Alan Hinton shared his opinions and views on the state of soccer in America with John Zielonka, Goal.com’s Seattle correspondent.
At 66 now, Alan Hinton's soccer career spans over four decades. In the 60s and 70s he played in England’s First Division, the predecessor to the English Premier League, and internationally for England. After his English playing days ended, Hinton moved to North America, where he played and coached in the North American Soccer League. He provides pre-game analysis for local Seattle Sounders FC radio broadcasts. Hinton also finds the time to play in three recreational soccer leagues (over 40s, 50s and 55s) in the Seattle area.
Playing and Coaching Career
Hinton’s started his professional soccer career in 1961. He played left wing for the Wolverhampton Wanderers from 1961 until 1964. He next had stints with Nottingham Forest (1964-1967) and Derby County (1967-1975). During those 15 years, Hinton scored 116 goals in 440 appearances.
From 1962-1964, Hinton received call-ups with England’s under 23s and national squad. He made a total of 10 appearances and scored seven times.
Hinton crossed the pond to North America in 1976. He laced up his playing boots with NASL sides Dallas Tornado (1977) and Vancouver Whitecaps ( 1978).
The following year Hinton took on managerial responsibilities with the Tulsa Roughnecks. In 1980, he settled in the Pacific Northwest and coached the original Seattle Sounders (1980-1982) and Vancouver Whitecaps (1984). Hinton went on to manage in the Major Indoor Soccer League with the Tacoma Stars (1985-1990) and the USL First Division Seattle Sounders (1994).
NASL vs MLS
“It’s really hard to compare because you could never really find out,” Hinton said in response to the contrast between today’s MLS and yesterday’s NASL players. “The teams I had in ‘80, ‘81 and ’82 there were no restrictions on me. I had Premier League and international players, except that I had to play two North American players.”
Hinton’s migrated to coaching the year after he retired as a player. He felt this quick transition gave him an edge in evaluating and recruiting talent.
“I was just out of the pros,” Hinton said. “I knew which players would do a good job for me. All in all, I think we did the best we could.”
He identified a major weakness in today’s MLS players. “The things they have to be careful of is giving the ball away. In Europe giving the ball away is really a crime. In MLS the turnover of the ball seems to occur a bit more than in European soccer.”
When asked how his teams from the 80s would fare against today’s Seattle Sounders FC, Hinton smiled and said, “If you made me bet a dollar what I thought, and ego being what it is, I would probably put a dollar on my team. “
Among the names that stood out during Hinton’s NASL coaching days with the Seattle Sounders from the 80s, he identified midfielder Alan Hudson as the most technically gifted. “He played for Chelsea and Arsenal and the national team. He was a central midfield player who could run all day and was a great passer of the ball.“
Another favorite of Hinton’s was forward Roger Davies, who scored 25 goals in his first year and won the NASL’s 1980 most valuable player award.
He knew midfielder Scottish international Bruce Rioch from his Derby County playing days. “I saw him in practice and I said I was going to make him into a sweeper. He may have been the best sweeper who ever played in the history of the North American Soccer League.”
He also singled out David Nish, Sounders fullback and English international, and Frans Thijssen , Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder and Dutch national team member, as two of the most exceptional players he managed.
Noteworthy Teammate and Opponent
At Derby County, one player stood out among all the others. “Roy McFarland,” Hinton said. “He was a central defender and captain of Derby County for all 10 years I was there. He played many times on England’s National Team.
“He won everything in the air comfortably. I was the corner kicker and used to look for Roy all the time. Many times he would bang them into the corner of the net with his power. He could also play the ball out of the back like a forward player.”
A familiar name came to mind when it came to an opponent he admired. “I would have to say George Best was probably the best player in terms of ability. He could score a goal. He could dribble by five or six players and played for Manchester United. Tragic ending to his life because of alcohol problems. But a wonderful player when he was young.”
Future of US Soccer
Hinton isn’t shy about sharing his views on the current state of soccer and what’s in store for the future.
According to Hinton, money plays a large part in shaping the MLS game. “Because of the recession that’s going on, the clubs in England don’t have the finances they used to have. A lot of players are coming back to MLS, which will make it more competitive.”
He also analyzed the playing style of today’s players. “Don’t forget that many years ago the US Soccer Federation decided the US startup player was going to be in the Brazilian style. I said they can’t even dance like South Americans, so they can’t play that way.
“We have to play with our strength and power,” Hinton said. “They need to get better touches on the ball, which is now happening. I see the American style as turning to power.”
Forward Clint Dempsey (Fulham) and ‘keepers Tim Howard (Everton) and Marcus Hahnemann (Reading) were singled out for praise by Hinton for their ability to make it in England’s notoriously competitive professional leagues.
The US National Team also received kudos and recommendations for continued improvement. “The national team looks pretty powerful. I wish they’d play against stronger teams sometimes. I do think the US player is learning real fast on the bits and pieces of the game that takes you from good to great. I think they are going to get there slowly.”
Hinton pondered the state of youth coaching and shared his teaching philosophy. “If I had to criticize coaches here, they do too much talking. I think they (youth players) need to play the game. The game is a great teacher.”
His own childhood provided a good roadmap for today’s soccer instructors. “Went I went to the Wolverhampton Wanderers (youth team), I’d never been coached,” Hinton said. “I played with the district and state school teams, and I just played.”
Hinton illustrated his point with the following anecdote from his days teaching youths in the Seattle area. “I’d stop practice and say to my team, ‘Let’s see how many coaches are sitting on the ground talking to their players.’ At that time there were many. I’m saying to my team, ‘Why are they talking so much? Let’s get the ball out there and play.’”
He sees improvement in the quality and caliber of the instruction provided today. Although, one thing still bothers him.
“We went through this encouragement phase,” Hinton said. “I think encouragement is important, but sometimes when you’re telling a good player he’s good it’s fine. But when you’re telling an average player he’s really good, that’s when you need to be a bit more constructive and tell him he needs to work harder.
“I think the good times of saying ‘good play and well done’ are a little stale now. People are being more upfront. They are now telling players to get to work or they might not make the team anymore. I think people, younger ones, like to be told things straight.”
The Passion Never Dies
Hinton proudly mentioned that he still plays soccer in three leagues during the week. Despite the soreness in his legs, his competitive spirit, love for the game and playfulness have not diminished with the passage of time.
“Oh yeah, I played on Monday night,” he said with a grin. “I played the whole game in the over 40s in the pouring rain. I didn’t score. Had two shots on goals, two assists, made good passes and enjoyed the game. We played hard. Then we go for a third half at a nice pub where we celebrate victory.”
John Zielonka is the Goal.com Seattle correspondent.