Is Earnie Stewart Keyser Söze?
First of all, hands up who knew that’s how you spell Keyser Söze? Well done to you! If you haven’t seen the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects welcome from whatever culturally barren rock you have been living under, now kindly go to some other corner of the internet, you are not welcome here. Alright, down to business. To whit, the tricky business of a one Mr. Earnest Stewart, Jr.
By the way, why don’t we have a nickname for him? Everyone in Philly gets a nickname. Alright, let’s try some on for size. Stewie ? Nah…Family Guy. Stewbiedoo ? A little too cute and cuddly. Earn? No, that’s more like your uncomfortably racist septuagenarian uncle. The Flying Dutchman? No way, he was too solid and stocky, reliably churning up the midfield so he is no flyer, but… hang on… we might be onto something very close to that. Hmmm… how about The Lying Dutchman?
First of all I do want to say that I, like many of you perhaps, have met Earnie and found him to be just what you would expect from seeing him on TV and on the pitch. Don’t forget this is a guy who earned (see what I did there?) over 100 caps for the USMNT. He seems like a really decent fella, he is unpretentious, reliable, clearly hardworking, and well… sensible. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy you want to take back to your apartment after a night out but he is totally the kind of guy you’d take home after a few months to meet mom… or is he?
We all like to think that Earnie is like a beloved golden retriever who is always going to go and fetch that ball and drop it benignly at your side, in Earnie we trust, but be careful. That labrador has plenty of wolf DNA in it’s system – the question is whether Earnie is a labrador in wolf’s clothing or if (stay with me here) he is more a ‘Verbal’ in Keyser Söze’s Italian suit and ponytail. Kevin Spacey’s Roger “Verbal” Kint said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was making people believe that he didn’t exist, but I am not so sure. A superior sleight of hand might just be the wool (from that wolf in sheep’s clothing) that Earnie is pulling over Sugarman’s eyes.
No doubt The Lying Dutchman speaks to Jay in terms he can understand, with projections, and statistical models, systems and analytics, etcetera and so on. Remember that Sugarman made his money in real estate which is a numbers business, not an emotional business and he employed Stewart to be the brains behind the football. Sugarman is obviously a football fan but Earnie is a football man.
The more I hear from Earnie the more I am starting to feel as if he is conning all of us. The veneer of good-guy everyman is starting to tarnish and he is drifting a little closer to one of those business executive MBA-hole types who always thinks himself the smartest guy in the room. Apparently professional footballers are too dumb to be able to adjust to more than one system and style of play, so what chance do real estate speculators have in understanding why it is all going so wrong on the field? Sugarman recruited Stewart, so if he fires him he has to admit that he got this culture-defining hire (that was going to launch Union 2.0 into the higher reaches of MLS 3.0) all wrong. What then with the five year plan?
Under the weight of huge criticism from fans, journalists, bloggers, and well… everybody, Stewart has remained steadfast in his “my way is the only way” approach, despite the empirical evidence of the non-lying table in front of his eyes. Only a mad coach could ignore the facts and blindly soldier on because that’s the way that the boss says we should do it and Curtin might be a lot of things (inexperienced, out of his depth, naïve, reactionary, inflexible, unimaginative, myopic… we could all go on and on with this list) but he is no madman. When writing to a fan, Edgar Allan Poe said that the drinking he was doing to cope with the loss of his wife made him “Insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” I am starting to think that Stewart has been providing the Kool-Aid and Jay has been lapping it up for so long that he is holding on to sanity in smaller and smaller doses.
Earnie has been lying to the Union brass and tricking them so much that they have all fallen under his spell and they are too afraid to say anything lest they be ridiculed for being the first one to shout that the emperor is naked. Much like the mythic super-villain of Keyser Söze – a bedtime story told to scare the children of gangsters into doing what their parents tell them to do – Earnie’s legend seems to have grown so much that it has outstripped reality (how else to explain not changing anything after that losing streak?) and taken on a frightening power of its own. Curtin is not too far removed from being a player himself to know that when a system isn’t working the players need to try something different if only to break out of the routine of “do this, get this result” muscle memory. But is it already too late?
Quick! Somebody stop that little guy limping out of the station while I get this fax.