Grant Wahl's latest mailbag covers everything from Chelsea and Liverpool's chances to his favorite soccer interviews and more.
Thanks for reading as we get the ‘Bag going on a weekly basis again. I haven’t done a weekly ‘Bag since I was covering college basketball, and I want this to be a fun column. Sometimes we’ll talk about what’s going on in the news, and sometimes we’ll get more philosophical. So if you have any good ideas for the space I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’ll look forward to interacting with everyone on here every week.
Let’s dive in:
Who has been your favorite soccer interview?
I’ll probably offend somebody by leaving them out here, but it’s a fun question that I want to try to answer. Basically, what I look for in an interview subject is someone who’s candid, smart, thoughtful, funny and full of insight. Easy, right? Here’s one man’s Top 10 list:
1. Landon Donovan
Incapable of being boring, plus he’s extremely thoughtful. Easily the most candid interview subject I’ve ever had.
2. Xabi Alonso
Whipsmart in three languages, including English, and explains the finer points of the sport as well as any player I’ve interviewed.
3. Alexi Lalas
Though I work with him now, I interviewed him mainly during his playing and MLS GM days. Equal parts funny, honest and informed. An original thinker who respects other points of view. Unlike many former players, he’d rather talk about issues in the game today than about the good old days.
4. Didier Drogba
A true global citizen for all his work in his native Ivory Coast. Realizes there’s more to the world than soccer. First interviewed him in Angola at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations, when he opened up for 90 minutes for an SI mag story.
The only interview on this list that didn’t take place in English. His passion for playing beautiful soccer and fighting for the soul of the game come through in nearly everything he says.
6. José Mourinho
Our two hour-long interviews for my 2011 SI mag story were probably the most intense sit-down interviews I’ve ever done. There is zero filler in a Mourinho interview.
7. Bruce Arena
The LA Galaxy coach will always tell you what he thinks with a wiseguy sense of humor that leaves you laughing and shaking your head at the same time. Did he really just say that?
8. Megan Rapinoe
Delightfully funny and open. Once did a spot-on impression of Allen Iverson’s famous “Practice? We talkin’ about practice?!?” bit.
9. Herculez Gomez
Few people know more about soccer on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. One reason I like interviewing soccer players is that they’re like hockey players—easygoing, never divas—and Gomez fits that description as well as anyone.
10. Gerard Piqué
If only everyone could be as interesting in their second language as this guy. Another player who realizes there’s more to the world than soccer alone.
Who has been your most intimidating interview in person?
Probably Sir Alex Ferguson. I first interviewed him in Manchester in 2003, on the day before the famous Man United-Real Madrid Champions League elimination game in Old Trafford. (It had a bit of everything, from Ronaldo’s hat trick and a standing ovation from the opposing fans to two goals by David Beckham to appearances by Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and a host of others.) But amazingly, Ferguson was a brilliant interview so close to game time.
We ended up talking about all sorts of things, from his managing philosophies to his collection of John Wayne movies.
What rules, if any, would you like to see changed to improve the game?
I’d like to see the offside rule changed so that it requires there to be complete separation (i.e., daylight) between the attacker and the defender in order for there to be an offside call. Scoring goals is hard enough in this game. Let’s not make it even harder.
Your top three soccer movies?
1. Victory. Anytime you can get Stallone and Pelé in the same movie you’ll have a winner.
2. The Damned United. Featuring Seattle’s own Alan Hinton as a character.
3. Zidane. Cameras follow around Zinedine Zidane for an entire game. A little too art-house for some, but I enjoyed it.
Do you think the Orlando City/SKC Servando Carrasco deal is going to be used to try and bring Alex Morgan to the proposed Orlando NWSL team?
Well, we know Orlando City wants to own a team in the NWSL and we know they just acquired Morgan’s husband, Servando Carrasco (who played pretty well in the win over Kansas City on Sunday). But Carrasco has now played in four MLS cities that also happen to have NWSL teams, and Morgan hasn’t joined the women’s teams in any of those places yet. I figure Portland would like to hold onto the most marketable player on the USWNT.
How many books a year do you read?
Fewer than I’d like to admit. I get a lot of soccer advance copies sent to me and try to read as many as I can. And I also like to get away from soccer sometimes and read something else. My current book is Jonathan Franzen’s Purity.
Can Liverpool get to 4th this year with Brendan Rodgers?
Never mind Rodgers for a second; I don’t think they can get to fourth place with the current squad. Too soft in the back, not enough creativity in the midfield. I do think Rodgers could be gone by January, but I think Liverpool’s issues will extend beyond this season.
Any insight into the strategy of ManU signing wantaway De Gea to a long-term contract?
Yes, De Gea signed a four-year deal, but that hardly means he won’t move next summer to Real Madrid anyway. The new contract simply means that De Gea will get paid more, which should make up somewhat for the transfer-deadline fiasco, and it means that Man United will actually get a good amount of money on the transfer fee. Because there’s a buy-out figure, though, Real Madrid knows exactly what they’ll need to get De Gea.
If you were to choose one Touré brother to accompany you on a polar expedition, why would you automatically select Kolo?
For some reason, Kolo seems like much more of a fun sidekick than Yaya would be. Maybe that’s unfair to Yaya, but my sense is Kolo would be willing to do more of the dirty work that an expedition requires.
Chances Chelsea can turn things around in time to qualify for Champions League?
Pretty high. We’re five games into a 38-game season, and all they have to do is finish fourth.
Who’s your favorite soccer player currently playing?
Alan Gordon. This will always be my answer.
What’s wrong with Sporting Kansas City? Don’t say injuries.
Well, injuries are part of it, with Roger Espinoza, Paulo Nagamura, Chance Myers and Tim Melia missing lately. (Even Graham Zusi hasn’t been at 100% for much of the season.) But there’s more to it than that. KC has picked up one point of a possible 15 in its last five games, and there appear to be some similarities to the fatigue problems we saw at this time last year. It’s also possible that the league is starting to figure out how KC likes to play.
Am I wrong to think the media outside of Canada does not consider the Whitecaps a serious contender?
Depends on who you ask. I love watching Vancouver play, and Carl Robinson is my current choice for MLS Coach of the Year.
The Whitecaps have a pretty good shot at the Supporters Shield, and I’d love to see my second big final of the year in B.C. Place. But (and you knew this was coming) it’s hard to imagine Vancouver in an MLS final because we haven’t seen the Caps make a deep playoff run before.
There’s also the lingering sense that the Galaxy can just flip a switch in the postseason at this point and obliterate everyone else.
Any chance the Revs re-sign Jermaine Jones?
I’m thinking it’s doubtful, not least because his family lives in the Los Angeles area and he’d like to be closer to them. I’ll tell you what, though: When healthy, Jones has been huge for New England, which is starting to make a run that looks a lot like last season’s march to the MLS Cup final.
What MLS coach has done the least with the most, and which the most with the least?
Least with the most: Chicago edges out NYCFC for this one, but only barely. Most with the least: D.C. United. I’m honestly not sure how Ben Olsen has his guys in second place in the East. But he does, so good for him.
How did you like the atmosphere in Orlando? The vibe around the city?
I worked my third game in Orlando this season on Sunday for Fox, and I’ve come to really enjoy the atmosphere around games there. I thought it was interesting that Graham Zusi, an Orlando native, said he never would have thought pro soccer would become what it currently is in Orlando, and he’s really proud of what’s been accomplished there. What’s even better, of course, is that the Lions will be moving into their new stadium next year, they hope by next summer. Every time I see a new design of the finished stadium it looks better than the previous one, and it’s going to be extremely loud. You’d have to think the U.S. national teams will play plenty of games there too.
With Sebastian Giovinco getting called up to Italy and Fabián Castillo to Colombia, do you think Bradley Wright-Phillips will for England?
Recent reports are that Wright-Phillips has been approached by Jamaica and is seriously considering playing for the Reggae Boyz. As for Castillo, he has been terrific for much of the season with Dallas, but we’ll know how serious José Pekerman is about Castillo if he starts calling him up for World Cup qualifiers and not just friendlies in the United States.
What do you think is the biggest concern for FIFA after what Loretta Lynch said?
There wasn’t any real news from Lynch’s press conference in Zurich on Monday. The U.S. attorney general basically re-stated that they plan to make more arrests in the FIFA case. These investigations take time, of course, and one of the main objectives of the 14 arrests made in May was to get these guys to flip on bigger fish. (Is that a mixed metaphor?) Anyway, it’s a continuing concern for people like Sepp Blatter (who has only traveled outside Switzerland once since May, and that was to Russia) and Brazilian federation president Marco Polo Del Nero, who hasn’t left Brazil since May. These guys clearly don’t want to risk being arrested and extradited.
[NBCSN] compared Anthony Martial’s potential to Thierry Henry, others to Cristiano Ronaldo. Which is a more apt comparison?
Basically, at this point I’m for any comparison that isn’t to Thierry Henry and doesn’t put ridiculous pressure on Martial, who’s just 19. I get that Martial is from Henry’s hometown, and I get that Man United paid crazy money for him, but I like it when people are original in their descriptions/comparisons. Give me some more time to watch him this season, and I’ll let you know my impressions then.
How do you view Ali Krieger’s personal decision to skip an NWSL playoff match?
To bring people up to speed, Krieger skipped Washington’s NWSL semifinal against Seattle to attend her father’s wedding. (Washington lost the game.) If I was her boss and paying her salary, I definitely wouldn’t have been happy that she skipped the biggest game of the year for her team. One of the few similar situations I can remember came during the 2011 Gold Cup, when Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey left the U.S. team to attend their sisters’ weddings on the day before the quarterfinal against Jamaica. The difference was that the Dempsey and Donovan weddings were the day before the game, and they flew back to be on hand for the game itself. (Dempsey started and Donovan came on as a sub.)
Should and will Abby Wambach retire before Rio?
The only situation that I think would be untenable is if Wambach wants to play in Rio but doesn’t want to play club soccer leading up to it. If she’s playing club soccer, then I think she should be under consideration by Jill Ellis.
THE MOST INTERESTING SOCCER THINGS I SAW/READ ONLINE OVER THE PAST WEEK
• Brazilian legend Ronaldo at Burning Man
FROM THE BOOK WORLD
On Monday we learned that a Jurgen Klinsmann book is set to come out next summer. The publisher Picador announced that Erik Kirschbaum, a Reuters foreign correspondent based in Berlin, will write Soccer Without Borders: Jurgen Klinsmann, Coaching the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team and the Quest for the World Cup. The book will have Klinsmann’s “full and exclusive cooperation.”
“I’ve been fascinated for the last eleven years about Klinsmann’s courage to shake things up wherever he is and his determination to succeed wherever he goes,” Kirschbaum says in the press release. “He is incredibly curious and open to good ideas no matter where they come from, and I’m thrilled to finally have the chance to tell the story of this thoroughly likable yet sometimes misunderstood coach who has one major goal—to make the U.S. soccer team one of the best in the world.”
Klinsmann added: “I hope this book will provide more knowledge about the growth of this very, very emotional and fantastic sport in the United States.”