He looks like the most interesting man in the world, and for purposes pertaining to the Philadelphia Union – he most certainly is.
Last month, Ricardo Ansaldi was hired as the Union’s director of international player development, but the 59-year-old, boasting over 30 years of experience , sees his latest role as so much more than just scouring the globe for the club’s next big international name.
To Ansaldi, the players he’ll help acquire determine not just the makeup of the Union in 2013 – but in large part, their outcome.
Ansaldi sat down with philadelphiaunion.com and discussed his role, the pool of players to choose from, how it all fits into the overall budget, and the upside of going “deeper South” for the ideal player.
Q. What were you told your main responsibilities with the Union would be?
A. The first approach was regarding scouting specifically. I think I was not 100 percent convinced or happy with that label, the scouting label. I think the best I can bring is my knowledge of people in the soccer world in this [South American] part of the world to get this kind of inside information on a particular player. To put this in perspective, you have to first narrow down a club’s certain need instead of a player. Whatever the position is, I evaluate about 50 players and narrow it down to five potential players. Then trim those five down based on the personal things: the way they’ve behaved [in the past] with certain teams, what are their characteristics, what is their real value, who is the real agent, who owns their rights? These things are most vast than the label of just being a scout.
Q. Currently, the Philadelphia Union has some major needs in terms of a forward, a defender, and a center midfielder. Which of those facets are you looking at the most right now to bring in here?
A. Regarding your comment, I think we do have a strong defense – that is not the main weakness. And we do have great players at midfield, just maybe not with the necessary experience. So answering your question, we will probably be focusing on the forwards and that is exactly what we are looking for. It’s tremendous work, not just for me, I mean just the task is big because as you know as a team we get offers everyday from every single part of the world. We are talking African players, Eastern European players, almost every country in South America. My job is to screen those possibilities to see which ones of those players may be suitable for the Union. Which one will be within the Union’s budget and then when that is narrowed down then the coaches choose and ultimately make that decision. But instead of them having to look at 50 players for one given position, my job is to only have them look at five.
Q. What do you think the ideal player would have to bring to be successful not just in MLS, but for playing here in Philadelphia?
A. In my view and this is not the view of the coaches, but maybe, I think personally I am not very looking for a big figure or a big name. That being said, a player you put a lot of expectations on would have to deal with a lot of pressure. What I think I would like to have of the player – and this goes for the whole roster, is the team idea. Of course the team idea will need work, in any job you got to work towards an objective and a lot of people will be used less. But my ideal player will be able to work within the team concept; working with others on the field and the other 29 people on the roster. Specifically, I would like to have a player with very exquisite technique, very strong to play in MLS, which is a strong league. Ideally, with some experience but not necessarily in terms of age. In a sport like soccer, the ideal player does not need to be above the age of 30 to have experience.
Q. You are based out of Argentina, but you have extensive contacts within other countries. Can you name some of the countries that you have the capabilities to pull talent from?
A. I would definitely say Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil. Brazil and Argentina are very close in a lot of ways and soccer is one of them. You do share a lot of information and there is a lot of access to everything from Brazil in Argentina. It’s the same set up in Uruguay. So I would say my biggest strength would be from Peru down. But today everywhere in the world you can get information on a player; the key is how deep you go. You can follow a player on the web and you can see, but it’s not the same as having direct contact with the assistant coach who is sitting there working with him. He knows what his skills are and what he does well. This stuff is very important. We do, particularly in Argentina, have national team players with big problems and show up with pro teams they are playing for doing things you do not want. My job is to recognize these issues before I ever present that player to John [Hackworth] and the technical staff.
Q. You spent a week with John Hackworth prior to Thanksgiving in Argentina. Without giving away too much about the nature of that trip, what or whom were you looking for mainly down there? How many players do you think you both evaluated or even talked to during that trip?
A. We started about a month ago with the coaching staff, not just John, all together. On the discovery list there was between 40 and 50 names narrowed down to three positions. When John was here, my objective was to narrow down the number of players in those positions who potentially may fit into the budget. After that it was about the players who would fit into the club’s coaching vision. When [Hackworth] was here we watched about four or five games in the four days. We did interview four players, we sat down with them and we did interview with some clubs. It was a very active week. I should not give any names or even specific positions, but that was the idea of Hack’s trip down here.
Q. How tough is it to acquire players and keep Union brass happy, specifically in relation to the budget to bring top talent in?
A. It’s very important to keep in mind the budget we have, the job is to adjust ourselves to the budget and try to get the best for the money we do have. We have to think about the cost in [acquiring players by either] loans, transfer fees and then salaries. That is our main task. With the way the budget is I truly believe we can put together a decent team that will be very high talent wise in 2013.
Q. Last question. We have had a number of players from Central and South America play for the Union, but only a few have lasted. What is it about the Central and South American player that makes such a hot commodity right now? What do these players bring in terms of value in the long term to a franchise?
A. When you talk about Central and South America there is a big difference, and I say that with absolutely the utmost respect, but if you go in terms of the top leagues in the world you will find by percent most of the American continent players are from South American and not both Central and South America. That may have to do with the tradition of the sport in South America. Again, please don’t take me wrong I say this with respect; but you don’t have the players from Central America except for maybe Honduras playing in the top leagues in Europe, while there are many examples of South Americans playing in those leagues. I think they are high commodities because they are high quality players. Second, because they pay a lot more in some South American places, Mexico as well, they pay very well in Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay at young ages. These countries are a big showcase for these top leagues. When they need to narrow down where to look for a player – and by they I mean the top teams in Italy, Spain, England and Germany, they look in the places where the tradition is. When you look at Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay you see the largest percentage of World Cup finalists in history. I think it has a lot to do with result and value of players from these places.
Contact Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com. Follow Kerith on Twitter @sprtswtr