The January transfer window: Send Jim Curtin on loan

Photo: Earl Gardner

The global January transfer window is always somewhat less exciting than its summer cousin — except in MLS. With the offseason in full swing, it’s the prime time to see talent flow into and out of the league.

I’ve been thinking about what the Philadelphia Union might want to do in the window. The answers, though, remain exactly the same as they were in October — find a DP striker, lock up Maurice Edu, figure out the goalie situation, and look for someone with the elusive blend of both value and talent (think Vincent Nogueira).

But what if the transfer window wasn’t just about players?

The single biggest decision of the offseason has been the appointment of Jim Curtin as full-time manager, an appointment that he earned through a moderately successful spell as the interim manager.

His appointment is not without its problems. Chief among them, for me and many others, is Curtin’s distinct lack of coaching experience — just two years working with Academy kids before becoming an assistant and then interim manager.

Obviously this is the trend these days in MLS. Team after team is hiring young, recently retired MLS players and having them take charge of their squad. Sometimes it works (Ben Olsen and Jay Heaps put together fantastic teams this season), and sometimes it doesn’t (Ryan Nelsen’s spell ruining running Toronto comes to mind).

There’s only one way to get experience as a coach and a manager — go be a coach and a manager. That’s why the Union should “loan” Jim Curtin to another club, immediately, lasting until the start of training camp.

A situation like this is not unheard of, even in MLS. The model, of course, is Jason Kreis, who used his one-year sabbatical to become a guest on Manchester City’s staff while waiting for NYCFC to start being a functional soccer team. Kreis is a guy who’s already had success in MLS as a coach, and it’s impressive to see him seeking to develop his skills. Make no mistake — Kreis is the biggest asset that NYCFC has.

So let’s take this month to send Curtin to England, as a visiting assistant at a Premier League or Championship side. I hear Palace and West Brom are looking for caretaker managers. Better that Curtin join an established staff where his responsibilities are minimal, however. (England’s also a natural choice because people speak English there. Or, at least, some approximation of English.)

Let him see how an organization operates at the highest level of football. How are practices run? How do players and managers interact? How are tactics developed, taught, instilled? Just as we hope the players are spending their off-season getting in shape and sharpening individual skills, so too should Curtin be seeking to become a better manager.

The most obvious problem with this would be that Curtin would have to leave the Union for a bit. But what’s Curtin doing in January anyway? Theoretically, he has the tandem of Chris Albright and Rene Muelensteen to handle player acquisition, and the players won’t report to training camp until the end of the month. Given the modern wonders of the Internet, I imagine Curtin would be able to stay active in the construction of the roster. (He can even do some scouting while he’s over there.)

Yes, Jim Curtin has already been a professional soccer player. And he’s even been a professional soccer manager! But soccer is a complicated, nuanced, beautiful game, and no one person can never really learn enough. The best you can do is to be hungry to learn.

For all the talk of Curtin understanding Philadelphia and its fans, it won’t matter if he doesn’t actively seek out new ideas and experiences. Sending the manager “on loan” may be an unlikely idea. But if the goal is to make the Union an elite franchise, its manager must be willing to expand his horizons.

Sub-thought: While thinking about using the transfer window for non-player maneuvers, I considered that this might be a good time to bring in a club mascot on short-term loan, just to test the waters on the concept. My top “transfer targets” would be Arsenal FC’s Gunnersaurus — Philly is already host to one big-nosed, bright green mascot of highly ambiguous origin — and the Eagles’ Swoop. What does he even do during the NFL offseason? Nest?

Sub-sub-thought/Editor’s Note: We have vetoed this mascot nonsense. But we like Peter, and he’s funny, so we’re leaving it in there.


  1. But, he’s not just the coach. He’s in charge of the roster. No time to sit behind some EPL coach when he needs to be scouting and signing that striker we want.

    Also, I;m not going to argue that Nelson did a great job in Toronto, but I think he deserved a little more time. When he was fired, the team was still a top 5 team in the East.

  2. Again this is typical of the Union doing things ass-backwards. If they would have first put a GM in place to over see Curtin and Albright then the GM would be the one making player decisions. Curtin and Albright would then have the opportunity to go to England and learn. The Union try to BS everyone about how inovative and forward thinking they are. The only thing they’ve shown us is their continued atempt at smoke and mirrors and BS, typical of a dog and pony show. Watching the moves made around the league thus far and the expansion teams only serve to point out the limitations of this organization in this major market. It’s rediculous that Philadelphia is not a major player in the same conference as not 1 but 2 NY teams as the 2nd largest market on the east coast. In my opinion if the Union don’t bring in stronger financial power the organization will continue to flounder. This is unacceptable particularly the way MLS is trending. I have friends in England and Germany who constantly ask me why Philadelphia’s representation in MLS is so impotent? They think it has to be more than financial limitations of Sugarman and the baggage and reputation of Sakeiwicz. I’ll say it again. I have a feeling that Sugarman ,Sakeiwicz and group are fending off financial interests that would weaken their hold on this franchise thus continuing the 2nd rate manner in which it’s run. It’s a dis-service to the rich soccer history in this market and a great fan base.

    • In fairness, the Union (High School) Academy is pretty forward thinking- for the small sum of about $18,000 a years.
      I think Peter is reaching a bit. I’m okay with JC doing things the way they are doing them. If they were to send him abroad, then to me he isn’t the right coach. Now if we were to partner with an English, SA or european club that would be different. The Kreis situation is atypical.

      • I see your point Joel, but to me the Union(academy asside) are too small for this market and tend to settle on too many unknown entities. Even the most experienced coaches go to seminars and visit other organizations to learn and incorporate that learning into their style of coachhing. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t qualified to do the job. Curtin is raw and at times was out coached especially during the playoff run. He showed an inability to adjust to the most elementary situations. While he brings and open honest approach(sometimes I think it’s BS) he needs to learn to see the game from more than his own point of view.

      • I do like the idea of partnering with another organization. In a perfect world Meulenstein would use his Manchester United connection with Fergie, maybe even bringing in their ownership…. I can dream can’t I! Rooney moves to the Union…

      • This is my dream as well sir. Unfortunately, Rene’s absolute distaste for all things LVG makes that a Quixote Windmill.
        Truth be told I think modeling anything we do stateside after the european method is a gigantic misstep anyway. From what I have learned and seen and studied, the ideal partnership is in South/Latin America (where the bulk of our melting pot comes from anymore too)- tying ourselves to the english/euro model has set us back 50 years already IMO.

      • In a perfect world we partner with a club like Southampton . . . A club that focuses on developing talent, instead of relying primarily on purchasing it

      • +1. This is exactly what we need, or maybe even Tottenham, since Pochettino is the one who developed the Southampton players). But learn not only what it like to be on the sidelines of a major club, but what goes on behind the scenes of club that size and that successful.

      • Not to be Mr Negative, but for all the accolades our academy gets they still have yet to produce anything for our actual club. Meanwhile Orlando has already signed 2 homegrowns despite not having played a single MLS game yet.

      • Could be the hesitancy to play said players IMO. The jump from Academy to Show is huge- seasoning, salt pepper, cumin and experience is the only way to find out if a kid has quality. They need game time.
        Take for instance Pfeffer. What did he see 2.5 games? looked smart and snappy in 1.5 and overmatched in 1- then back to not even making the ‘best 18’ – this is all about coaching flux. The instability of this organization hamstrings the youth.

  3. “But soccer is a complicated, nuanced, beautiful game…” Well said!

  4. Don’t really see this as an alternative. The difference for Kreis, was that they are owned by Man City. Why would any club take on JC on an arrangement such as a coach loan?? What would they get out of it?
    If JC needs a period learning as an intern, then we’ve got the wrong man for the job.
    I think it is a pretty dumb idea in all honesty.
    Either JC performs as a Head Coach, and his appointment is a stroke of genius, or, as I fear, his end of season run of results will continue, and the gamble will have back fired.
    If he needs a period as an intern, he’s not the right man

  5. OneManWolfpack says:

    I actually like this idea. A guy like Curtain could really benefit from learning the job he is about to do, PRIOR, to actually doing it… as opposed to how he will learn how to do it – which is WHILE HE DOES IT.
    I like Curtain, I do. But I am really nervous Muelensteen is going to managing this team by June, and we are all going to be having these same discussions, verbatim, come next year.

    • I’m not against the idea, but my question is WHY? Why would a big club in Europe allow it? And Why should he need it? He is now our guy, if he needs help like this he shouldn’t have got the job. Maybe it should have been part of a succession plan? All along I make no bones, I wanted Meulensteen, with JC alongside him. Then he wouldn’t have had to go to Europe to learn how to be a coach, he’d have been working with a Champions League winner and a numerous times EPL winner. But, for whatever reason the club acted, then I think lost their nerve, and that is why Meuelensteen is back as a consultant. If JC flops, then he has learned the league in the background and takes over. Not fair on JC for sure, it should have been the other way round

  6. And the other point about making us an elite franchise. Not with our ownership it seems. It needs serious investment in TOP players. And then, serious investment in the infrastructure. It seems blatantly obvious that the players won’t be coming, so will the invest in the infrastructure? Cutting edge science, top quality recruitment and analysis are needed.

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