CARSON, Calif. – When Ruud Gullit told Tim Leiweke that "there is nothing wrong with walking around with a bit of attitude," it was music to the ears of the Los Angeles Galaxy chief.
Gullit is charming and personable, especially in front of the television cameras, but his personality comes with the kind of serrated edge that the Galaxy hierarchy was looking for in its next coach.
Major League Soccer's best known franchise was deeply wounded by finishing the 2007 season in 11th place out of 13 teams. Now is the time for the Galaxy to get tough, rather than worry about winning popularity contests.
"I want everyone in the league to be envious of us, on and off the pitch," Leiweke said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports at the Home Depot Center on Friday. "Currently, they are only envious of the business side."
Minutes earlier, Gullit and Leiweke sat alongside new assistant coach Cobi Jones and club president Alexi Lalas in front of an international media contingent of close to 100, with cameras clicking, flashbulbs popping and questions flying. In contrast, Frank Yallop, who resigned from the Galaxy last weekend, was introduced by the San Jose Earthquakes before fewer than 10 reporters.
Yet all the attention and publicity, all the lucrative foreign exhibition games and shirt sales, mean nothing without success on the pitch, and that is the primary responsibility of Gullit.
Leiweke's ambition and vision for the future success of the franchise has no ceiling. It is he and Phil Anschutz, as the two central figures at Anschutz Entertainment Group, who will provide the financial resources and managerial expertise to make the club a worldwide brand.
Leiweke wants the Galaxy to be the best and makes no apology for it. His words will not be to everyone's liking, but those who refuse to accept second-best cannot be everyone's best friend.
"I like the fact that the Galaxy is the most important team in Major League Soccer," Leiweke said. "I like the fact that we lead the way. We are the ones trying to reinvent this sport and reinvent this league.
"I like everyone shooting at us. I like everyone being pissed off at us. But we have got to get better. We have got to back it up.
"We don't like losing and I don't like people pointing fingers at this organization. It is time to step it up and Ruud will help us get better."
AEG's belief is that North American soccer will continue to grow in popularity and will be, at minimum, the U.S.'s third or fourth biggest sport within the next 15 years. It wants the Galaxy to be the cornerstone of the league and to build a dynasty full of MLS championships and international exposure.
However, the task will not be easy. Like it or not, the Galaxy are the team the rest of the league loves to hate because of their wealth, pulling power and star names. Other teams will raise their game every time they face L.A. and take great delight in stunting its progress.
Then there is the matter of coping with expectations and attention. The Galaxy will never have the luxury of being able to sneak under the radar like the Houston Dynamo on the way to last year's title or Chivas USA's surge to the top of the Western Conference this season. This is a team that draws crowds of 50,000 in a friendly against a USL team in Vancouver, or 94,000 in a forthcoming exhibition in Sydney, Australia.
Gullit has been drafted to not only absorb the pressure of the position but also to identify individuals who share the necessary reserves of mental toughness. Because, with the Galaxy, the spotlight is always on.
"I understand there are some who have the opinion that they don't like the circus," Leiweke said. "I love the circus.
"I believe you wake up every day and you press yourself and you test yourself and you try to make yourself the best you can be. That is what it means to be part of the Galaxy."
- Ruud Gullit
- Major League Soccer