A one-time player of the year in England, Steve Nicol lined up at a FIFA World Cup with Scotland and won a European Cup, FA Cup and countless English domestic titles with the all-conquering Liverpool of the 1980s. Perhaps it is this tradition of success that made the five-year wait for a trophy with his New England Revolution so hard for the straight-talking boss.
Now, though, after three rueful losing appearances in the MLS Cup final, Nicol and his seemingly cursed Revs have a US Open Cup to crow about. The equivalent of the English FA Cup, the 2007 Open Cup is the first trophy the Boston-based club has won in its 12 years in existence.
The coach sat down with FIFA.com to explain what the trophy means for his team as they get set for the all-important 2007 MLS play-offs, what he thinks of football in the States, the renaissance of the Scottish national team and even Rafa Benitez' rotation policy at Anfield.
FIFA.com: How much of a difference do you think it will
make going into the play-offs having won a trophy?
Steve Nicol: A big one, it's just huge. Losing is not nice and losing three finals is not a pleasant feeling for anyone, players or coaches. To win this and have that feeling moving into the play-offs is great for the psyche I can tell you that.
It must have been a relief to have finally put some
silverware in the cabinet after coming so close so many
I felt bad for the players. We had some reasonable success winning the conference [MLS is divided into two conferences, East and West] three times, but those lost finals were taking a toll on the boys. They really deserved to win one and I couldn't be more pleased.
New York Red Bulls have an experienced coach Bruce Arena
and some outstanding players like Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio
Reyna. What is different about playing them in a play-off situation
rather than a 'regular season' game?
Basically, you don't want to get into trouble in the first leg and leave yourself out of it before the second game even comes around. When you're playing in a regular season game, you're going for three points, when you're in a two-leg play-off you're hoping to go back home with a manageable scoreline. It's a more cautious affair. We'll get forward when the chances are there, but we'll need to hold firm at the back and make sure we don't get into trouble.
Centre back Michael Parkhurst, 23, is being recognised as
one of the top defenders in the league and is getting time in the
US national team. How important is he to the Revs?
He's been a large cog for us. He organises everything at the back where we only play with three. He's a talented and instinctive player and very calm on the ball. He has the right sort of temperament for his position too - you can't be too loose back there and you can't be a bag of nerves either.
He plays in your old position, does that help in giving him
He's a natural in the spot really. Every once in a while I give him a little reminder about something and it's a little easier that I know the position well. Frankly though, he doesn't need too many reminders.
Taylor Twellman has always got goals with the Revs, why do
you think he's not a first-choice with the US national
Basically, we set up to get Taylor the ball. He's always moving, good in the air and lively in the box. Our style is based on getting the ball to him so he can put it in the net. I think with the national team, the style and the options are different.
It seems the loss of Clint Dempsey to Fulham in the close
season hasn't had too much of a detrimental effect on the
It wasn't a hole we hadn't filled before when he was injured or away with the national team. Pat Noonan and Andy Dorman did their parts in taking over where he left off and the whole team really stepped up and didn't miss a beat.
How do you like this new Liverpool team and coach Rafa
Benitez' rotation policy?
I'm not a fan of it. I can understand the idea of trying to keep a team and players fresh, but maybe at the end of the season with this rotating all the time they'll be nothing left to keep them fresh for. I mean look at Arsenal, who are top of the table. They only make changes that are forced on them and they're doing just fine. I'm just not sure how important all this rotating really is. But, he (Benitez) won the European Cup so it's a little hard to have a go at him.
And Scotland look like maybe making it to EURO 2008. Have
you been keeping tabs?
Of course! Let me check on the computer here, oh no, we're down one at the half (to Georgia)! We were so low in the ranking when the draw was made that we ended up with France and Italy in our group, and that's just a disaster. Now we did brilliantly and we have to beat Italy in our last game to qualify. If we do, grand, if not we bumped ourselves up the ranking a little more so that we won't find ourselves in a nightmare group next time out. But we beat France twice, so why can't we beat Italy?
Where would you say MLS is in a loose ranking of world
We're not the Premiership or the Bundesliga or Serie A, but I think we can compete with a lot of teams in France's Ligue One, and that's not too bad for a 12-year-old league.