KENYA BROWN - Tuesday, February 9, 2010
There comes a time when every soccer player has to hang up their cleats and move on to the next stage of their lives after soccer. The question most of them may always ask themselves is, "What to do next?"
Some former players move to positions as analyst on television. Others find opportunities outside the sport in business or, like former Wales international Vinnie Jones and Manchester United legend Eric Cantona, acting in movies.
Then there are those who move into the administration side of the sport. You can place former US international Earnie Stewart into this category.
After retiring as a player in 2005, he moved into the position of Technical Director with his first club VVV Venlo. Currently he is in the same position at Dutch Eredivisie club NAC Breda. The transition from being a player to a Technical Director may not be easy for some, but Stewart seems to be enjoying his new position.
"The best thing is to play", he told YA. "The next best thing is to be involved with soccer in a position where you are able to make decisions that have an impact where you are at the time. I am one of the lucky ones to be able to do both!"
It is common these days to hear of billionaires from stateside taking up ownership of teams in Europe. It is rarer to hear of Americans taking up roles on soccer teams in Europe like the former Willem II Tilburg star. While he enjoys what he is doing presently at Breda, is there a possibility we could see him on the field in a coaching role?
"That is a possibility," Stewart says, before adding, "Although there is no set time frame."
The success rate for former players coming into coaching roles can be debatable. Some have found the transition to be rather difficult as they have to deal with the day to day operations of preparing the team for upcoming matches. There is also the problem of handling different egos in the locker room.
The former US speedster says he would be neither a disciplinarian like Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal nor a laid-back type of coach such as Galatasaray's Frank Rijkaard. Add in two of his former coaches, Bruce Arena and Bora Milutinovic, Stewart has his own ideas of how to approach the job.
"You take a little bit from every coach you've been under and put it into your own style," the United States' all-time leading goalscorer in Europe explained. "From Milutinovic, it must have been that you need to spend a lot of time on the field to get better in all regards and parts of soccer."
"From Bruce Arena, for sure it was that the team and the chemistry that you have together is the heart and soul of what you can achieve as a group of people. From [ex-USA head coach Steve] Sampson, I learned what not to do as a coach."
Stewart is no stranger to supporters of the US national team. Having played 101 times for the Red, White and Blue for more than 10 years, Stewart has seen numerous changes in his time. He has also played in three World Cups, which puts him in a small class of players that have gone on to represent the US in multiple World Cups.
The 1994 World is probably the one that most US supporters will remember as he scored the game winning goal against the heavily favored Colombian team.
"After all of these years I am still not able to describe how I felt at that moment," he confided. "It was and always will be one of my highlights concerning soccer!"
While scoring a goal in the biggest international tournament in soccer is a great memory to have, the Holland-born midfielder would rate another World Cup moment above that one. It was in Suwon, South Korea during the 2002 World Cup.
"Being able to lead a team as captain on to the field at the 2002 World Cup [was my proudest US moment]," beamed Stewart. "Claudio [Reyna] was injured for the first game and Bruce Arena named me captain against Portugal. I still thank him to this date for that great opportunity!"
These days, due to his work at NAC Breda and raising a young family, the former US Soccer Athlete of the Year winner has had little chance to follow the US national team. While there are new faces to the team, there are those who have followed the team would find it easy to compare past teams with the current team preparing for the World Cup in South Africa.
"I saw them play during the Confederations Cup and the past World Cup - it's hard to compare," Stewart believes. "The times, the way of playing are totally different. This game is much faster and physical than when I started with the national team years ago."
Stewart has been through the ups and downs of the US national team through the years. He has witnessed the euphoria of qualifying for World Cups and heartache with the last place finish of the team in France during the 1998 World Cup. With the national team qualifying for a sixth consecutive World Cup it shows that the team has improved leaps and bounds since the years after their qualification in 1950.
However, between 1990 and 2006, the US national team has only progressed to the knock out stages twice. The former MLS champion has high hopes for the team, but knows it will take time to get to that next step.
"One thing is obvious and that is it will not happen overnight, which we all dream of," he says. "First of all, qualifying six times in a row is an amazing accomplishment when you look at all the stats for all countries on how many times they have qualified."
"Second, we have to identify what kind of team we are and where we stand in the world. I still think we are a national team where team ethics are more important than any individual within the team. This is what has made us strong in the past and what we will carry with us for a long time coming."
"As long as we act as a unit, we are a very hard team to beat."