Can Beckham's best friend revive the Cosmos? (cont.)
SI.com: Could you explain what these "Inspirational Games" are that you have planned for the Cosmos in 2011?
Byrne: I'll explain the concept. I've heard, "Are you going to become the Harlem Globetrotters?" No, we're not. "Are you going to have exhibition games?" There's a slight twist on exhibition games. I think exhibition games are played at a pace where people don't really try that hard. My job over the next two years is to build a platform that starts the future structure of the team. So the phrase "inspirational game" came out of it. What if an 18-year-old who's currently playing in our New York academy has an opportunity to line up alongside some of the best players in the world? Has that been done before? No. Could we do that? Well, yeah, we could.
And those games that we play, we could put that 18-year-old kid from Los Angeles or the New York academy on the field so that he could learn from some of the best players in the world. Could we give that chance to U.S.-based kids? Yeah, we could. We want to be aspirational off the pitch and inspirational on it. But I have to field a team of enough world-class players that people want to come see us play.
SI.com: I know you have great contacts with some of the world's top players. Is that possible? Would their own teams be OK with that?
Byrne: It's a big challenge and there's a way around it, doing it the right way within FIFA guidelines, which I'm working on. The first game, for me, just has to be a celebration of the rebirth. But that game should be a sellout game, and that game should be against top-class opposition with as many world-class players as I can get on the field with three or four of those kids, giving them a taste of that experience. If you're saying to me you've got world-class players as good contacts of yours, that's my job. That's why I'm here, to try to utilize that.
What I will tell you is I've had several of those world-class players all saying to me: "When are you going into the MLS? Because if you are, I quite fancy that." Which backs up my decision to do what I'm doing. It justifies in my mind: I'm moving my family here, literally. I'm giving up everything to move here [from London] because I believe in this project.
SI.com: When would these inspirational games be? Where?
Byrne: We're looking at the New Meadowlands Stadium this summer. We've looked into two or three dates. Our intention would be to play one game here this summer and probably two international games on the road. In 2012, there will probably be a lot more than those three games. And then in 2013, we'll be ready to go into the league.
SI.com: The only similar thing I could think of to these Cosmos friendlies would be those special games FIFA has done over the years with All-Star teams.
Byrne: As close as I can get to that would be my ideal scenario.
SI.com: Do you think FIFA and U.S. Soccer would sanction them?
Byrne: I'm working with the governing bodies to make sure I do everything the right way, so that everybody embraces the idea.
SI.com: I get the sense that the feeling about the new Cosmos among American soccer fans is 1) excitement, and 2) can these guys back it up?
Byrne: Are we a fur coat with no knickers on? Kevin Keegan said years ago of a team: They're a fur coat with no knickers on underneath. Can we back it up? If I didn't believe we're going to put these things in place to do it, then I wouldn't be here. Anything the league requires us to do over the next 12 months, we have to do if we want the end goal, and that is to be in the MLS. That, for me, is the absolute target. If we fall short in some areas, it won't be for the want of trying. So, yeah, our intention is to do all those things and put them in place.
SI.com: I don't want to keep you here forever, but I also want to give my readers some background on who you are. Your soccer journey is pretty amazing.
Byrne: I've been lucky. There's an element of luck, but I also think sometimes you create your own luck. I was in the right place at the right time. I was a massive Chelsea fan as a kid. Used to go to every game home and away for years and wanted to be a professional footballer before that. At Leyton Orient, I was on their youth team. Wasn't good enough, most devastating day in your life. But I then said, "In what other ways can I work in soccer if I wasn't going to be a player?"
My mother was an aromatherapist and a hairdresser, so she did massage. I was at a Chelsea game when the physiotherapist put an advertisement in the program saying: "Can somebody come help me with sports massage?" I had no knowledge of sports massage whatsoever and I applied. I went home to my mum and said, "Quick, teach me how to massage. I want to be a sports masseur." You can't just learn it like that. I went for the interview and he said, "You've got the right personality but no experience. If you're serious about it, come do a course." So I went to a place called the London School of Sports Massage and did a one-year course.
The following summer I got a call from [Chelsea] saying the guy he brought in has emigrated to Japan, did I want to come in? And in 1993, he brought me in part time as a sports masseur, just on match days helping him out when Ian Porterfield was manager. Then in six months they'd gone and Glenn Hoddle had become Chelsea manager. He wanted a full-time masseur but [then Chelsea chairman] Ken Bates, God love him, who was such an enigmatic character to say the least, wouldn't pay the salary for a kit manager and a sports masseur, so Glenn said to me, "Can you do both? Because they won't pay." And my salary was 12,000 pounds a year.
SI.com: Clearly it wasn't the Abramovich era at Chelsea back then.
Byrne: No, and you know what? I believe to this day it was the best education I could have ever had. I was doing two people's jobs. And I was the first full-time masseur in English football in those days. No other club had a masseur because Glenn had played in Monaco and in France they had four masseurs with the team. He wanted to be the first person to introduce sports massage into English football. So over those first two years of working with Glenn, I thoroughly enjoyed it. In our first season we lost to Man United in the Cup final, the first Cup final in 27 years for Chelsea.
And he said to me, "Look, you're working too hard, you can either go on the equipment management side and have a job for life, or I'd love to develop you on physiotherapy. Would you be willing to do a course and be open to learning on the medical front?" The English FA did a two-year course for a sports injuries diploma, where you can work as a physiotherapist in football if you do it. So I did that diploma from a distance, and you'd go for exams every summer. While I was working at Chelsea, I was doing that as well.
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