So. Carl Valentine has rejoined the Vancouver Whitecaps. The one-time Vancouver 86er, still an icon in the Vancouver soccer community, was announced yesterday as "club ambassador and staff coach" by the Whitecaps. There's nothing particularly shocking in that announcement. Valentine was already with the club as a guest coach, after all, where his job seemed to be primarily saying "I played in the World Cup, you know." Probably the largest piece of news out of this announcement is that Valentine's fellow guest coach, Dale Mitchell, hasn't joined the club permanently. And thank goodness for that. I had enough of Dale Mitchell the first time he tried to coach one of my beloved soccer teams.
At risk of blowing my own credentials as a soccer pundit, it's impossible to analyze the Valentine hiring on its own merits. Valentine managed the Whitecaps in the old American Professional Soccer League and then the A-League between the 1994 and 1999 seasons. Those years, prior to the ownership of Greg Kerfoot, were very much wilderness years for the Whitecaps organization, and Vancouvern ever bested a conference finals appearance in 1997. After being sacked in 1999, that was Valentine's last taste of a coaching position with a professional team.
Since then, Valentine's only major coaching role came last season with the Ottawa Fury of the USL PDL. Under Valentine's stewardship, the 2010 Fury managed to win their division and get to the conference finals, which is no mean feat for a man in his first year with the team. At the same time, he's blatantly underqualified to take a backroom position with a Major League Soccer team. His management in the A-League was over a decade ago, and since then the second division has grown by leaps and bounds. The Fury are a decently competitive club, but nothing to write home about.
The trick with a hiring like Valentine's is that it is, almost self-consciously, a public relations move. "Hey, look at this guy! He used to be a really good player, and now here he is lending his face to the franchise." Valentine's duties are suspiciously non-specific: he'll do some guest coaching, as he has been with the Whitecaps' training camp in Ventura County, but his responsibilities seem to mostly include public relations and being seen. He is, to borrow a phrase from my fellow Edmonton Oilers bloggers, the Assistant Coach in Charge of Remembering the Eighties.
To tell the truth, this wouldn't even be worth a post if it weren't such a slow time of year for news. I apologize for nothing. This hiring is, if nothing else, one more sign that the Whitecaps intend to trade on their past accomplishments as aggressively as they trade on their future potential. It is revealing of the franchise's strategy, if only in a small way. And even if Valentine has no more involvement with the Whitecaps than giving Philippe Davies a few tips, his mere appointment indicates that the Vancouver Whitecaps organization does not plan on ditching their heritage that goes back to before I was born. That's a promising sign.