There is something about change. Not the action; the concept. As an intangible idea, it is so seductive. Especially in politics. And especially in U.S. Soccer politics, with the stench of the biggest failure in American soccer history still wafting across the sport’s vast landscape.
It’s a concept U.S. Soccer’s many supporters and members want to believe in, and one that presidential candidate Carlos Cordeiro repeatedly pitches throughout a nearly hour-long conversation with Yahoo Sports on Wednesday. He details governance reform. He discusses the desire for change, and argues he’s uniquely capable of effecting it.
Which is interesting, because many people believe Cordeiro is one of two candidates who doesn’t represent it.
Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer’s current vice president, is the ultimate insider. He’s sat on the federation’s board for over a decade after a long career in business. He currently serves on the CONCACAF Council and FIFA’s Football Stakeholders Committee.
Many, therefore, equate him with the status quo. Among the many are fellow candidates. Kyle Martino has said it would be “incredibly dangerous to elect someone who admitted they’re not a soccer person,” which Cordeiro has done. Eric Wynalda has claimed that Cordeiro “is still operating under the assumption that everything is just OK.”
But Cordeiro is not the establishment candidate. That’s Kathy Carter, the president of Soccer United Marketing (SUM), who has the support of MLS commissioner Don Garber, and reportedly of current U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.
Cordeiro, who in the past has been described as Gulati’s right-hand man and confidant, is not running with the blessing of Gulati. On multiple occasions, he makes that clear, even if he chooses his words carefully. He is the insider, but not the establishment.
“I’m not beholden to any one person, or any one member,” he says.
[More FC Yahoo: Meet U.S. Soccer’s eight presidential candidates]
Some of Cordeiro’s platform could even be read as an implicit, indirect critique of Gulati’s reign, and his penchant for unilateral decision-making. “Without making direct comparisons with the current president,” Cordeiro says, before more or less doing just that, “I’m much more inclusive, much more collaborative.”
Cordeiro met with Gulati in October, days before announcing his own candidacy, and a month before Gulati decided he would not run for re-election. Cordeiro wishes to keep those discussions private. But the simple fact that those discussions did not end with Gulati saying, Go ahead, run, I’ll step down and back you is instructive.
Cordeiro’s candidacy isn’t about Gulati. It’s about Cordeiro, who originally ran for VP because he felt he “maxed out” as an independent director, and now says that “as vice president, you can only do so much.”
It is unlikely his words will stop opponents from lumping him together with the status quo. But, he argues, “I don’t think that having experience should be a negative, it should be a positive. We’re talking about a very complex organization.”
His campaign, like others’, is about convincing members he truly will bring about change. Like others, he has been traveling and making phone calls, and listening – in part to convince members they will be listened to.
And now, after six weeks of that, he says, “I’m ready to advocate for what I believe in.”
Focus on financial growth
What he believes, essentially, is that business growth and soccer success aren’t divergent paths. That the two go hand in hand, and that the former must remain in focus to facilitate the latter.
“If you can successfully grow the federation, and bring in additional revenues, you’re then able to invest more in the membership,” Cordeiro says. “And it becomes a virtuous circle.”
For months now, campaign rhetoric has been littered with talk of schemes to solve problems that plague American soccer. Candidates have discussed alleviating pay-to-play costs and making the game more available in inner cities; they’ve emphasized the importance of improving and subsidizing coaching education; they’ve proposed state soccer centers and residency programs, field development and adult soccer initiatives, and so much more.
Cordeiro isn’t ignoring the need for all of that. Rather, he’s focused on enabling it. “All of this costs money,” he notes, an obvious point that often seems to get lost in the shuffle.
And it doesn’t just require up-front spending. It requires continuous investment over time. Cordeiro has chaired U.S. Soccer’s budget and finance committee for roughly eight years now. When people talk about the federation’s $150 million surplus, and how to spend it, he feels the discussion sometimes misses the mark.
“You have to invest in programs that you can sustain over a long period,” he explains, before giving an example. “We’re building a whole new coaching education system. To roll that out takes years, it’s not a one-off thing. So the investment isn’t writing a check today, it’s writing cumulative checks over a period of time. You’re doing that in multiple work streams, in different areas of the game.
“You look forward, based on the investments we’re committing to – not necessarily making today, but committing to making in the grassroots – that $150 [million] is going to go back to $50 [million] in the next four years.”
That’s why U.S. Soccer’s annual budget, he says, which will be around $110 million in 2018, must balloon. He mentions the English FA’s – over $500 million per year – and those in Spain, Italy and France – over $200 million – as reference points.
“It’s not like they are saints and we’re not,” he says. “But just in sheer financial terms, they are bigger than us. I’m simply making the argument that we need to continue to grow U.S. Soccer so that we can generate more revenues,” level up to elite European competitors, “and put more back into our membership.”
Two new committees, and a technical department
So how do you make U.S. Soccer more profitable, and ultimately more successful? One of many ways is by improving governance. That’s a pillar of Cordeiro’s pitch. He’s been on the board for over a decade. He has a specific plan for restructuring the federation that he’d look to implement immediately.
Cordeiro wants to form two new board-level committees, a technical committee and a commercial committee. The technical committee would be chaired by one of three athlete representatives on the board of directors, and “would provide oversight to the new technical department – which we don’t currently have at U.S. Soccer.”
That department, which Cordeiro would create, would be led by two general managers, one for the women and one for the men. They’d run the soccer side of the federation. They’d recruit and manage senior national team coaches. They’d devise player development initiatives. They’d effectively be the directors of soccer opertations, and report to the CEO, just like the director for commercial affairs, or the director for legal affairs. The technical committee would oversee, advise and communicate with them.
The commercial committee would be chaired by one of the board’s three independent directors, and would oversee the negotiations of the federation’s business deals, including its partnership with SUM. “There has been no [board] oversight of any of our commercial activities,” Cordeiro says. “Our longer-term contracts with sponsors, broadcasters, the marketing entity, that basically has not been brought to the board for a full-fledged, vetted discussion.
I would change that. That needs much more transparency, that needs much more scrutiny, if only because of the inherent conflicts of interest. We have an exclusive marketing arrangement with SUM. SUM basically represents U.S. Soccer in its negotiations with all but one sponsor, Nike. Given the dollars involved, and the significant sums at stake, that whole exercise needs oversight at the board level.”
Where Cordeiro doesn’t believe the structure of the federation should change is at the very top. He believes the role of president should remain as an unpaid position. Others, such as Martino, have argued the president should receive a competitive salary, so as to increase accountability and reduce barriers to entry for potential candidates. Cordeiro disagrees, in part because the president isn’t the only one volunteering his or her time; the rest of the board, and countless others, are too.
“Why should the president be paid and they not be paid? Where do you stop?” He asks. “This is an elected position. We’re not appointing a president. We’re electing a president. It’s a political position. The CEO is an appointment by the president and the board, that’s a paid position. People need to understand what it is that this position’s all about.
“Being president is about building coalitions around ideas and concepts. It’s about collaboration. It’s about inclusion. … It’s about running a multi-faceted, complex organization.”
Cordeiro has “seen the organization from the bottom up.” And he believes his combination of experience and independence would allow him to run it better than anybody else.
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