Halfway There But Is The Effort Half-Baked? Plus An Interview with Marko Perovic
Posted by tonybiscaia on July 28, 2010
A VIEW FROM THE FORT: By Jim Dow
Be it an ocean voyage, airplane flight or football campaign there is always a point of no return, where the home port left and the destination ahead are equally far away and there is, quite simply, no turning back. For the 2010 New England Revolution that demarcation has been reached on multiple fronts; it is precisely mid season, fifteen matches have been played and there are fifteen to go. The transfer window opened on 15 July and will stay as such until 15 August.
And, perhaps most importantly, the powers that be in middle and upper management have been caught with their collective corporate pants in the midst of endless measurement, dithering before cutting, playing for time with totally naff newspeak before committing yet at the same time asking for significant commitment of dollars and support on the part of the fans with neither a stadium or a significant signing in sight.
Yikes, don’t they look at what is going on in the rest of MLS 2.0?
While the Red Bulls may have rolled the dice to the point of self-destruction, how can even a consistent 20,000 at the till pay for Angel, Henry, Marquez and everyone else with now rumors of a disgruntled Shalrie Joseph headed for Ironbound? Yet that is how it works in the rest of the world with even Barcelona far over their “salary cap” and well into the land of debt, write-off and other shady business practices.
If you don’t pay money, you get, well, what you pay, or refuse to pay for.
Meanwhile, Revolution faithful are subject to a few tattered tweets about budget trialists while the likes of Robbie Keane, Guillermo Franco and Craig Bellamy, to name only three forwards, are rumored to being cast adrift into the roiling seas of the international transfer market. No wonder our Grenadian midfield tyro went ballistic at his bosses’ demonstrable lack of ambition. Had the US had Shalrie in the middle of the park in SA we well might have been forcing the redoubtable Suarez to stick his paw in front of a Dempsey blast at the death. Had Glasgow Celtic had Shalrie next to the only honest Scott Brown to ever perform publically in Massachusetts they might have wiped the floor with their Portuguese opponents at last week’s Fenway extravaganza.
But none of these possibilities came true and how much of that is due to inertia, false frugality or simply, lack of awareness.
As an aside, I was seated at the Sporting eighteen, not far from the seats I used to hold for this unfashionable little football team, the New England Patriots, when a bright young lad seated behind me, likely in finance or intellectual property, asked me exactly who was playing. Choking on my overpriced suds (the cost of food and drink at Fenway makes the Morgue look like a giveaway. Never again to the BoSox bottom line and I mean it and I no longer begrudge Beers of New England) I responded with some perspective. At that moment the marvelous Mendez launched a forty yard bomb onto the instep of a streaking winger and my possibly financial consultant friend, seeing my Revs shirt, said, “you’ll never see anything like that in MLS!” Maybe not, I replied, but do you know our little Revvies beat Sporting and drew with Celtic back in the day when they were one of our little league’s better sides? He didn’t and I wouldn’t have expected him to but imagine, had those matches been played in an intown stadium, what would the collective memory of those moments have been last Wednesday at Fenway Park? So sad but so true and such opportunities wasted through such lack of vision.
One has to wonder exactly what the ownership has in mind for this franchise. Even the now terminally provincial Boston Globe has publically come out to say that there are soccer possibilities within the beltway. Everyone and their feeble uncle know that, why keep measuring, just cut to the chase, an effort that requires dosh up front for bricks and mortar, not studies.
On the subject of players, it is quicker to sign a striker than to pour a foundation and a real football club needs both. Certainly, the question of a DP or two, even three is a matter of contention; let’s see who is left standing at MLS Cup in November. But, one can get priceless press with the right signing and while DP level players are easy to find, solid, mid-career professionals like Marko Perovic require research, perhaps some more staffing in the front office?
When I first requested an interview with the man now known in the Fort as St. Marko I was told that he didn’t feel comfortable with his command of English and would prefer to wait; certainly a reasonable request given that he was coming into a completely new environment and working on a new language. But after reading a couple of interviews and seeing some random postings about pleasant encounters with him at suburban malls, it seemed time to ask again.
What I found was a gregarious, gracious guy and animated conversationalist who seemed to really enjoy talking about football.
JIM: It is always interesting to talk to a player who has come here from another country, with a background of different playing styles and cultures. You came through the youth system at Red Star Belgrade, a club famous for developing young players, and I presume that at Red Star everyone learned a specific tactical style, a particular way to play. Then you went to Switzerland, which is certainly quite different from where you began, both culturally and in football terms and now you are here, in New England, another different place and I have enjoyed watching you adjust on the field, how has that been for you?
MARKO: Well you know for me, for the past eight years, I played six years for Red Star (as a) professional and two and a half years I played in Basel and now this time it is different but for me it is (the same) game and it is OK. I was before the season in South Carolina (training) with the team and I saw everything (about the setup) and I think it is good for me. I’m with a good team with good players and you know I said to (myself) that it was better for me to come to the USA. I saw the team and met the coach and I say, OK, I’m with a good club because I was a year and a half in Basel and because there was a new coach (there) and (with) changing players and everything I wasn’t starting, (just) sitting on the bench and then only playing twenty, maybe thirty minutes and for me, nothing was happening. I like to play the whole game and so I said (to myself) I’d better change clubs and (so) I think that it is good for me to be here.
JIM: What has been the biggest surprise for you, football-wise, or culturally, or both?
MARKO: It hasn’t been that different but, you know, in Europe, there is too much pressure every game and when you lose, I don’t know, with the club and the fans and everything there is pressure, pressure, always pressure, you know. But in the States, well, it is a little bit easier but, OK, I think it is better like this. (For example) one coach before now (in Switzerland), in Basel now it is Thorsten Fink, but before it was Christian Gross, (who) is the same as Steve Nicol; very calm, he comes and talks with you and tells you what your mistakes are, I think it is good for a team (when a coach is) like this.
JIM: Well he has been a very successful coach here; that is for certain.
Now you are 26 years old and for a European or Latin American player, that means you are at the height of your career, but in this country many, if not most of the players only start their professional careers at 22 or 23 years of age after they graduate from college. By that time you’d already been playing five or six years for the Red Star first team.
MARKO: Yes, that’s it, because in Europe when you reach 17 or 18 years, you start in with the first team. When I was 18 I was in the first team at Red Star but here, in New England there are two or three players like Zach, Seth and Boggs who are 23 years old and starting out as first year professionals after finishing college…
JIM: Yes and it is often said that once a player turns 22 or 23 or so they aren’t going to improve much physically, mentally yes, but physically they are already set in their ways. How do you teach skills at that point? You were getting the training at 18 and playing against top professionals. For these American kids, sure they were the best players in their towns or on their club or college teams but they weren’t getting pushed or challenged. I can only imagine what it must have been like for you as a youth or young player at a club like Red Star.
MARKO: But you know (you need that) experience, (there are) not too many games against professionals, I think it is a problem (for development) here in the States. Also because (the play with Red Star) is a bit fast (that is good, but on the other hand) it’s crazy…before the game the fans are coming in (to the dressing room) and talking to the captain and the team and saying, OK you must fight, you have to fight for 90 minutes and if you lose, (well)… OK, I understand, I came to Red Star at 13 years of age, I went to school with Red Star, I became a professional there and it was OK for me, never a big problem. But other players from outside, also from Serbia and from (other countries in Europe) when they come (to that culture) there were big problems because they didn’t know the history of Red Star and they had problems with the fans.
But here in the US, in MLS it is amazing how physical and fast (the game is), how much the players run, often too much…
JIM: Sometimes it is like a track meet.
MARKO: Yes, I talk with friends from back home and I say the 90th minute is like the first minutes…
JIM: And yet the Swiss League, where you have been playing, is one of the most physical leagues in Europe, right?
MARKO: Yes, because it is German style, with German people it is always hard in training, you push, you run, run, run; too much running and you can revolt, (but) it is German style.
JIM: There is a saying, I don’t know if you have heard it, that the ball always moves more quickly than a player can run, meaning that if you are good with the ball, like Spain, for example, you can always beat a faster team.
MARKO: Yes, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, they aren’t fast but the ball is always moving in their possession. In football it is always important that the team first play defense, strong defense and (then) you must play fast, you know, you must play fast (with the ball) and you must play with the other guys, if you don’t play with each other I think you have problems.
JIM: Along those lines I’ve seen, particularly when you first came here, that you would make a pass where clearly you thought that your teammate would be there, anticipating the ball but they didn’t know to make the run. And here, in this country, even though the players play at such a fast pace, they seem to look first before they make a run, there is much less of the unconscious triangle play or movement to space, so it seems a matter of getting used to one another.
MARKO: Yes, I think so, in MLS sometimes we play long balls but I think for me football is simple to play, it is simple because you take the ball and you play with the other guys and (make) one, two three passes, like Spain. In Spain, they work together and play together and you know, the whole team moves together. But not too much…when I go (to make a run), I must go (only) two meters (to get the ball back) or when I go for a long run, OK, (sure) sometimes, but you know, in Europe it is different (in that way).
But for me, MLS is good because, OK the Premier League, Bundesliga, Spain, (that is one thing) but in Switzerland, I don’t see a big difference between Switzerland and MLS. I think it physically is more (or less the same) and Belgium and Holland as well.
JIM: And in those leagues it is often uneven, you have the big teams like Anderlecht in Belgium, Ajax in Holland and Basel in Switzerland and then there is everyone else, struggling to keep up.
MARKO: Yes, that is true.
JIM: Have you noticed another style difference while playing the Mexican teams like Pumas and Morelia?
MARKO: Yes, I’ve never seen anything like it, because it is too much kicking, not clean, you know, the players don’t look at the ball, they just go for me; I don’t understand people who do that.
JIM: It is funny, because supposedly these Superliga games are friendlies, they aren’t league games, whatever, but they are so intense.
MARKO: Yes, (the Mexican players are) always talking, always talking, always saying this and that and always saying, “I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you.” I say “well, OK,” I smile and I go and I finish the game, but…you know, in Italy, in calcio it is the same, because I have a lot of friends who play in Italy and tell me it is the same, it is strong and they (are always) kicking, always talking with the referee and all, and fouls, hysteria all the time (with) the talking and everything. But (in) Spain, enough, they just play, (it is a) beautiful game there.
JIM: Do you notice the intensity of the Mexican teams? Certainly they are in their preseason and all that but they sure don’t like losing to MLS teams and as soon as they realize that they are in a game, there are problems and everything gets crazy. When they see that you guys are as good as they are, although playing a very different style, they seem to go nuts. And, honestly, this year’s games with Mexican teams are much cleaner than in the past, at least thus far.
MARKO: Yes, you see the Mexican teams, they want to fight, you know, I mean they want to provoke you all the time. Yeah, yeah, I don’t know if you remember but around the 16th minute of the Morelia game the defender went like this and grabbed me, ready to throw me down and I said, “hey, I see everything, OK, what is this, this isn’t clean, it isn’t football,” but it is OK, they don’t want to play, the Mexican teams, not too much running but they like to hit me and insult, (me) you know?
JIM: I just think it is fascinating, the cultural differences between teams in different countries and leagues, that is what is so interesting about football.
MARKO: Yes, I agree.
JIM: Did any of the guys on the team talk to you about the Mexican style before the Superliga games?
MARKO: Yes, when we started the Superliga the coaches and Shalrie and all other guys, they said, Marko, you know you must look out because the Mexican teams like to kick (you), so OK, that’s important, (try to) win, but you must stay away from them because it is unnecessary and don’t talk with the guy (marking you) because he wants to wind you up and I said, OK, no problem.
(You know) I’m lucky, I’m happy here in New England and with MLS.
JIM: Well, let’s put it this way, I think the fans and everyone else are equally delighted that you are here.