By Kevin Kinkead
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Jay Sugarman generally does not speak to reporters.
The Philadelphia Union Chairman and Majority Owner has not addressed the media in a press conference or group setting for the better part of five years.
So it was significant to see him at PPL Park on Friday morning, where he explained the structure of the Union technical staff moving forward.
Sugarman revealed that he is looking to add a “Sporting Director” to the staff, and that he has also brought in former Manchester United assistant Rene Meulensteen as a consultant.
“We plan to augment our team with a permanent Sporting Director, to help take both our youth development, and our first team performance, to a higher level,” Sugarman told reporters. “We’re going to seek a Sporting Director with deep experience in player development, player evaluation, and player performance at both the youth and championship levels, who can oversee and elevate all of our soccer operations, and who will report directly to ownership.”
CBSPhilly.com reported that Meulensteen was originally in line to become the Union’s manager, then assume the Sporting Director job when Jim Curtin ultimately won the head coaching job in September. Instead, it’s unclear how much power he will wield in this consulting role. Sugarman did not have a time frame on when the Sporting Director position would be filled.
He further explained that CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz will “focus on building a business that has the resources to compete as the league gets stronger and stronger”.
As far as player-personnel decision making, that falls to Curtin and Technical Director Chris Albright.
“Jim and Chris are the front line to make that final decision,” Sugarman said. “But, look, you can never have enough great advice and Rene has an international perspective that we think is unmatched. Jim and Chris have a great perspective on MLS from their years in the league. We think that combination is pretty darn powerful.”
Sugarman is the CEO of iStar Financial, which is an investment trust focused on commercial real estate. iStar is performing well these days, but the company took a hit when the housing market suffered through the recent recession.
He addressed concerns about the Union’s financial situation, and whether the club has the resources to compete in a growing league.
“Certainly there are going to be teams with greater resources than we have,” Sugarman explained. “That’s not a surprise. I think that’s true in all leagues. But there’s no question that we can win in this league. From ownership’s perspective, we invested over a hundred million dollars of private capital, and we continue to invest. We’ve never taken a dollar out of this team, and I don’t see that changing. This is about investing, it’s about building a great franchise. We have been adding local investors who we think continue to bring new ideas and local connections to the team. But the team is in very strong hands. I’m not going anywhere, you’re kind of stuck with me. I will keep committing resources on plans I really believe in. Part of this exercise is to look back, figure out what we can do better, commit the resources there, and not be in a position where simply having other teams that can spend more will win.”
“I don’t think we need to spend our way to a different plan. What we need to do is be really clear and really direct on how we’re going to compete. I think right now we’re in a good place, but we can be better.”
Sugarman also hinted throughout the press conference that the club would prioritize the Union academy in King of Prussia, as opposed to purchasing high priced players.
“A cornerstone of our strategy is to rely on developing and building talent internally, more than buying it on the market,” he said. “We think that we already have a strong foundation in place for that strategy.”