Sucks for Charlie Davies.
In a week it will be yesterday’s news. By comparison, the John Harkes controversy lasted 12 years.
In early 1996, U.S. Coach Steve Sampson told Harkes that Harkes would be the captain of the men’s national team. Harkes was a stud back then, having earned trophies in England, and playing well in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
He led D.C. United to MLS Cups in 1996 and 1997.
On the national team he was the guy that Sampson turned to. He was the face of the team and a true leader.
The U.S. had squeaked into the 1990 World Cup and was given qualification in 1994. Sampson took the reigns in 1995, named Harkes the captain and relied on Harkes to get the team into the 1998 World Cup. Harkes delivered.
Meanwhile the media started referring to Harkes as “captain for life.” Sampson never denied the title until he removed the title and removed the player.
Sampson didn’t just take the arm band back from Harkes. He took Harkes off the team. Before announcing the 1998 World Cup squad, Sampson announced that Harkes would not be going to France. Sampson’s reasoning was evasive and disingenuous.
Harkes protested by taking his case to the media. He lambasted Sampson’s decision to remove him, Sampson’s decision to take some younger players to France, Sampson’s decision to bring in players who had not played in qualifying games, and Sampson’s decision to go by Steve instead of Steven.
Harkes heaped on more criticism during the World Cup, ripping into Sampson via television while the U.S. was on its way to finishing 32nd of 32 teams, scoring one goal in three games.
Harkes was relentless, eventually writing an autobiography and titling it Captain for Life—and Other Temporary Assignments.
Aside from the humor on the front cover, the book was page after page of Steve Sampson can’t coach, Steve Sampson is ugly, Steve Sampson kills kittens and butterflies.
All along Sampson kept his mouth shut about Harkes and the reasons that Harkes was removed from the team. He took punch after punch and turned the other cheek.
Then both sides went quiet and the world forgot about the Harkes controversy of 1998. Oh, they remembered that the U.S. played like brown sod in the World Cup that year. But they forgot all the other stuff—Harkes, blah, blah, Sampson, blah, blah, Iran.
Then something happened in England earlier this year with the captain of England’s national team.
John Terry was accused of having an affair with a teammate’s partner. Wayne Bridge and Terry had played together at Chelsea and with the national team. At some point Bridge’s longtime girlfriend and Terry became teammates in a different manner.
It was big news all over the world. What would England coach Fabio Capello do? Would Terry be punished? Did it matter that Bridge was no longer a regular for the national team? How could the team leader do that to one of his teammates?
Among the people discussing those questions was Eric Wynalda, who, speaking on Fox Soccer Channel, said that he knew how Bridge must feel.
A few viewers said, “Hold on, here. What was that Wynalda just said?”
Wynalda explained that he was in Bridge’s shoes 12 years prior. Wynalda said Harkes had had an affair with Wynalda’s wife prior to the 1998 World Cup.
Those viewers asked themselves, “Could that be why…?”
Soccer America’s Ridge Mahoney called Sampson to confirm the story. The former coach let it unfold and supported Wynalda’s account, noting that other sources had confirmed it for him in 1998. Sampson said that he had taken the punches and had kept quiet to shield the players, their families and the team. He wanted the players to focus on the World Cup.
Harkes denied such an affair. But he did quit beating up on Sampson. Perhaps Harkes realized that he didn’t want to restart a war against a guy who was now willing to use a full arsenal.
If we assume all of this is true, we still can’t blame Harkes for everything that happened in ’98. Sampson was possibly in over his head. Sampson possibly made some poor decisions. Sampson possibly should have left Harkes on the team.
But, if we assume all this is true, who made the greatest mistakes—Sampson for doing what he truly thought was right for the team or Harkes for ______ (insert accusation and legal disclaimer here)?
If we assume the multiple sources are telling the truth, what a guy Sampson is. He stood up to darts, knives and bricks while his career went Control-Z. He’s currently among six candidates interviewing to be assistant coach and car pool manager of the Boise Thunder U-12 boys B team.
It’s not that bad, but close. Sampson took the blows, knowing that his character may never be revealed. He was the bad guy for 12 years going on forever. It took a little affair across the pond to remind us and lead us to discover that Sampson has integrity. Harkes has, well, I’ll just stop here.
One more thing: Wynalda and his wife are now divorced.
Filed Under: May 2010
About the Author: