A Frank Conversation Followed By A Visit To Tottenham

By Jeff Berding, 11/04/16, 4:00PM EDT


For the next week, FC Cincinnati GM and President Jeff Berding will share his thoughts, activities and photos from his trip to Europe through a daily blog. Check back daily for new blog posts. 

After a great week in England, my last day began on Thursday with a cup of coffee at Andaz Hotel with Bob Williams. Bob is a reporter for the Daily Telegraph of London who covers soccer in the United States and who has previously written about FCC. Bob is interested in our successful club as an indication of soccer's rapid growth in the U.S.

Over coffee, we discussed my trip to England and takeaways. In particular, he asked about our building relationship with Crystal Palace. I shared that Alan Pardew and the owners, executives and staff with the club have provided and offered special support and the future is endless for what could be developed down the road. For now, both teams are still just beginning to consider summer plans but we will stay in touch.

Bob also asked me about MLS expansion. I told him that our ownership has been committed from Day One to bring pro soccer at the highest level to Cincinnati. We are very happy to be in the highest level available to us, the USL. The League is enjoying record growth and success. But it is also an aspirational league, and we have aspirations to someday earn an invitation to the MLS. By mid-season in year one, it was clear that we were a real candidate for MLS expansion. There is a lot to like about FC Cincinnati but we are just scratching the surface and have much more to add if we wanted to be a top professional franchise.

So, I understand that with the Commissioner's visit this month, it appears that all our focus is on MLS. But I shared with Bob that that is not the point. We want to be the best soccer franchise we can be. And after our first year where we now have a foundation in our staff, our team and stadium, it is incumbent that we build the required soccer infrastructure to take our club to the next level. And these improvements will serve FCC in the USL. And when successful, there should be no reason that Cincinnati wouldn't be a proven, attractive candidate for MLS promotion when and if that opportunity may present itself.  

After ending my discussion with Bob, it was time to pack up and check out so we could prepare for our trip to Tottenham and then my flight to Amsterdam. Before Mark Gibbon and I drove out of London, we made a quick stop on the train to Piccadilly Circus in London. Mark wanted me to see it and I am glad we did. One of the cool parts was Ripley's Museum. We only visited the entrance way, but I thought it most fitting - a year ago, who would have believed Cincinnati would be an international soccer story?!

Leaving London, Mark and I made our way north to see the relatively new facilities of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club in Enfield. Spurs reportedly invested $90 million and several English soccer officials expressed it was the best training facilities in the EPL. We were fortunate to have the invitation.

An early arrival allowed time for lunch. So far outside London, I enjoyed a proper English meal of meat pies, beef and veggie stew and tea. The hearty meal would serve me well later given my late flight to Amsterdam.

At Tottenham, you could tell from the driveway that we were heading into a first-class facility. The security guard at the gate informed us no photos (glad I got one before the warning) as I respectfully felt like I was entering a P&G research facility. We were driven around the grounds in a golf cart and to understand the beauty and most meticulous attention to detail. The only comparison I can make is the Augusta National Golf Club which of course hosts the Masters Championship. Literally there was no direct way in the drives or sidewalks, no stray grass or leaves and of course, each pitch was immaculate. The first-team players had two putting greens near the parking lots. The club has an enormous grounds crew, which includes a gardener who grows organic vegetables to serve players at every meal. The accommodations inside were as spectacular as out. Similar to Chelsea, no spatial or player program detail was randomly determined. Everything was done to support the culture of prioritizing the investment into development of their players from the first year of Academy to first team. In effect, that was their R&D. And the result must be to win. With 10 Academy players on their first team, which is considered a high number in EPL, you can see the success of their approach.

This performance-focused culture starts at the top. Ask what does it take to get the best results - and once provided, there can be no excuses, only accountability. The visit was most impressive and I wished I had more time to talk soccer. But we had to go, with a long drive in rush hour to the Luton Airport. I hope to get back to Spurs in the future and look forward to watching their continued progress in the EPL.

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