The Case for Promotion/Relegation: The Paco Fernandez Story

3four3 recently posted an article on the importance of having promotion and relegation. More than anything in the actual article, I was truly shocked by some of the comments left by other people. I resisted the urge to leave a novel-like comment myself and write a little bit about it here. If you haven’t read the article I suggest you take 5 minutes to do so. The article is on point and describes the need for an open market better than anything I could write. It also reminded me of something I tweeted about a month ago regarding Paco Fernandez.

Paco Fernandez

It’s not a given he will get a chance to coach in Spain’s top flight, although I doubt he isn’t on everybody’s radar by now. But the point is still valid. Fernandez has worked his way from the bottom and won his way closer to La Liga. And he has earned this chance not because he served as an assistant to Luis Aragones or Vicente del Bosque, or because he played for Real Madrid for 10 years. He earned it through results in a system that allows the best to rise and fall on their own merits. As a player, I doubt many would call his career illustrious, having played with low to mid-level teams throughout several divisions. After his playing days he bounced around a few low-level teams before taking Cuadal from fourth division to Segunda B (Spain’s third division). Last season, he became the Racing Santander coach who now sit comfortably atop Segunda B and surely have the best chance of all to get promoted to La Liga Adelante (Spain’s second division). After his team’s impressive run this year in the Copa del Rey, it was clear his ascent through the Spanish ladder was no fluke. Even if he doesn’t get a shot at a job in the top flight, he will have the chance to coach at the highest level. He will be able to keep having his teams promoted until he gets there or doesn’t. And that’s what every other league in the world except ours can offer, A CHANCE.

Is it impossible for someone in the US to have a similar story of working their way up the ladder? No. You could say Caleb Porter has had a similar trajectory. The problem is everywhere in the world, the ladder is straight up. In this country it’s not a ladder, it’s more of a set of rope-swings and hoops to jump through that leads to a door, with a few people at the top controlling who walks through that door.

Saying that you can still work your way to the top is a misconception. You can, but your fate is out of your hands, more so than anywhere else with a handful of people controlling who gets into their “club”.  So without a system that allows people to rise and fall on their own merits, it is impossible to determine if the best coaches and players are even at the top-level.

The problem is it deters many from even trying, or going somewhere else (speaking of players now too). Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of quality players and coaches in the MLS, but how many have we missed out on? And how many are there because they knew how to work the system, as opposed to those who aren’t familiar with the path to the top. Coming from Costa Rica, I have seen plenty of players who through promotion played their way into the top flight, and in some cases even got called up to the National Team. Here, there are too many stories of players who had the talent, but never got a shot in MLS and knew of the road blocks put up to get there so decided to end their journey before it even started. Many didn’t think it was worth playing in USL or NASL because there was no guarantee they could make it to the top level. I can guarantee if the possibility of getting to the MLS was possible through their and their teams merits, they would have been more inclined to possibly stay in the game. And who knows, maybe its a player who didn’t know about travel soccer until he was 12, or didn’t have the money to play in an Academy or play ODP, so they never got a look by a top 10 school so they didn’t get invited to the combine… You see where I’m going with this. Right now there is a path, and that path is controlled by a few at the top.

Is having promotion and relegation the answer to all of the soccer problems in this country? No, but it’s a damn good start. One that is being met with a lot of opposition. There are tons of reasons why adding promotion/relegation won’t happen. A lot of the comments left about the 3four3 article were all about how it won’t happen, why it won’t happen, why it won’t fix anything, and how’s there’s no point. I don’t have all, if any, of the answers. But I do know the best way to not change anything is by sitting behind your keyboard and say how something won’t work. So go ahead and comment away saying this won’t work and won’t solve anything. I bet it’s the same people who will be ecstatic if the US make it out of the group phase this Summer. I for one am all for anything that will bring change to this anti-competitive system that has been encouraging mediocrity for too long.

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