USL PRO Feature
Friday, March 8, 2013
Having made more than 400 appearances in the English Premier League, and represented his country on the international stage, it would be easy for Warren Barton to relax and enjoy his work with Fox Soccer.
What many people may not realize, however, is Barton’s passion to give back to the game. While still a player in England, Barton began taking coaching courses, eventually earning his UEFA PRO license, the highest coaching badge available. Now, as the new General Manager of the Los Angeles Blues, he is aiming to put his knowledge and experience to good use as the Blues seek to contend for the USL PRO Championship this season.
“I’ve obviously put in a lot of attention to the Blues and their organization,” Barton said by phone recently. “[I’ve] seen the ambition and some of the frustration they’ve had in the last year or so, and just had a meeting with the owner, and it looked like an ideal opportunity for myself, the LA Blues and for some of the people who have been with the [San Diego] Flash. They’ve done very well, and it seemed the obvious stepping stone and opportunity.
“[The Blues have] good potential, good ideas, very similar to what we had at the Flash, so the next stage was to learn USL PRO. It’s a very competitive league, a very strong league, a well-organized league, and it was an opportunity for me that I was very appreciative to take.”
Barton has already gained experience in managing and leading a club with the San Diego Flash, of whom he is a part-owner. The Flash have had success, winning their division in each of the past two seasons, and Barton is aiming to achieve similar accomplishments with the Blues. To aid him in that endeavor he has enlisted the help of Coach Jesus Rico-Sanz, who is set to lead the club into the 2013 season.
“He’s phenomenal,” Barton said of Rico-Sanz. “He’s got experience at this level, I think he has an understanding of the U.S. culture and what it takes to get players fit. He’s second to none in the areas of fitness and conditioning work, and he knows the game, he’s a great student of the game. He wants to work, and he’s hungry like I am. We’re hungry to improve, we’re hungry to learn, and I’ve been very fortunate to have the likes of Jesus.”
Barton is also pleased to have a number of holdovers from the Blues’ 2012 squad that narrowly missed out on a place in the playoffs. Forward George Davis IV is back with the side after his loan to Orlando City last season, while midfielders Allan Russell and Ricky Waddell will provide stability and leadership in midfield. The club also recently re-signed defenders Matt Hall and Cory Russell, who both return for their second seasons.
“This league is very demanding, not only the travelling but the level as well, so you need some character, you need the leaders, and the players you’ve mentioned have got that,” Barton said. “That was the idea when I first walked through the door, finishing eighth or ninth is not good enough for the LA Blues, and particularly for the owner, who’s put a lot of money and time into the franchise, so I wanted leaders, I wanted people that understood about togetherness, character and leadership qualities, and we’ve got that with these players.”
Barton joins the Blues as USL PRO enters a new era, with the league’s partnership with Major League Soccer marking a major new initiative for soccer in North America. With two MLS clubs in Los Angeles, both of whom the Blues have scrimmaged this preseason, the opportunity is available for the club to enter into a partnership as four of its counterparts in the league have already, and Barton is hopeful the Blues will be able to strike a partnership locally.
“Obviously the LA Galaxy would be a great opportunity,” Barton said. “I know Chris Klein, I know Bruce Arena and David [Sarachan] at the club, so hopefully with me, they respect me, they know how I would work and how I would expect players to train and behave, and I think it’s magnificent that USL has done that.
“I think it gives everyone a level opportunity, a great understanding, and a pyramid, and that’s what Jurgen Klinsmann has been beating the drum on, that you need to have divisions, that you need to have the levels of players competing at the best level they can. … I think it’s very enterprising, what USL has done for the league.”
Barton isn’t the only member of the Fox Soccer team who is currently playing a role in American soccer. His co-panelist and good friend Eric Wynalda has been hands-on in working to help the Atlanta Silverbacks find success, and Barton aims to be as involved as possible in building the Blues into a force in USL PRO. While his schedule for Fox can be demanding, such as overseas travel to announce UEFA Champions League contests, Barton is committed to being as involved as possible.
“The home games are something that are quite feasible, I work and live in Los Angeles so that’s not a major problem,” Barton said. “The away games, we’re working on the travel and seeing where we can coincide. [But the Blues’ coaches] have the same mentality I have, they have the same commitment, and if we’ve done our job through preseason and throughout the season, the players should be able to do their job.
“I’m committed, Ali [Mansouri] the owner knows that, he knows what my intentions are, and anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t put my name to it, and time and effort, if I wasn’t going to be around. I’ve been at least twice a week on the training ground, but that’s why I have people like Jesus, because I trust him. They’re good people, so I know if I have to walk away, they’re in good hands.”
And that travel can have its benefits as Barton continues to try and learn about the game and improve as a coach and general manager.
“I love being around players, I love understanding the game and learning, and I’m learning all the time,” he said. “I spent an hour with Sir Alex Ferguson when I was in Madrid, and for 10 minutes with Mourinho, just talking about the game and how much it keeps evolving, it keeps changing, it keeps moving forward and challenging your mind at different levels, and that’s why I want to be involved. It would be quite easy to do Fox, sit on the beach, but I want to give something back to a career and a sport that gave me the opportunity, and I love every minute of it.”