The mid-70s were a simpler, care free, less responsible time. Much so for me as I’d failed to be born yet, an excuse for irresponsibility which unfortunately doesn’t work nearly as well now. For those that had been however the joy of moustaches, the Nolan Sisters and football hooliganism awaited. Manchester United had been relegated, Brian Clough had spent 44 days at Leeds, Liverpool’s relentless era of dominance was about to begin and George Best had left English football to play for the Jewish Guild in apartheid South Africa for reasons absolutely no one understands even now. If you lived in America however, the glitz and glamour of swinging sixties football was coming to your shores in the form of the North American Soccer League.
The USA’s first attempt to lure the great and the good of World football to a succession of preposterously monikered clubs was in part a bizarre failure, but in part a surreal success, most notably in the caliber of stars it attracted. Johan Cruyff, Gerd Muller, George Best, Eusebio, Gordon Banks, Johan Neeskens, Alan Ball, Peter Beardsley, Geoff Hurst and many others graced the league during it’s 16 year tenure, and none more notably than at the New York Cosmos, where the likes of Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and most famously Pele, spurred them on to five “Soccer Bowl” titles (though not all with that prestigious line up.)
Mostly due to Pele’s involvement, the Cosmos became a relatively famous name in football, playing to a regular crowd of over 45,000 at their peak in a strip designed by Ralph Lauren. However the success of the NASL never quite matched that of its flagship side. Whilst the Cosmos sold out Giants stadium’s 73,000 capacity for their 1978 championship victory, the league itself never averaged over 15,000. When the League collapsed in 1983, the Cosmos moved to the Indoor Leagues, but soon disbanded completely.
However general manager G.Peppe Pinton – who sounds like the kind of man that runs a malt liquor business and never takes his cowboy hat off – continued to run the club’s youth camps (which they’d begun in ‘77 as an attempt to move the side – and the league – away from it’s reliance on ageing foreign stars) and operated them under the Cosmos name. Despite several post MLS attempts by clubs in the New York area to resurrect the name – specifically by the MetroStars and Red Bulls, who are actually the same club, which is admittedly confusing, but the nature of American sports franchises – Pinton held fast and refused, believing they simply wouldn’t respect the legacy of the name. Or perhaps change it to something else at the behest of a soft drink peddler a season later.
In 2009 however, a ragtag group of English businessmen, which included Tottenham’s former vice Chairman, Liverpool’s former CEO and David Beckham’s personal manager and a former England masseuse, managed to secure the rights from Pinton with a view to resurrecting the club wholesale. In August 2010 Pele was announced as the club’s honorary president and the reboot was made official. To further strengthen the historical link his 70s Cosmos strike partner and NASL all time top scorer Giorgio Chinaglia was named as International ambassador, a role that might prove problematic for Chinaglia, considering he’s currently hiding out in the States from an Italian arrest warrant for fiddling Lazio shares.
Fast-forward six months and nothing much had emerged from camp Cosmos. Until Wednesday that is, when in the true spirit of their original galactico incarnation, they appointed Eric Cantona as Director of Soccer in a blaze of slightly ironic publicity, and announced their goal to enter the MLS in 2013 (the earliest a new franchise – which would be the 20th – could potentially join under MLS rules.)
King Eric’s return to football has long been heralded by the kind of idiotic fans who think the playing traits of their former heroes are in any way indicative of their managerial skills, but the man himself has always been rather aloof on the subject. Cantona retired in 1997 to spend more time pondering existential matters with a beard and occasionally popping up in films but said recently that it’d need something “extraordinary” to rekindle his love for the game. Putting aside all my deeply cynical instincts, it’s possible that this could be it. In his statement on the club website – aside a gloriously regal picture of him posing gallicaly on a throne – he’s claimed the opportunity presents itself as a “kind of mix between football and art” and a “wonderful project…beautifully made.” He continues by saying that “In addition to my artistic engagements, I will do everything that I can to help us find our way to regain the number 1 position in the United States, and then for us to become one of the best clubs in the world over the coming years.”
Despite the rather obvious comic potential of his closing argument, one does tend to wonder what these “artistic engagements” may be. Have they promised to let him re-design the club logo? Will he be painting player portraits? Is he going to be making some kind of surrealist avant garde documentary film on the nature of resurrection to be played in an as yet to be built cubist club museum? Who knows, but part of his remit does include player recruitment, so this grande projet d’art most likely consists of his assembly of the world’s most beautiful football team, which knowing Cantona may well extend to a few ballerinas, circus gymnasts and experimental performance artists to boot.
So this is how the Cosmos have re-introduced themselves to the 21st century, as a galactico team with a legacy. There are even rumblings that Beckham himself, free from his Galaxy contract by 2012, will join the circus that already includes his personal manager and boyhood mentor. Florentino Perez would be proud. But would G. Peppe Pinton? Ironically the one thing the Cosmos were trying to distance themselves from at the time of their extinction is the one thing that’s brought them back.
If King Eric can learn anything from his time at Manchester United, it’s how well the kids who grew up around him looked after the house after he’d gone, and how well they continue to – in the form of Giggs and Scholes – two decades later. He, and they, and we should hope, for the sake of the Cosmos themselves, and any hope they have of standing the test of time as a lasting brand, let alone one of the “biggest clubs in the world”, that there’s more Pinton than Perez in the resurrection of this once iconic club.
You can follow Oscar on Twitter here http://twitter.com/oscarpyejeary where you can claim to have known him before he becomes rich and famous ….and then claim to have known him when he was rich and famous before he becomes bloated, big headed, drug addled and washed up….And then you can throw stuff at him and say “you’ve changed man”