New Tamp bay Rowdies President and General Manager Farrukh Quraishi officially assumed his duties on Monday, December 1st. The Unused Substitutes caught up Quraishi on Friday evening, as he was leaving the office after his first week on the job. He touched on a few topics, including the process of hiring a new coach, the technical staff, building an ambitious roster, preseason plans, and of course Al Lang renovations.
First off, how are you feeling? How has your first week on the job been?
Yeah it’s been pretty hectic to say the least. [Laughs] You know we have a new head coach, which is a very big move for us. A very key ingredient to what we want to do going forward, and now we are strategizing as best we can to rebuild our team as we’ve got many many roster spots to fill. So it’s been busy, looking at who’s available, how we want to play, and how we go about building a roster that will win us the NASL Championship.
What was the search process for a new coach like? Was Thomas Rongen always your number one guy that you were going to go after? Obviously there’s a history between you two.
The short answer is yes, he was always my number one. But I must say, I did receive a large number of interest from people who were very interested in coaching the Rowdies. Some of whom were very well qualified, but I have a real comfort level with Thomas. I know him very well having worked together at the World Cup in ’94, where he was a Netherlands team liaison and I was the Venue Executive Director for Orlando. And of course I hired him as the first head coach of the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Thomas and I share a very similar philosophy on how we want the team to play and the kinds of players that we like. So we’re very much in sync. We even played against each other back in the days of the NASL back in the 70s. So there’s a real comfort level having Thomas at the helm of the club and working with me.
Have you had conversations with Coach Rongen yet about the technical staff? Possibly expanding it? Also, I don’t remember seeing it officially anywhere but will Stuart Campbell be returning as an assistant coach?
We’ve had conversations with Stu Campbell. We believe Stu is an outstanding young coach, and our plans are to keep Stu as Thomas’ assistant and build from there. So yes, we’ve had the conversation and we have tremendous respect for Stuart. He’s played for the club, he’s young, and he’s ambitious.And he understands the game. These are qualities that we value. So we feel very fortunate that we have somebody who will give us some continuity with the players that we have held over, but also someone who can grow with the team.
Before your hiring was announced the club stated through social media that it was in negotiations with Takuya Yamada to have him join the technical staff. Are those talks still ongoing?
Those discussions are not ongoing at this time. But I will tell you, I know Yama personally. I have the utmost respect for his professionalism, his ability as a player, for his personality, for the values he holds. You know, Yama is somebody who has had dinner at our house. So I consider him to be a personal friend, and he’s somebody that I would love to have involved with the club in some capacity. Having just been on the job one week it’s very early days for me, and we’re looking at some of the other needs that we have. But if you’re asking me if Yama is the kind of person I would want to hire on our technical staff, the answer is an unequivocal yes. But you know, I try also to allow my head coach to pick his own technical staff. So that’s always a very delicate balance.
Let’s talk about building that roster. Like you mentioned, so many spots to fill. What will be your strategy for going about it. Will you be looking primarily in NASL, or all the ranks throughout North America?
Well we’re looking both within and outside the NASL. We’re very ambitious. I can tell you that our owner Bill Edwards has invested a significant amount of money in this club. He’s doing things in a first class way, and I think you’ll see that with the renovations we’re doing at the stadium. But you’ll also see it in the freedom that he’s given us to build a winning culture at this club. So everything is on the table right now in terms of where we look and who we sign. We’re starting with the premise that we want a very athletic attack oriented team,but one that will also be relentless in its defensive capabilities. I think the fans can expect to see a very entertaining attacking style of soccer that will be very technical. Anybody who has watched Thomas Rongen’s teams, especially that 1996 Mutiny team, will know that we look to play a very attractive, technical, possession style game.
Have you heard anything yet about an NASL combine like the league as done in past years?
At this time I have heard nothing about a league combine. And frankly it doesn’t concern me because we have the necessities to go out and scout the players that we believe will enhance our team ourselves. So we’re not worried about an NASL combine. We will be at the MLS combine. We will be at the Infosport Combine. We have Stuart Campbell down at the NAIA Championships down in Delray Beach. Thomas joined him today. Between Perry Van der Beck, Thomas Rongen, and myself we have as good a network within the soccer community as anyone in this country.
I heard you say in one your first interviews that one of the goals for you and Bill Edwards is to make the Rowdies a global brand again? How do you go about achieving that in this modern era, where the NASL is sanctioned as the second division?
Well I think first of all, you have to own your own back yard. So that means we have to be a powerhouse in the NASL. That means winning the NASL championship. Then we’ll also be competing in the US Open Cup. And that’s a competition that all soccer clubs in the United States participate in. That’s key. So we’ll use that as a yard stick as well. The fact is that the Tampa Bay Rowdies were a global brand in the 70s when the Cosmos, Strikers, and LA Aztecs were also well-known. And the best way to revive that recognition, the most important first step in doing that, is creating a winning culture while presenting an attractive style of soccer.
Have you started planning for the preseason yet? In the past, the preseason for the Rowdies has consisted mostly of traveling around the Bay Area and playing local college sides. Do you plan on having more pro sides in the mix this year to intensify the preseason?
No question. Look there’s some value in playing against local college teams, and that value for us will be in fielding maybe some of our trialists that we will have in. The first team will mostly be playing against some of the MLS teams that will be down here for preseason in Bradenton. As well as the international teams. A couple of Swedish teams, Malmö and BK Häcken will be here as well in the first part of the year looking for games. So we will be playing games against some of those teams because I believe you have to face the best competition you can to become the best you can be. So we certainly intend to take advantage of the fact that many teams come to Florida for the preseason. We’ll be looking to test ourselves against those teams. And then we will play some college teams, certainly because we want to be good neighbors, but also because we will have some young players, some trialists that we’ll need to see in match situations.
How likely is it at this point that some of those preseason games against the professional clubs will be played at Al Lang?
Well a lot of that will be driven by the construction schedule. We expect to be finished certainly by the end of January, but there’s no telling with construction. We want for the fans to come out and experience the new amenities that we’re going to have at Al Lang. It will be very very different from anything they’ve seen in the past. All the vestiges of a baseball stadium will pretty much be gone. The net behind home plate for example, the poles that held that up are gone. That means unobstructed views to go along with the new seating. The field will have larger dimensions, which will make for a more attractive game. And then of course the things that fans don’t see, which are the renovated locker rooms, the offices that we’re building, the training room. There are so many things that are transforming the stadium. We’re taking down some of the outfield wall which will expose more of the waterfront for the fans. It’ll truly be one of the best stadiums in the country to watch a game. So we want the fans to experience that and get excited, but we also want to stage games when our team is ready to showcase itself. So that’s not going to be two weeks after we start the preseason. We want to build to the first game in Al Lang because we want the fans to see what we’re capable of and I don’t think you can do that after a couple of weeks of preseason training.
You brought up in another interview the possibility of a new training field within walking distance of the stadium. How close is that to becoming a reality and can you possibly shed a little more light on the location?
Well the discussions are ongoing with the property owner. It’s very close to Al Lang. Close enough that we will be able to use our locker rooms as our home base and walk or run to the training field. And that’s really a very good thing for the club because it gives us a sense of Al Lang Stadium as our home throughout the week; not just on game days. It’s very important to building the kind of culture that we want to cultivate for our club. I don’t want to talk too much about it because the deal is still being discussed, but we’re confident that it will happen and it will be a vast improvement over what we’ve had in the past. It’s just one more piece of the puzzle of a culture that creates championship teams.