By Kevin Kinkead
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Rene Meulensteen describes his new consulting role for the Philadelphia Union as “open ended.”
There’s no time frame on how long the former Manchester United assistant will aid the Union front office and technical staff.
Nor are there specific parameters outlining what exactly Meulensteen will provide for the team. It looks like the Union will welcome his advice and guidance in all areas, from the youth and training setup, to possible transfer targets this winter.
The addition of the well-traveled Dutchman was a key part of the club’s recent press conference, where executive roles weren’t so much redefined as clarified.
“I think where the Union were very keen, it was this time of the offseason, going into all of the drafts and whatever is going to take place,” Meulensteen told reporters off-podium following that presser. “It’s a great way for me to learn, but more importantly, to help Jim (Curtin), and Chris (Albright), and Mike (Sorber) to make sure they’ve got (someone) to bounce off. For me it’s a good opportunity to have a look at the academy, to spend time with Tommy (Wilson) and Richie Graham, who set up the fantastic school. To get a good feel for everything, I think it takes at least getting into March or April, because the league starts. Then you get to a point where, ‘ok let’s evaluate everything’. That’s how I see it going.”
The Union is looking for a full-time sporting director who will presumably share player-personnel decisions with the technical staff. Chairman and Majority Owner Jay Sugarman didn’t put a time frame on that hire, but said that the club has committed significant resources to the search.
Until that happens, Meulensteen will log some frequent flyer miles, traveling to and from Europe to handle various obligations.
“I’ll be back and forth,” he said. “Obviously one of the reasons we made this consultancy was because of family reasons. I’ve got a family back home in England. My oldest son has left school, but my daughter and younger one are still in school and looking at (colleges). It would be not a wise thing to do, to suddenly (uproot). So I’ll be traveling back and forth. Mainly my consultancy will be on site. I’m here, you know what I mean? I’ll travel back and forth.”
“There are media obligations that I’ve committed to in England with the BBC and Sky Sports, Setanta, and that sort of thing. I still do clinics and presentations and that sort, a variety of things.”
Crossing the pond isn’t something new to Meulensteen, who also had brief head coaching stints at Fulham, Brondby, and Anzhi Makhachkala.
Similar to academy director Tommy Wilson, Meulensteen’s first contact with the Union was during the 2010 expansion season, when the club played several games at Lincoln Financial Field. One of those was a friendly against Manchester United, and Meulensteen was in his second spell with the “Red Devils”.
Meulensteen says he’s been coming to America since the late eighties when soccer camps began to pop up all over the place. Back then, Major League Soccer didn’t even exist and English Premier League games were not on television.
Fast forward about 25 years, and you’ve got access to European football in America, and American soccer in Europe.
So Meulensteen has seen his share of Union games, whether that’s on the laptop, the television, or in person. He thinks the club has a good roster to work with.
“I think the indication you have to look at is the fact is that Jim steadied the ship,” Meulensteen explained. “He secured them more defensively and they were hanging around that playoff spot. I think you need to compare it a little bit to a couple of years ago when Wigan got to the FA Cup final, but they were relegated, because the focus had to shift. What I’m trying to say is that it was a fantastic achievement for the Union to get to this Open Cup final against Seattle, which is a strong team with the resources they have, everything they put into it. Obviously the Union had home advantage and I assume you watched all of the games. If Vincent Nogueira doesn’t hit the post and it goes in, then the Union would have won its first trophy, which is the most important one to win, is the first one. The biggest benefit is that you prove you can make it to a final. To some extent I think the negative outcome of not winning that probably resulted in the dip in form, and missing out on the playoffs. If they didn’t have that focus on the cup final they probably would have had a better chance of getting into the playoffs. That’s by the by, that’s gone, that’s history, that’s the past. You look at the benefits and I think, in general, the roster is strong.”