Can Beckham's best friend revive the Cosmos? (cont.)
SI.com: So you think New York is big enough for two MLS teams?
Byrne: It's interesting, because we've already kind of created a rivalry, with some of the Red Bulls' fans posting messages on the Internet and our fans are responding back. I've got nothing but admiration for what the Red Bulls have achieved so far, with a stadium of the likes that they've built and [their acquisition of] Thierry Henry, although Thierry's season wasn't a great start for him. Nothing happens overnight. They've spent a great deal of money putting a new infrastructure in. I know they're looking at academies properly.
If you said to me, "[Since] you first came to look at the MLS for David, what's the difference that you've seen? How has the league progressed?" There have been changes in people like [owner] Joe Roth coming to Seattle, and I've got great respect for what he's done with season tickets, etc. But I also spoke at length with the people at Vancouver, who have completely done it the right way, looking at their under-8s, their under-10s, their under-12s. It's a very good youth program. They're doing things from the bottom up. That gives you longevity.
That's the evolution of the league. Teams are looking at that a lot more now than they were then. I'm not criticizing the Galaxy, but when I went to the Galaxy at first [in 2007], the players didn't have any food after training. Professionalism is definitely improving here, as it did back in the Premiership when we had the influx of foreign players. When Franco Zola, Luca Vialli and all those players came to Chelsea when I was there, they completely transformed the way the British players thought, because the mentality of the British players after a game back then was to go to the player's bar and drink two pints of lager. I think the influx of players like Dennis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona, those kind of players, they changed the professionalism of English players.
SI.com: As I understand it, the Cosmos already has a policy that all its youth teams will play an attacking 4-3-3 style?
Byrne: Yeah. When you think of the New York Cosmos, it was an exciting style of play. I'm not sure you can do that at a top level today very easily, but what I do know is that when Johann Cruyff set about the Total Football concept that he took to Barcelona, he instilled it from the under-8s to the under-18s. At that point there was a young player in Pep Guardiola who was playing in that system and then became the manager of that system. One of the people in the last two years who I spent two to three hours listening to was Jürgen Klinsmann. He tried to do with the German national team what he felt should be done across soccer from the under-5s up.
I think if you have courage in your beliefs to play a certain style or educate children in a certain style, you should follow that belief. I spent three days recently in here with our two directors of coaching, and we said, "Let's challenge ourselves and our beliefs in style of play." We looked at 4-4-2, 3-5-2, whatever the systems were going to be. It's not about systems. Systems don't win games. Players win games. However, if we are trying to encourage a formation that gives the kids as much of the ball as we possibly can, it can only help them. So every coach at our two academies has to play that system.
SI.com: You guys had to buy the old Cosmos logo from Peppe Pinton, who had owned it for many years. What should we know about him?
Byrne: If you watch Once in a Lifetime, I think he gets pretty much a raw deal, having known a little more about who he really was and what he'd actually done. For every Cosmos fan who exists, without Peppe Pinton, the Cosmos wouldn't exist today. When [Kemsley] sat down with him and tried to understand what it would take for him to sell it, he'd had several offers to try to buy it over the years, but he didn't feel that anybody who approached him had the same vision he had witnessed under Steve Ross [the colorful former CEO of Warner Communications, which owned the Cosmos]. I think in [Kemsley] he recognized some similarities. I'm not saying [Kemsley] is on the level of Steve Ross, but [Kemsley] is somebody who comes up with creative ideas in a similar way that Steve did. Giorgio [Chinaglia] has said the same thing to me. Peppe kept every single game on Betamax video -- in chronological order with the attendance, who scored in what minute -- in a library that has clearly been his baby for a number of years. When we acquired everything that is Cosmos from him, we got the '77 trophies here because he kept them and polished them in his office. That was his pride and joy.
SI.com: So he wasn't just squatting on the brand name?
Byrne: Not at all. He not only had it, but he's looked after it from that period of time. We had 3,000 original photographs, from Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger to Henry Kissinger and Muhammad Ali, all those people who were part of that special thing that was the Cosmos. [Peppe also gave us] 4,000 original jerseys that were all in lockup. He had kept everything in pristine condition.
SI.com: For years MLS has been speaking with the Wilpon family, which owns the New York Mets, about being involved in a second New York-area soccer team and a soccer stadium. Do you see the Wilpons as competitors or potential partners?
Byrne: I think potential partners is the answer to that one. The commissioner has made it clear that they are interested in building the stadium and would be willing to partner with us in potentially building that stadium. I don't think they're competitors. [Kemsley] has had a couple meetings with them. The vision is ideally to work with them.
SI.com: How would that work?
Byrne: I think stadium-specific is the plan. That's where the partnership is: We'll bring the team and they'll bring the stadium, effectively. That's the ideal scenario.
SI.com: Ideally, where would that stadium be? How big would it be?
Byrne: There are several zoning areas they're looking at right now. My understanding from the commissioner is their preference is Queens. And how big would that stadium be? I want to say between 30,000 and 40,000. It's not going to be a New Meadowlands, 80,000 to 90,000, and it's not going to be 20,000. I'd like to see between 30,000 and 40,000 every week, ideally.
SI.com: You do have the financing for the MLS expansion fee?
SI.com: And for the stadium?
Byrne: [Kemsley] put a lot of money in himself initially, then he has raised privately, through investment and securities, to fund the MLS franchise fee and the stadium. So we're in a very good position as far as that is concerned. Because obviously if you're ambition is to be in the league, you have to have the funding in place to execute it. So we have that.
SI.com: Would debt be a part of that?
SI.com: Are you looking for more investors right now?
Byrne: No. Absolutely not.
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