Through 13 seasons as an MLS player, Diego Gutierrez made a name for himself with his technical ability, versatility and clutch performances. Yet it was his willingness to learn about the business side of the league that would pave the Colombian’s future.
Winner of four US Open Cups, three conference titles and one MLS Cup as a midfielder/defender for the Chicago Fire and Kansas City Wizards, Gutierrez took the rare initiative of negotiating his own contracts during his playing days, which, upon his retirement in 2008, helped lead to a job as a player agent and most recently a position on the Philadelphia Union’s technical staff.
Earlier this month, Gutierrez was hired as the Union’s Head of Scouting and Player Development.
“I always knew I would remain involved in the sport, but I knew pretty early I wasn’t going to be interested in coaching,” Gutierrez told MLSsoccer.com. “My passion has always been on the administrative side. From technical director to general manager to president – that’s something I’ve always aimed at.
“I always did my own contracts when I was player. All of the players knew that, so I did a couple of favors in terms of contracts for a couple of friends once I retired, and it sort of became a business. Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I know how an agent thinks and I know what players are looking for.”
In Philadelphia, Gutierrez says he will essentially serve all of the functions of a technical director, even though the Union do not officially have someone with that title. Gutierrez will certainly have his hands full, as he’ll be in charge of scouting talent worldwide, negotiating contracts and transfer fees, assisting Manager (and former Fire teammate) Peter Nowak with roster management and the salary cap, and helping the team with all of its international business.
But for someone who’s been a part of MLS since the league’s inception, Gutierrez is undaunted by the challenge at hand.
“It’s something that comes natural to me,” he said. “I understand the way the league works and the structure that you have to work with. The guidelines, the rules – it’s different than any other league.”
The Union will also look to Gutierrez as a bridge to Latin American soccer. Even before he joined the club, he discovered Roger Torres during a vacation in Colombia and played a role in bringing the young Colombian to Philadelphia. Gutierrez now says the 19-year-old is a “player that people are going to be talking about quite a bit in the coming years” – and he believes there are plenty more teenagers just like Torres out there, just waiting to be found.
“Even though there are a lot of players from Latin American descent in this league, it remains largely unexplored and untapped,” said Gutierrez, who shares his own success story when pitching the US to Latin American players. “There are a lot of opportunities for players and a lot of opportunities for MLS teams to go out and find very good values, especially with younger players.”
At the same time, Gutierrez has no intentions of being only a Latin American scout. Although that’s where his roots are, the Colombian plans to scour the entire globe for talent.
“I’m appreciative of a good soccer player regardless of where he comes from,” he said. “We’re going to be looking for good players, whether they come from France or Africa or Latin America. We have a unique opportunity for every player.
“MLS has gotten to the point where not only Latin American players want to come here but players in Europe, too,” he continued. “It’s no longer a league where aging stars come to retire. We’re getting guys in the prime of their career. It’s a combination of lifestyle, economics, projection – everyone knows this is going to a very, very important league, perhaps one of the top five leagues within the world within the next 10 years.”
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