Though Neven Subotic said recently that comments made by U20 coach Thomas Rongen in 2006 about his development would not impact his choice of national team, controversy still swirls about whether Subotic took the words as a snub. Rongen explained his side of the issue to Goal.com.
Subotic, who at the time played for Mainz, was reportedly insulted. The player had become an American citizen as a teenager, but still held citizenship for Bosnia and Serbia as well. Though Subotic later clarified that his final national team choice was not affected by the words, a firestorm still surrounds the issue, especially now that Subotic has apparently chosen Serbia, the team his father always favored, for his national team future.
Coach Rongen spoke exclusively to Goal.com on the situation.
"It's so long ago," sighed Rongen. "It might be good to shed a little light on the situation, although this topic has been talked about so much, it's not at the top of my agenda."
Rongen started off praising Subotic.
"Let me say that Neven and Chad Marshall were the two most talented prospects at centerback that I've ever coached at the U20 level. I'm going through my third cycle now. At their ages, they were, to me, the most promising central defenders. Of course, Chad is now Defender of the Year and will maybe now get another chance with the U.S. national team."
A list of Subotic's qualities highlighted the reasons the U.S. was interested in the defender.
"They [Subotic and Marshall] were very similar, actually, in terms of height, good in the air, and above average speed for big guys, which a lot of times you don't see. Both were pretty comfortable with the ball. They were of course still young and had a lot to learn."
Rongen then compared Subotic to another U.S. star.
"I was talking about the college game and MLS. I used Clint Dempsey as an example. He came into MLS as a little bit of an unknown. He was on the U20 team that I coached in 2003. He didn't play a lot of minutes, because he was behind Ricardo Clark and Bobby Convey and Eddie Johnson, who were all in good form at the time. But I felt that he would just go through the roof when he was in a daily training environment. And out of nowhere, he arrived and within six months, was one of the top players in MLS and later was able to go abroad.
"We knew that Neven had incredible potential, although he actually didn't play a lot of minutes in the U17 World Cup in Peru. I think he played about 80 minutes in four or five games there. He was still growing into his body and was a little gangly. But he had a lot of great starting points as player, as we say. After our game against Guatemala in Fort Lauderdale, I was using a couple of players as development examples, including Neven. I said that when Neven left and went to Mainz, I thought, 'He's going to come back in four or five months an unbelievable player, like Clint Dempsey.' That didn't happen."
Rongen defended his assessment.
"It wasn't really a knock, it was just a statement that sometimes development doesn't go as quickly as some coaches, including myself, would like it to happen and thought was going to happen."
The coach also insisted he and the player had moved beyond the situation.
"Neven and I talked about that, and I tried to bring him in again. People say I left him off the World Cup team, but he was on that team. The only reason I didn't take him is because he was injured. So let me correct that one as well. He actually got injured in a game that he played against Bayern Munich, the last game of the year and Mainz wanted him to take six weeks off. That's the reason that he didn't go to the Cup, because he probably would have been a starter next to Nathan Sturgis there."
Rongen was grateful that Subotic recently indicated the comments played no part in his final national team choice.
"I'm glad that Neven has said now, finally, that it didn't really play any role in his decision-making, because he needs to realize that it's small potatoes He's got a lot thicker skin than people give him credit for. Anywhere in the world, you're going to get criticized, so you've got to get thicker skin than that. I think he knows that. because he's in the Bundesliga. In their press, the players and coaches get criticized a lot stronger than, what to my understanding, was not me even being critical, but just discussing various stages of development. I still feel that players who go to Europe develop quicker than players who go to college or are on MLS teams but not really getting a lot of first-team playing experience.
"That was really the whole theme of the discussion. If you take one quote out of that, it's taking that a little bit out of context. But he doesn't have a problem with that, and I don't have a problem with that. This is a lot larger than that one particular quote, I'm sure."
--Andrea Canales, Goal.com