Since Sounders FC was formed, general manager Adrian Hanauer has crisscrossed the globe on fact-finding missions as he lays the groundwork for the new club. His most recent sojourn was the lengthiest, lasting 22 days and taking him and technical director Chris Henderson to four countries and two continents, Europe and Africa. Here’s his report.
After China in the fall and South America earlier this spring, we departed Seattle with open minds, a busy itinerary and with a better base for exploring. With each trip, we go with a little more knowledge.
Ultimately, these trips are all about building a world class football side. What we’re doing now, in all aspects of our business, is learning the best ways to do things, be it building a youth system, an academy, how to treat our players, the best medical techniques, strength and conditioning techniques and even the ways to gain the home field advantage at Qwest.
We’re able to pick up kernels of knowledge everywhere we go, one building block at a time, from styles of play to creating connections from youth system to the first team. It all helps us make good decisions and also make this franchise more successful from Day One.
One extremely interesting stop on this trip was the Feyenoord Academy in Ghana. We got a chance to look at the facility and meet with the academy’s managing director, a Dutchman who’s lived in Africa for 25 years.
We learned how Feyenoord works with the academy and how the players flow from Ghana to that club and elsewhere around the world. The academy has been in operation for eight years, and while they have placed players with several clubs, we are not talking about any well-known names. Still, we are in discussions with the academy, and there’s a chance we may bring a couple players over this summer for trials with the USL Sounders.
The notion that there are Michael Essiens growing on trees in Ghana is just not the case. These academies are a long, long-term project. In building our youth system, we hope to produce quality players on a regular basis, and hopefully a superstar every 5-10 years. But as we saw with Feyenoord in Ghana, the Drogbas and the Essiens are few and far between.
Finding the needle in the haystack is a great theory, but it is so rare today. The game is so well financed and the world so well researched, groomed and covered, that it’s all but impossible to find that undiscovered talent.
Chris and I have been discussing our strategy for our international recruiting. We realize we cannot cover the whole globe. Even the big clubs can’t be everywhere. We’ll have to pick regions and countries and create some expertise in those areas.
We do believe Ghana is probably the best place to focus in that part of the world. Ghana has access to several smaller West African countries, such as Togo, Benin, and the Ivory Coast. They speak English, it’s safe and fairly well organized too.
In addition to Ghana, we also made stops in Europe. We spent time in Portugal, watching a youth game at Benfica and visiting executives and the training facility at Porto. We really admire the Portuguese football, and the U19 game featured an extremely high caliber of play. The training facility was well organized in its layout and the pitches were beautiful.
In France, we saw a game at Paris FC, where I have some contacts. I’m a big fan of French soccer, and I want to keep our relationships thriving there and throughout the French leagues. We’re also learning about the clubs organizational structures, about what our club might look like not only in these first few years but also later down the line.
It was a good trip and also a long one. It’s good to be home. Now, Chris and I are going to take what we’ve learned from these last couple trips and based on that knowledge begin to plan for the team and organization. Then, in time, we’ll head back out again.