Undoubtedly, Sunil Gulati is best known as the president of the United States Soccer Federation. But he also holds down another job, in which he specializes in a very different field.
It might come as a surprise to some that Gulati's time is split between U.S. soccer and other work. But his job as an Ivy League professor in development economics at least serves as ideal preparation for some of the harder aspects of leading the USSF, particularly where American soccer's own form of development is concerned.
The complex structure of American youth soccer -- incorporating youth clubs, college soccer, professional teams at home and abroad and youth national teams, among other factors -- makes for one of the most fragmented and difficult-to-manage player development setups anywhere in the world.
Who better to make sense of that maze of inputs than an economist?
"There are many complexities to our situation," Gulati said in a recent phone interview. "That might or might not be a disadvantage, but you've also got many advantages. Obviously you've got hundreds of millions of people in the U.S., so the size of the country can be a challenge when you're trying to get teams together. But it's one that we've had for a long time. The importance and role of education, both university and secondary schools, in the U.S. is a huge challenge -- a huge positive to the country -- but a challenge in terms of bringing together youth players. So the programs that we've had for many years try to adapt to that."
Of course, five years as the head of the USSF have not endeared Gulati to everyone -- some would clearly prefer a little more risk-taking at the top. Gulati is instead a rational-minded strategic thinker, more likely to be profiled in the Wall Street Journal than on your favorite soccer blog.
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