Steve Nicol on scouting MLS players and drafting Clint Dempsey
The following is an excerpt from Steve Nicol's autobiography, "5 League Titles and a Packet of Crisps." In it, Nicol discusses taking over as head coach of the New England Revolution in 2002.
That feeling when I got the New England Revolution job on a permanent basis was one of relief, similar to when I signed for Sheffield Wednesday -- I knew I was capable of doing a job at a decent level again but I just needed someone to believe in me. Home life was good, work was good and the family was settled. Now all I needed to do was build on what we'd achieved at the Revs during my interim period in charge.
To get players for MLS, we sometimes had to go to places where nobody else goes. The big teams have global scouting networks but we had to be creative. One day an agent told me about a tournament in Niger, Western Africa which consisted of part-time, international professional players.
Unfortunately, our flight from New York was delayed and on arrival we were told that the hotel had given our rooms to someone else. Despite that, the agent invited us to have dinner with the Niger national team who were staying there. There was meat, vegetables and potatoes. The meat looked suspect, I wasn't sure about the vegetables but I figured that to make potatoes you have to boil them and that would get rid of any bacteria. So that's all we had to eat. A giant helping of potatoes was our only meal after a fifteen-hour flight. Next we had to find a bed for the night.
Driving around after midnight with a taxi driver who thought he was Jackie Stewart was somewhat traumatic, but not quite as traumatic as the place we ended up staying at. Me and my assistant at the time, Steve Myles, had to share a room with what seemed like a million bugs crawling and jumping all over the place. We slept in the same double bed -- both of us with our trousers tucked into our socks because of the bugs and the covers as far up our bodies as possible without suffocating us.
The first set of games in the tournament took place the following day. There must have been at least 100 scouts from all over the world watching the games -- so much for going where no-one else goes! After spotting a centre-back who we thought could help us, we arranged a flight back home the next day.
We drank 20 bottles of beer each that night to help us sleep through the nightmare of the hotel room. The agent appeared the next day and took us to the so-called best hotel in Niger for lunch. It was a buffet with a host of local delicacies. Guess what we had to eat? Spuds. To top it all off, we later offered $200,000 for the big centre-back but the owner of his team wasn't interested at that price. Maybe if we had thrown in 40 bottles of beer, endless potatoes and a two-night stay in a luxury hotel in Niger we may have done a deal!
Two of my most important signings were made at the beginning of 2004. I took 20-year-old Clint Dempsey with the eighth pick of the MLS SuperDraft and added 51-year-old ex-Arsenal striker Paul Mariner as my assistant on a free transfer from Harvard University, where he'd been coaching. I'd been told that Clint had a bit of an attitude problem. He did have an attitude, there's no question about that, but it was an attitude I liked. He was clearly a winner. If things weren't done right, he'd let others know. He was just the type of kid I was looking for...
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