May 24, 2012
From class to classless
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. -- Some habits never die.
After helping Chivas USA pull off a 1-1 draw with the Red Bulls on Wednesday night, Juan Pablo Angel held court with the local media in familiar fashion: he spoke with the Red Bulls media.
He stood in the middle of the visitors' locker room with a white towel wrapped around his waist, answering questions after a Red Bulls game, regardless if he scored, played poorly or if the team won, lost or tied.
Angel spoke for almost five minutes, talking about the fitting fan tribute, scoring against his former team and how he is recovering from a concussion, among other subjects.
During his four-year tenure with the Red Bulls, Angel did that after every game, giving English and Spanish media access.
Angel has always been a class act and I suspect he always will be.
Meanwhile, about a hundred feet or so away outside the Red Bulls locker room, an entirely different scenario was transpiring. The team's two biggest stars refused to talk to the media after the game.
Playing together for the first time since a 2-2 home draw with the San Jose Earthquakes on May 14, Thierry Henry (who had missed four consecutive games) and Rafa Marquez (who missed five of the last six) returned to the lineup in time to help the Red Bulls snap their five-game winning streak.
If Henry and especially Marquez are trying to figure out their love-hate relationship with the fans (although I suspect Rafa's is more hate-hate), they should look to how Angel had conducted himself during his four-year tenure with the team and on Wednesday.
There is little doubt that dollar for dollar that Marquez is the most overpaid player in the league. Marquez earns $4.6 million a year and media, fans and observers are trying to figure out what he has done to deserve it. He certainly has not brought Hispanic or Mexican fans to RBA.
Some might say he is stealing money from the league and team with his inconsistent performances, his two three-game suspensions and chronic refusal to talk to the media.
Henry's and Marquez's hiding from the media has to be embarrassing for the Red Bulls, who shell out a combined $10.2 million a year to have these two players on the team.
Part of the reason they are with the Red Bulls to boost the side on the field and Henry certainly has done his share.
Another part is to get publicity for the team, to draw in fans, in the media capital in the world, and heaven knows the Red Bulls, who sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 8-3-2 record, needed all the publicity they can get. They drew only 13,919 on Wednesday night.
There is a lot or irony there, the team's two biggest names and stars in the biggest media market in the world. It just doesn't make sense.
Marquez has avoided the media like the plague, as much as he has fouled American players, starting with the post-game fracas he started during last year's first-round playoff loss to the LA Galaxy.
There are unsubstantiated rumors going around that Henry and Marquez were upset because of the fan tribute to Angel (remember that Henry was given hero's tribute when a statue was unveiled of himself outside of Arsenal's home, Emirates Stadium last December). If that is the case, then they are divas and showing their true colors. Hopefully, that was not the case and that there was another reason (being angry about the team's performance and tie does not count as a reason not to talk).
When players refuse to talk to the media, they refuse to talk to the fans.
There is a lot to learn from Juan Pablo Angel.
Unfortunately, I fear habits of some other soccer players will die hard.