to him, ‘Look at Ribéry. Look at Müller.’ What Ronaldo does and Messi, they’re just freaks. Don’t try to copy those guys because they’re just freaks. That doesn’t happen often. But you can copy Franck Ribéry. You can copy Thomas Müller.”
Besides Green, none of the Bayern players who played in Brazil will see the field much, as they haven’t trained yet with the team after a three-week break. They will be slowly integrated into the group, likely reaching 100 percent fitness near the start of the Bundesliga season or shortly thereafter.
At the same time, Guardiola will undoubtedly put pressure on his charges to show a hint of readiness on Wednesday as a precursor to an arduous journey through the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League campaigns. Even if many of the Bayern players won the World Cup with Germany, they should feel as though there is more to win, the coach said.
They have to motivate themselves,” Guardiola said. “It’s ridiculous to think I have to motivate [these] kind of players.”
Henry is familiar with Guardiola’s methods as a trainer, having played for him at Barça from 2008 to 2010. He said the MLS team can expect a difficult task against a well-organized team, even if Bayern is only in preseason form while the American-based players are in midseason.
“It’s discipline,” Henry said. “He demands a lot from his players. I remember some games where we were like 5-0 up at halftime, and he wasn’t happy … The fans at Barcelona demand a lot, but he wants perfection from you in training, outside of the field, on the field, so you better be ready.”
Other noteworthy items from the media availability on Monday:
• Guardiola said he was happy to play on the artificial turf surface at Providence Park, especially compared to the pitch he received with Barcelona in Seattle in 2009. For international events at CenturyLink Field, a sheet of natural grass is laid on top of the turf, which was unstable and “a catastrophe,” Guardiola said. An artificial surface is preferable to that.
• Henry received the usual question about MLS’ growth, and he used the question as an opportunity to speak not only of the progress the league has made in ensuring franchises have proper stadiums and training facilities, but also the product on the field. In Henry’s mind, Portland manager Caleb Porter is an example of what’s possible in MLS.
“I’m not saying that because I’m in Portland right now, but for example, when you play here, it’s outstanding,” Henry said. “Their fans are just great. It reminds me of any game that you can play away from home in Europe or in the Premier League. Their fans are outstanding. The boss here is doing a great job, too, by trying to send that team on the field and playing the right way, in my eyes. They play great football, and that’s also something that can help this league develop. The way he sends his team on the field is exactly how a team should play football.”