It's an odd thing, trust.
There are those who will tell you it must be earned; many of those same people are simple marks for charlatans. Nothing is ever that simple when humans and their intentions are involved. In the real world, there's a very small trust credit-line that is assumed between friendly parties, like - for instance - those between supporters of a football club and the officials of that football club.
So it is that even the most embittered of the supporters of the Chicago Fire are now emotionally trapped in the amber of zero evidence. Nelson Rodriguez is here, and an infinity of futures beckon. Harry Shipp could be president of the club someday. Maybe Larry Sunderland leads the Fire to the double a couple times, then gets the USA to the World Cup Final. Or, the Men in Red grow crabbed and odd, a evolutionary dead end, a club too stunted and weird to live on. The universe trembles with possibility. Anything is possible, and nothing is proved; no decisions can be weighed, as none are extant. Suspended animation.
One of the really beautiful things about football is the way it channels and amplifies those simple, tribal impulses in us. Maybe that's why it's hard for us, this waiting; our animal psyches struggling to understand that, sometimes, waiting in stillness is what needs to happen now. This reminiscence over the New York Red Bulls very tumultuous year is instructive, and I'd like to dive into the timeline there.
Ali Curtis and 'the blueprint'
If ever there's been living proof of the idea that 'it's all in the implementation,' it's Ali Curtis with New York Red Bulls. In January, a few weeks after letting Red Bull legend Mike Petke go, Curtis inflamed an angry Red Bull town-hall meeting with his tendency for awkward, pompous pronouncements about 'vision' and style of play.
Then he dealt Eric Alexander and Ambroise Oyongo for Felipe and Montreal's first spot in the allocation order. They may remember it differently now; I remember a distinct "WHAT IN THE F**KING F**K" vibe from that direction at the time. But of course that allocation spot became Sacha Kljestan, which became the midfield triangle of McCarty-Felipe-Kljestan, which became the best midfield in MLS less than three months after Curtis stood there, hoping for the best. At some point, he came forward with what he called a '300-page blueprint,' and everyone chuckled for five minutes, and now it's all ... happening ...
Which is to say that it's not completely irrational - however increasingly worse the Chicago Fire have performed on and off the field since 2009 - to view Nelson Rodriguez' early days as necessarily a time for optimism, or at least less-bombastic protests against ownership. ("He's yet to hire a coach! Perhaps there's a dynasty in there somewhere!") Rodriguez has a strong reputation as a guy who makes other professionals feel wanted and empowered, which is absolutely perfect, if true. Imagining a Fire XI with seven Homegrown players in 2020; these things take time. And we don't have any proof that it's not all coming up CF97, y'know?
There's this lag, y'see. People make decisions, and those decisions play out over moments, days, lifetimes. Problem is, there's a lag between when the decisions are made and when the results of those decisions are plain. In some things, this lag is manageable - driving a car, usually, is a simple direct experience: You start to edge too far to the right, you turn the steering wheel left, the car edges left. The time between your input and the feedback is very short, and so good strategies are simple to choose - just keep your eyes on the road and follow the (immediate, plentiful) feedback.
In football, the lag time can be months, years. The decisions aren't simple, physical ones; they involve psychology and sociology, physiology and philosophy and politics. And when the results arrive, it's possible that's just another argument of the ever-ramifying polyphonic fugue of football arguments, less a condemnation of the decision-process than an acknowledgment of the difficulty of making and evaluating decisions.
So, it's hard.
The concern here is that, in lieu of actually grappling with these difficulties, the esteemed lump of money known as Andell Holdings* is merely arbitraging the lag for maximum profit, like an actor stretching a scene to commercial long past credulity. As long as MLS keeps expanding, there's other places for ambitious money looking to buy into the American top flight to go - once that natural high-water mark is hit, will Andell hang around?
Of course, any one of these iterations of the hope-scam could catch on by merely encouraging real hope. We'll stay tuned, waiting in stillness. Show us something good, Mr. Rodriguez.
*Who would like to point out that the lump is really actually quite huge, thank you very much