First appeared on the "Daily Soccer" website May 2000
There seems to be a method to Ray Hudsons madness or to his perceived insanity. Either he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, getting close to full-blown loco, or he is a simply brilliant coach. Or perhaps some of each.
So what is he, really? A master tactician, or the oddball who happens to be the flavor of the month in Major League Soccer? Truth be told, Hudson says he doesnt mind being somewhat of an eccentric genius-- after all, on the field, the Fusion have looked inspiring in their style and unbeaten in their won-loss ledgers in the three games since Hudson took over for the sacked Ivo Wortmann on May 8.
"I can take that; I wouldnt mind that at all. That adds to the whole melodrama and the whole state of things here," says Hudson. "I think MLS and soccer by and large takes itself too seriously at times, and sometimes you need a crazy aunt or uncle locked up in the attic, you know? Just bring me out once in a while, and thats whats happening now."
Since moving downstairs from the Fusions television booth to become the teams coach, Hudson has since been relieved of the interim tag in his title. And for good reason-- the players have responded to his methods, unlike under the methods of Wortmann. "I think they have a lot more freedom in their game-- which is surprising, given that Ivo is a Brazilian. In an Englishman, you think that would be the opposite," he says.
But Hudson, a Newcastle-born and -bred native who has thankfully never lost his thick Geordie accent and has lived in South Florida ever since he ventured across the Atlantic to play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old North American Soccer League back in the late 1970s, insists that his upbringing as a player defies his roots.
"You have to remember that I was a member of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for seven wonderful years, and we were predominantly a South American mix, and people related the fact to me that I played more like a South American than I did as an English player," he says. "But thats just the way I love the game-- thats my whole mentality and my whole approach to the game, to play with verve and drive, and leave your defensive positions, and never take the high horse, and going for the jugular."
Even still, Hudson has to pinch himself to realize that he has something that is only available to 12 men-- a head-coaching position in MLS. "To be honest, it was never something that Ive had great aspirations for; I was never really one to be around the bushes to become a coach. This has really become a unique development, called upon by the management to step into the breach. I always felt confident that I could do the job because Ive always been a soccer player and therefore able to relate to the players. So the step up to coaching is something that I took like a duck to water," he says.
When Hudson looks back at his playing career for inspiration today, he singles out Ron Newman, the man who brought him over from an up-and-down existence at Newcastle United to play for the Strikers, as the one coach who had the most profound impact upon him. "Newman was a unique individual and he was a breath of fresh air in the sense that I had never experienced such a relationship with a coach, before or since," he admits. "Usually, there were the disciplinarians, or egomaniacs, or technocrats-- but Ron Newman was none of those. He was one of the nicest men, and remains one of the nicest men, on the face of the earth. And that goes a long way, as corny as it sounds. All the players who played for the Strikers took Ron to their hearts, and that could move mountains. The people alongside of him could do the more technical coaching, and that was a great move by Ron because he knew he was inefficient at that. His strength wasnt the Xs and Os; his strength was identifying with players and accentuating their positives."
And what lies beyond the tactical elements of the game is how Hudson relates to his players. "What has truly surprised me is their resolve. They have an unquenchable spirit, and they are so hungry both individually and collectively. Even as close as I have been with this team, through the television [work] and following them, being a part of the front office and following them regularly, and that is the biggest untapped resource of this club," he says. "The skill and the ability is there, but there is a great, great spirit that is connecting them right now, and it is making them respond more than anything."
So which players does he think have had the biggest impact on the team? Not what one would expect, but those which Hudson thinks dont defy the logical parameters of typical team chemistry. "Pablo Mastroeni, Leo Cullen, Jay Heaps-- those three are what I call the untouchables. Those three, for me, are national team-quality players of the highest order. And when you look at the likes of the other players, those who dont really get the recognition, players like Brian Kamler, Jim Rooney, and Henry Gutierrez, they dont get the acclaim they deserve. And Francis Okaroh has been a titan, a gladiator, for this team. These players have been the heart and soul of this team," he says.
But what about marquee players like Eric Wynalda, Roy Lassiter, Welton, Andy Williams, Diego Serna, and so forth? "These glamour boys, for me, are marquee players for the short term. They are stars, but I am a believer in the star system, and I think they should be highly rewarded. Usually, they are the most effective and highly dynamic types of players, and I love every cell on their bodies. But its the other guys who make the setting for the stars, who give them the stage to really shine," says Hudson.
"I want this to be a squad of players that will keep going in the right direction, and we cant do it with eleven players. I want to encourage an environment where all of the players in the squad can feel that they can contribute and feel as if they can challenge for a starting place," he adds.
And in mixing the players that he has, Hudson prefers that they keep playing with the same uninhibited mentality. "Thats the type of players and the type of team that I want; I dont want the square peg in a square hole type of team, Id rather have a Rubiks cube and fly around wherever they want, and we will cover for each other," he says.
And while he has come to the forefront as a man known for his post-game quips and his mannerisms on the sidelines, Hudson looks at the nature of the sport and sees within in it reasons why he thinks he can endure as a coach. "Really, I think this is a game of character, and characters, and if I can bring that out and have people enjoy it, or cock an eyebrow up, or give them a laugh, or irritate them, then thats wonderful," he says. "Its good for the game, and its good for the league. I have no problem with people thinking that Im a bit of a nutcase."