The announcement that Patrick Vieira will replace Jason Kreis as manager of New York City FC has been meet with near unanimous disapproval. He’s foreign! He has no MLS experience! He’s foreign! He’s only using this as a stepping stone to the Man City job! HE’S FOREIGN!!!!
Though the limited track record for great European footballers turned MLS managers isn’t great, Vieira and NYCFC are both unique cases that complicate comparisons to previous failures.
First and foremost, there’s the matter of Vieira’s willingness to learn. MLS fans and journalists seem to take a perverse delight in the notion that foreign players and coaches couldn’t possibly grasp the intricacies of the league, whether it be the travel and wide array of climates or the bureaucratic and ever changing league rules. It speaks to a deep-seated inferiority complex that there’s always a rush to assess internationally renowned legends of the game as being cut down to size by a league its backers feel is constantly disrespected and underappreciated.
But if any outsider is going to respect the league and not assume that his vast knowledge of the game is all he needs to get by in MLS, it’s probably Vieira. He’s already demonstrated a willingness to learn and toil out of the spotlight by working up the youth development ranks at Man City after his retirement, instead of holding out for a job as Premier League manager as others of his stature might have. Which brings us to the next criticism of Vieira’s NYCFC appointment: that he’s only taking the job to work his way up the City Football Group organization.
Again, that this is viewed as a negative only proves the unwillingness to accept MLS’s place in the world. New York City FC becoming the biggest club in MLS and a feeder for Man City are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.
For better or worse, CFG have made it clear that they have no intention of building a typical MLS club. Their priority is aging stars and their own youth prospects, which is why Kreis simply wasn’t a good fit. He didn’t have the respect of either of those groups and cared more for the MLS journeymen that he’s grown accustomed to in his lifetime within the league (and CFG couldn’t care less about). Someone like Vieira, however, will have more clout with the likes of David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, and Frank Lampard, as well as the young players “on loan” from Man City, perhaps being able to get more out of them. And if Vieira is only taking this job to prove himself to his bosses, then it stands to reason that he will be desperate to succeed and prove his worth, while they, in turn, might be willing to give a like-minded apprentice they’ve been grooming for years now a bit more slack than someone like Kreis.
Will Vieira definitely succeed? Of course not. MLS is, by design, one giant coin flip. The league’s desire to put parity above all else has made it so the final four teams in the playoffs this season have the 11th, 13th, 19th and 20th largest payrolls in the league. There are no guarantees for anyone.
But if we’re going to assume that no foreign manager will ever succeed in MLS because that’s the way it’s been to this point and every such appointment should be met with immediate derision, then, by that logic, the U.S. men’s national team will never win a World Cup and should probably stop trying, because they’ve never done it before, right?