Disclaimer: There is absolutely zero direct evidence for anything I'm about to write. It's also very hopeful. The relationship between those two statements is yet to be determined. It's also late November; like many adults in the northern latitudes, I have to remain cognizant of the possibility that this bit of emotional lift could be my subconscious manufacturing happiness in advance of the winter's long dark.
Or maybe Veljko Paunovic is exactly, precisely the hire the Chicago Fire need right now. Here's my knee-jerk reaction to our new Serbian overlord - f**k yes. Not a simple Yes!, or even a Hell yeah!, but sometime more Germanic, something guttural, primal: F**k yes, Veljko Paunovic is our manager.
Prior to this hiring, the things I'd hoped to see in the next Chicago Fire manager were fairly simple. I wanted a guy who favored building through the academy rather than shopping. I wanted a farmer, a steward, not a mercenary. I wanted a guy who was familiar with MLS. And, frankly, I wanted a young, hungry manager, a man who presumably would value his long-term reputation as a leader more than his paycheck - if, by weird coincidence, some kind of potentially career-stalling organizational dysfunction showed its ugly head.
So he's got all that, and his Serbia U20 team just won the Youth World Cup? Playing all-for-one against-the-odds football with breathtaking panache and wisdom?
He showed up at the interview with notes about Fire academy guys playing in college? (GRANT LILLARD HE SEES YOU.)
He has his own YouTube channel devoted to highlights, as well as amazingly nerdy practice videos accompanied by the mesmerizing sound of training chatter and wind blowing past the camera?
In a stroke, Chicago GM Nelson Rodriguez has snuffed out the most virulent of the Fire-are-doomed narratives: That the club simply aren't trying, full stop. Not with Mike Petke still out there, and Tab Ramos, and Kerry Zavagnin, and (Zoroaster luv'em both) CJ Brown and Chris Armas. Any one of them - or a hundred other guys - would've been a simpler good-ol'-boys MLS hookup, more of a piece with the apparent 'let's see what we've got near at hand' ethos that brought us Franks Klopas and Yallop.
But Paunovic is a different kind - an MLS vet who's not an MLS lifer; a youth international manager who's actually won something. Every word from Union folks is encouraging:
A grounded, curious guy who's already proved he can motivate? A young, hungry guy who has more to lose than his next paycheck? Yes, please - although the proof is always in the Results, Motherf**ker!
Saying the right things is exponentially easier than doing them. We who watch await some doing.