Would someone please tell me what it is about the name "New York Cosmos" that makes otherwise smart people with lots of money and business sense grab their shotguns and head out to the forest while bragging about the big pile of unicorn pelts they'll soon be bringing home?
When the news broke last week about the new owners of the neoCosmos buying into the NASL, it seemed that, at last, someone was bringing a modicum of proportion and reality into what had been a situation which, while rife with hilarity and eminently entertaining, was so obviously all smoke and no fire that only a brain-damaged monkey could have possibly believed a word of it.
Last Friday, Grant Wahl wrote a terrific piece about the current situation that, among other things, made it clear that the days of 100 foot billboards, swanky Manhattan cocktail receptions and expensive signings of empty names from long ago were over.
As Chairman Seamus O'Brien told Wahl:
"We won't say anything we're not going to deliver on, so you're not going to get hyperbole and big, grandiose lunatic statements that might have been the mantra of the past. You're going to get facts and reality."
They were joining NASL because they wanted to build from the ground up and "get it right". Yes, they are looking at MLS because "We aspire to play at the highest level that we can", and certainly wanted to continue their "dialogue" with that league but for now just getting 11 guys out there playing the Carolina Railhawks was their sole focus.
The guy was so sincere, so down to Earth, that you were almost tempted to believe him.
Then, on Monday, Roger Bennett at ESPN posted this piece which makes you wonder if he and Wahl talked to the same guy.
With Bennett, O'Brien begins with a very similar tone:
"We're back with none of the posturing; just a sound business plan...From now on, I want our deeds to match our words."
Then, however, he tells Bennett that joining the NASL isn't really a matter of starting at the bottom of the ladder, get some things going, proving your sincerity and humbly working their way up.
Far from it.
What it really amounts to, we're told, is a "shrewd footballing strategy":
"We evaluated the NASL opportunity alongside the MLS opportunity and came to the conclusion that it was the better fit for the business we are in today."
"Simply put, in NASL we have the freedom to do whatever we need to in a way we would not have in MLS. Our goal is to own our own brand, media rights and player contracts."
Warming to his topic - or possibly cracking a second bottle of scotch - Bennett claims that entering MLS would have cost them $100 million (actually, once the stadum is built MLS supposedly intends to conduct a sort of auction amongst the interested parties and they HOPE it will go that high, but no matter) and "We realized we would be better off as owners by investing that $100 million capital in our own brand and owning it."
He then makes some snarky remarks about promotion and relegation while wondering aloud about the "evolving relationship between the NASL and MLS" (note to Mr. O'Brien: good luck with that one) and where that might lead but then makes it clear he really has no interest in competing with Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers:
"Our focus is on (the) global football economy. We are not yet a Real Madrid or a Manchester United but as the football world converges, we intend be part of that game."
He then goes into an amazingly note-perfect Paul Kemsley imitation, noting that "What attracted us to the Cosmos in the first place was the brand -- a historic brand that has such resonance domestically and worldwide" before, finally, dropping the facade altogether:
"We understand we need to be able to deliver on that history today by doing the things other truly global teams do: I want to develop a Cosmos TV deal that is viewable around the world. I want to have apparel everywhere from Beijing to Tokyo. I want offseason tours against teams like Real Madrid."
So then, in summary, O'Brien's vision differs from the last set of delusional mopes how, exactly? They don't plan on bringing back Eric Cantona or the late Giorgio Chinaglia? (although he does note that "Pele will be involved". Of course. What would insanely hallucinatory soccer money-wasting be without Grandfather Time sitting in the corner drooling on himself while muttering that Messi isn't good enough to carry his old crusty jockstrap?).
So what he's really saying is what the last guys said. It's all about "the brand" and establishing a global marketing empire on a par with Manchester United and Barcelona and building a superteam loaded with superstars and having little children in China wearing Cosmos jerseys while huddled around their TV sets at 4 in the morning watching The Cosmos play either a) The Puerto Rico Islanders or b) an exhibition game against an offseason AC Milan.
Really? He believes this?
Now I'm positive that this pile of utter rubbish sounds wonderful to the guys back in Saudi Arabia who are bankrolling this thing. I'm just wondering if he bothered to edit Kemsley's sales pitch or did he just change out the letterhead?
Now some people are speculating that the real purpose here is to bully MLS into giving them that 20th spot or risk losing the Cosmos brand forever.
If so, I wish him luck. MLS knows it can get along fine without it.
Or maybe he believes that he can make MLS change their entire corporate structure. Again, good luck.
Or perhaps he believes they'll let him into the league on a deal that's different from everybody else's. Ditto.
Whatever it is, one thing is clear:
Like it always is with the Cosmos, the last thing it has anything to do with is the soccer.