If there's one thing particularly concerning about the bomb shell Ives Galarcep dropped last week, it's Darren Dein's involvement in the team's (apparent) coming reshaping.
Dein is, as identified in Galarcep's story, Thierry Henry's agent and best friend. He's also been identified elsewhere as the best man at Henry's wedding. He's also been seen around Red Bull Arena for the last few weeks, even making his way into the locker room after games. Dein is a "power broker" according to Galarcep, "(Gerard) Houllier's surrogate and as one of people tasked with figuring out how to fix the Red Bulls."
Never mind (for the time being) that the start of this EPL season was marked by the absence of Dein-influence at Arsenal, from either Dennis or his father, David, for the first time in decades; at first blush this all has a weird Beckham Experiment-ish tint to it.
For those who don't know, the story of David Beckham's stint with the LA Galaxy starts with what seems like a legion of unnamed, ubiquitous "handlers," influencing everything from the team's parking situation, to setting up Becks' own hotel room on road trips to sussing the captain's armband off Landon Donovan's arm and onto Beckham's to the appointment of Ruud Gullit as the Galaxy's head coach.
It was through these handlers that Beckham, according to Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, writing in the Daily Mail in 2009, exerted his influence on the team.
Case in point, how Beckham got his hands on the captaincy: Terry Byrne, Beckham's best friend -- and more recently, one of the guys behind the failed Cosmos reboot -- made Beckham's wish to be captain abundantly clear to coach Frank Yallop, then-Galaxy GM Alexi Lalas and Galaxy owner Tim Leiweke at various points upon Beckham's arrival. It was Yallop and Lalas who got convinced Donovan to give up the captaincy. Beckham, "never attended board meetings or summits between the other parties" Wahl wrote. Beckham simply "raised a number of questions about his influence and how he chose to exert it."
Eventually, Yallop was out as Galaxy coach after the LA team failed to make the playoffs in 2007. His replacement was Gullit and when Gullit was announced, Beckham's 19 Entertainment logo was everywhere. Byrne, fresh off a transformation into a paid consultant for the Galaxy, was taking questions for the new coach in front of the team. Lalas felt undermined. Leiweke made it clear in Wahl's book that Beckham got the kind of treatment Magic Johnson did with the Lakers or Wayne Gretzky got with the Kings.
Gullit's tenure was a train wreck. He belittled players and is on the record with opinions about American soccer that don't stray too far from the ones spat by the sort of guy who proclaims his lifelong love of Chelsea in his Didier Drogba shirt.
To be fair to Henry, Henry is not Beckham. Henry's "That's me, pure heart all day" commercial rings true, mostly. Whereas Beckham had a media rollout of his arrival, Henry didn't. While Beckham is more than content to ascend the pop culture ladder to icon. The glitz and glamour of LA is fitting, in that regard.
Henry is in New York to check off a box on his sporting bucket list, something he's reportedly looked forward to since he was a teenager. He's a footballer first, second and likely, third. He's got a facade about him, one that's all-business. Fitting, almost of a man representing the world's financial capital. Aside from some jetsetting to Europe for high profile games and a few instances of idiotic on-field behavior, Henry hasn't been too controversial. His most high-profile off-the-field move has been buying a $3 million penthouse downtown. He has no 19 Entertainment equivalent.
As far as we know, Henry has no absurd Beckham-esque special privileges. When Lloyd Sam got into camp, Henry was there and the two worked out together. Similar story for Connor Lade, who Henry has taken a liking to. That's not saying he doesn't get special treatment -- nearly every superstar does -- his just aren't as visible or controversial as Beckham's.
Not to say that Henry hasn't put a certain arrogance on display. That man crush on Lade? That manifested itself in Henry demanding Lade be subbed on in the ill-advised Wednesday matinee against the Chicago Fire in July. When Hans Backe went with a 4-3-3 against the Seattle Sounders in the wake of Sebastien Le Toux joining the team, Henry demanded the team go back to a 4-4-2.
It's those tactical demands that make one wonder where Henry's head is at when it comes to running the team. If he really thinks he knows what's best when it comes to strategy, why not personnel decisions? Like one of those moments when the Red Bulls are down or even, when Henry decides it's time to take over, has he now decided he, or his "handlers," know what's best?
And it's not above the Deins to throw around their weight. Both were influential within Arsenal. The elder Dein, David, put Arsene Wenger in place and was instrumental in acquiring players like Henry and Robin van Persie. David also left the club due to "irreconcilable differences" with the board. Dennis -- who's a presence in Harrison, apparently --hung around, representing several Arsenal players.
That is, until this year started. With van Persie sold to Manchester United and Alex Song leaving for Barcelona, the last traces of the Dein family vanished from the North London club, something a long time coming. Players David is credited with bringing to Arsenal and Dennis represented have been leaving Arsenal one by one.
This whole bit has touched off something of a conspiracy theory of varying levels of seriousness: That the elder Dein, unhappy with the board at Arsenal, used (or acted in conjunction with) his son to disperse Dein's "guys" to other clubs as a sort of get-back at Arsenal for those aforementioned "irreconcilable differences." Or that Arsenal was purposefully selling player associated with the Deins to rid themselves of their influence. Either or.
So here's a Red Bull-flavored version of the conspiracy theory: The legendary Thierry Henry now has his guys whispering in the ears of every influential member of New York's brand new front office.
Far fetched? Absolutely. But it would follow a pattern of inexplicable behavior from the team. Firing Erik Soler right before the play-offs? Inexplicable. A tenuous vote of confidence from Soler's replacement, Jerome de Bontin? Inexplicable. Even if they both had to go, it was a bit head-scratching. And that's just this year.
Sure, Dennis Dein represents some damn good players (including Emmanuel Adebayor, who was "connected" with the Red Bulls in May). And David Dein found a number of players (including Henry). The issue comes from Dein's involvement, or even the perception of his involvement. The Galaxy debacle -- or, you know, common sense -- tells you that having one of your players pulling the strings behind the scenes makes for an untenable situation. At best.
Unlike several of the Red Bulls issues -- representing a city with more Eurosnobs than people, the Curse of Caricola, Don Garber's insistence on putting a team in Queens, the schism between fans old and new, the attendance problem, 16 years without a championship -- this one is entirely avoidable. Adding a cabal, or the perception of a cabal, of superstar-backed lackeys pulling the strings and behind the scenes is something that probably should be avoided. At all costs.
The fact that has to be said is disconcerting...