It was a short quote, part of a U20 camp report in 2006, where coach Thomas Rongen expressed that young defender Neven Subotic had "not accelerated over there to the point where we feel he belongs on the [U.S.] team."
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.
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
"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