For 50 years
Vinnie Arena worked six days a week as a butcher, yet there was never any
question who the boss was at home. It would be a compliment to Adeline's
youngest son to say that he manages the U.S. national team with the same
energy, sharp humor and multitasking efficiency that she managed the Arena
household. "She could do anything," says Bruce. The daughter of
southern Italian immigrants, she expounded on any topic, sewed veils for
cousins' weddings and produced oil paintings from family photographs. Up at 5
a.m. daily to do laundry, Adeline somehow found time to cook breakfast, drive a
school bus, ferry the boys to sporting events and make pizzas from scratch
whenever they brought friends home from school.
She did all those
things despite undergoing two radical mastectomies (in 1960 and '63) and
massive doses of radiation therapy. "I was only eight when my mother had
her first surgery," Bruce says. "They removed not only the breast but
all the muscle tissue around the area. They basically ripped my mother apart.
But she always had that quiet toughness." He pauses, then gathers himself.
"My mother had five sisters. Four of them died of cancer, and a number of
their daughters did too, including my sister."
final years she and Bruce developed the close relationship that they'd never
had as children. In the mid-1980s Barbara took a job as a post-office worker,
became an officer in the union and married a colleague, Frank Staak. A year and
a half after the wedding she was gone. "I was so proud of the things she
was doing and how happy she was in her marriage," Bruce says.
"Barbara's death was an awakening to me. It forced me to be more committed
to what I did and to being the right kind of person."
Adeline died 14
months later, her heart finally quitting after so many years of inflammation
from her radiation treatments. After Vinnie's death from lung cancer in 2004,
his sons went through his effects and found an old newspaper article on Bruce's
coaching success. In the margin Vinnie had scribbled, mommy would have been
accuse me of a lot of things," Arena says one day, "but I am more
honest than anyone I come across." It is an honesty that can amuse,
instruct or outrage, an honesty that has won him friends and enemies. Arena is
a devoted fan of Howard Stern, another middle-aged Long Island native who
cracks wise with equal-opportunity zeal. Yet even Arena's friends point out
that unlike Stern, he isn't paid to say outrageous things, and his public
diatribes have often left soccer officials shaking their heads.
"Bruce has the
ability to be not just a great coach but a legendary figure for American
soccer," says MLS commissioner Don Garber, "and to do that he's going
to have to think about what he says and how he says it. I think that's the
difference between being good and being great."
remarkable success on the field, he came close to being fired only 19 months
ago. Once again, the culprit was his mouth. In a New York Times article on
Sept. 28, 2004, Arena called MLS "insane" for scheduling games during
World Cup qualifying, said most MLS regular-season games "mean nothing"
and blasted MLS and U.S. Soccer officials for not having "any soccer
skills, in terms of knowing the game."
It hardly mattered
that Arena's criticisms were largely correct. By the end of the day Garber had
fired off an angry letter to Bob Contiguglia, then president of U.S. Soccer,
that shot back at the U.S. coach and demanded to discuss the course of action
Contiguglia would take. Arena was summoned to an emergency meeting with his
bosses. "There was a lot of pressure from MLS owners to do something, but
we didn't," says Contiguglia, adding that Arena's dismissal "was close,
but I stood in the way."
Arena read his
forced apology in a teleconference a few days later as if he were in a hostage
video, expressing regret for the "spirit" of his comments but not
retracting anything. "The tone was wrong," he concluded. "The
content was not."
As long as Arena
avoids another major faux pas or a 1998-style disaster, he'll probably stick
around through 2010. "Bruce has done an extraordinary job," says
Gulati, an Arena ally who will make the final call. "We'll sit down after
the Cup and figure out what happens next."