SEOUL — English Premier League manager of the year Steve Coppell is fond of America.
Coppell, who led provincial club Reading FC to a stunning eighth-place finish in the team’s first season in the EPL, has a son attending Campbell University in North Carolina on a golf scholarship. He also is a good friend of former William & Mary men’s soccer coach Al Albert. The two met when Coppell was recovering from a hernia operation in the mid-1980s and came to America to check out the soccer scene.
“I loved living over there,” Coppell said.
Coppell, whose club pulled off a big upset last night by downing six-time consecutive French champion Lyon 1-0 at Seoul World Cup Stadium in a downpour, also has a knack for motivating Americans. Two U.S. players, midfielder Bobby Convey and goalie Marcus Hahnemann, were key in helping Reading earn its promotion to the Premier League in 2006 and know all about the manager’s commitment.
“Coppell flies to America all the time to visit his son and play golf,” said Tim Dellor, a BBC soccer reporter who covers the Royals. “That really helped him bond more with Bobby Convey because he came to understand how the jet lag affected Bobby when he would come back from the States.”
While visiting his son, Mark, Coppell also takes time out to watch the college team.
“There are good players in the U.S., and it bodes well for the future,” Coppell said. “But the game will always have a tough time over there because America is so big and there are so many other distractions.”
Coppell, whose own career playing for Manchester United was cut short at 28 by a knee injury, warns Americans who seek to play in England that it won’t be easy.
“Americans obviously come here because they are talented and want to earn big money, but the Premier League is a very different environment,” he said. “It takes a least a year to get used to the English soccer with its pace and football culture. It took Bobby [Convey] a year.”
Still, Coppell is baffled why one of America’s best players, Los Angeles Galaxy star Landon Donovan, doesn’t play for a big club in Europe.
“What does that say about American soccer when its top player doesn’t want to play overseas?” Coppell said.
Although a two-time manager of the year, Coppell actually does little coaching.
“He does all his coaching on Friday when he puts together his presentation of the opposition together,” assistant coach Kevin Dillon said. “It’s so precise and clear. I wish I had played under him.”
Note — In last night’s other game, Argentine club River Plate beat Japanese club Shimizu S Pulse 1-0 in Busan.