by Paul Gardner
When Carlos Cordeiro appeared on the U.S. soccer scene — out of nowhere, it seemed — to win the 2018 presidential election, I dubbed him the Phantom President.
I’ll confess, I’d never heard of him. I was quickly told that he had been working for U.S. Soccer for 11 years. Well those were 11 years during which I had been deeply involved on the American soccer scene at all levels. Attending many, many games — youth games, high school games, college games, MLS games, USMNT games. And attending events like World Cups, and major announcements and press conferences (many of them organized by U.S. Soccer).
That adds up to multiple chances to have encountered Cordeiro, or to have him pointed out to me. I never met him, his name never came up. He simply never appeared at games or soccer events.
A phantom indeed. The tag was justified, was amusing enough — until this routine absentee won the election and U.S. Soccer had elected the least soccer-qualified president it had ever had. I had known, and had interviewed most of the U.S. Soccer presidents since 1967. Whatever their faults, they had all been knowledgeable soccer people, devoted to the sport. Alan Rothenberg might be seen as an exception. His soccer experience was not extensive. But given his bri
So, in 2018 we got a phantom president. Who promptly became more phantom-like than ever. No statements about what he planned for the Federation, no visions of an exciting future, nothing like that.
I was no longer surprised. I had learned that Cordeiro had a financial background. Very financial. Much too financial for my liking. A Harvard Business School grad, then a big-shot at Goldman Sachs. I have known only a few financial devotees and learned early that they are among the most boring people on this earth. They know money, of course. Anything else they may know about they will know only because it somehow involves plenty of money.
Eight of Cordeiro’s 11 years with U.S. Soccer had been spent as treasurer. A devoted money-man doing the accounts. That made sense, and I imagine he did a good job.
So much for Cordeiro in my estimation. But ... a phantom financier in charge of U.S. Soccer? Preposterous. I was not surprised when after two years his phantom presidency collapsed, he cowered into an appalling funk, abandoned his responsibilities, and took to the hills. Having accomplished nothing, and left undone important tasks that should have been settled. Worse, no doubt, his administration greatly upset the sponsors. Its attitude to gender equality was the issue. Coca-Cola accused U.S. Soccer of “unacceptable and offensive comments,” while “We at Volkswagen are disgusted by positions taken by U.S. Soccer ...”
I shed no tears for Cordeiro of course. He had deserted soccer, but I managed to feel happy about that. Obviously, I was less than delighted when this worrying phantom recently bounced back and announced that it was a candidate again. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Rothenberg, “How could he think he would be welcomed back?” What had initially struck me as an incredible act of impertinence by Cordeiro I began to view as simply an example of arrogant insensitivity.
This man who has disgraced both himself and U.S. Soccer now says “I am confident I can build a broad coalition that will be necessary to win.”
And where does that confidence spring from? I know more about Cordeiro now than I did back in 2018. I’ve learned that Cordeiro does indeed attend games. He has a liking for big-time games where he can mix and mingle with the sport’s high and mighty.
From all that celebrity-schmoozing, Cordeiro last year obtained a post as an advisor to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Unpaid ... which is worth pondering. Says Cordeiro: “I have a very unique position on FIFA ... that has given me a tremendous visibility around the world.”
Well, well, the phantom materializes, and now talks of being “extremely well respected ... at Concacaf and FIFA.”
Time to remind ourselves we’re supposed to be talking about soccer. American soccer. Does Cordeiro ever have anything to say about the sport itself? If he does, I have yet to hear it. Try this for a Cordeiro soccer-quote: “I always believed that soccer operations should be run by soccer experts.” A neat way of dodging the fact that Cordeiro himself is splendidly underqualified to do anything like that.
So he appoints a committee of soccer experts (the Technical Development Committee}. And how does he, the soccer ignoramus, decide who is an expert? Who knows. Maybe he calls in more experts. There is certainly more evasion. Cordeiro says “we” created the TDC, and “we” hired our first sporting director. We, not I.
During Cordeiro’s brief stint as President — before he ducked out — I had asked a knowledgeable soccer type what he thought of Cordeiro’s soccer knowledge. The reply: “I think he’s still trying to work out why 4-4-2 doesn’t add up to eleven.”
In soccer terms, Cordeiro is a joke. But his attempt to schmooze his way back into a job he has already disgraced is not at all funny. It is an insult to U.S. Soccer, to the sport and its many, many thousands of devotees in this country, most of them volunteers. It is also an insult to a long line of former presidents, those who, unlike Cordeiro, had genuine affiliation to the sport in this country.
Cordeiro, the phantom candidate of 2018, the beleaguered president of 2019, returned to phantomhood in 2020. And should have stayed there. But he’s back. In re-inventing himself – this time more incubus than phantom – he is capable of conveniently forgetting his deplorable past behavior.
I wonder just how far he can stretch his own blindness. Can he also shut out the awkward fact that the sponsors, who undermined him big-time in 2020, are still hostile? Deloitte has spoken out strongly, praising the work done by Cindy Parlow Cone (Cordeiro’s replacement after his flight, and his opponent in this week’s election) and vowing “Our future sponsorship decisions will be contingent on continuity of that progress.”
Anyone who votes this week for Carlos Cordeiro is voting for the man who ran away in 2020, leaving an ugly mess for Cindy Parlow Cone (who replaced him, and is his opponent in this week’s election) to clear up. That she has done, and can there be any doubt that her strong soccer roots helped her do so? So Cordeiro, without such roots, now judges it safe to stick his head above the parapet again. This is a miserable performance from Cordeiro.
He now sees himself as one of soccer’s most respected figures. He should certainly not be seen in that light in this country. It is to be hoped that the U.S. Soccer voters will not be taken in by his laughable delusion that currying favor with soccer’s world leaders can cancel out his appalling behavior within American soccer.
Assuredly, Carlos Cordeiro would not be a worthy President of U.S. Soccer. He has already demonstrated his unsuitability once. He should not be allowed a second try.