You probably aren’t familiar with Thomas Rongen, and we really wish we didn’t feel compelled to inform you of his existence. But when a gaping asshole like this has somehow amassed real, serious power at the highest levels of U.S. Soccer, and demonstrates his gross incompetence for his position in the most baffling form possible—by arguing that, in his esteemed estimation, Lionel Messi actually kind of sucks—well, it would be a disservice if we didn’t hoist this man up in front of the crowd for the metaphorical—metaphorical!—stoning he deserves.
For the uninitiated, Rongen’s most visible position today is probably his job as a talking head who emits loud, soppy farts from that sphincter of a face of his every weekend between European soccer matches on BeIn Sports. The Dutchman’s more important gig, though, was his status as U.S. Soccer’s chief scout. In that role Rongen was tasked with steering the development of America’s youth prospects, spotting upcoming talents from around the nation and getting them into the USMNT set-up so as to best hone their gifts, and convincing potential USMNTers who could also represent other nations to stick with the Red, White, and Blue. It’s a big, important job that we and everyone who cares about American soccer and the sport in general are glad he no longer has.
Update: Earlier, this post incorrectly stated that Rongen was presently the USMNT’s chief scout. U.S. Soccer reached out to clarify that Rongen no longer serves that role after his contract expired in December. U.S. Soccer also clarified that Rongen’s primary duty in that position was to scout the USMNT’s opponents, and claimed that he was not in charge of steering young players’ development and recruiting dual-nationals to the USMNT. However, here is how Rongen himself described his relationship with dual-national Jonathan González in January, after González chose to represent Mexico rather than the U.S.: “I’ve been to [González’s] house three times in the last year as the chief scout for the U.S. men’s national team.” It later came out that wasn’t telling the truth about visiting González’s home. It remains still unclear the precise nature of his involvement with González and with dual-national recruitment in general.
Was Rongen even qualified for a job like that? A look at his résumé may lead you to believe he might’ve sort of been up for it, though his public statements like yesterday’s Messi rant would say otherwise.
Before his life as a professional tape-eater paid by BeIn and U.S. Soccer, Rongen had a long and unremarkable past as a player and coach. Never able to hack it in the pro scene in his native Holland, Rongen moved to the U.S. in his early 20s to pursue his playing dreams in a much, much less competitive environment. He putzed around from team to team and league to league stateside in the wild and reckless world of American soccer in the 80s. As his playing career was coming to an end, Rongen realized he needed a new income source in order to extend his American experience.
Following the tradition of many European soccer men who discovered they could eke out a decent living by parlaying their exotic accents and foreign passports into bullshit “fútbol expert” gigs, their sonorous intonations of everyday soccer terminology tricking unsophisticated Americans into magically imbuing their banal sporting platitudes with wisdom and deep substance, Rongen found lots of people willing to pay him to coach.
While he was still playing himself, he took a few high school, college, and player-coach gigs over the years. His biggest success came in the early days of MLS, where he coached the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the league’s maiden season in 1996. Following that year with Tampa, he hopped around from various MLS managing jobs for a few more years. Rongen won a couple trophies during his first few seasons in the league, but was shit-canned in 2001 by DC United. Save for a very brief failed tenure leading Chivas USA for a couple months in 2005, he never again managed in MLS.
Having somehow established himself as a trustworthy soccer-knower in his decades in America, Rongen was hired by U.S. Soccer to coach the men’s U20 team from 2001-11 (with a break in there for that short stint with Chivas). He served in that role under the bulk of Bruce Arena’s tenure as USMNT coach and the entirety of Bob Bradley’s reign, only to finally be let go once Jurgen Klinsmann came in and cleaned house. After Klinsmann was fired, Arena regained his old job and gave Rongen the chief scout position that he held until December of last year.
Which finally brings us to the present. I don’t know if Rongen was a particularly good manager (though I have my doubts, seeing how he washed out of MLS—no one’s idea of a cut-throat league—pretty quickly), nor do I know if he was a particularly good developer of young talent during his U20 days. What I do know, though, is that Rongen arguably helped scare off Nevan Subotić, a 29-year-old Serbian-American who was in the U.S. youth set-up for a while before bolting for Serbia in part because of some critical statements Rongen made about him (at least that’s what Subotić said at the time, though he’s since walked back the notion that Rongen’s words played that big of a role in his choice of international representation), that Rongen definitely fucked up the Jonathan González situation by letting one of the most promising U.S.-eligible midfielders slip through America’s fingers and into the hands of Mexico, and that he clearly has all the soccer “expertise” of an oxygen-deprived goldfish judging by his comments about Lionel Messi.
This latest bout of Rongen’s Messi-related idiocy kicked off after a tweet from soccer commentator Juan Arango. “I guess we can say (finally) that Lio Messi’s ‘football IQ’ should never be questioned,” Arango’s tweet read in the aftermath of Messi’s masterful two-goal performance against Chelsea on Wednesday. To understand why Arango would feel the need to make such an obvious point about the sporting intelligence of a player widely and accurately described as a genius, you need to be familiar with this earlier tweet of Rongen’s from a few months ago:
It was as strange a sentiment then as it seems now, and was especially troubling to hear this from someone with such an influential position in U.S. Soccer. Surely a man who thinks Messi is stupid shouldn’t even be in charge of scouting in his own Football Manager save, let alone a whole, real-life country. Rongen never really clarified what he meant with that tweet, and resorted mostly to sending out pictures of him and his old teammate and countryman, Johan Cruyff, from back in their days playing for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. (Presumably Cruyff wanted someone in America to converse with in Dutch who would also go fetch him cigarettes and thus struck up some kind of friendship with Rongen.)
After Arango’s subtweet on Wednesday, Rongen finally felt the urge to justify his unjustifiable take. He first responded to Arango on the day of the initial subtweet, but fully got into his dumbass argument in a long series of tweets yesterday. Here are the key ones:
Yikes. Where to even start? First and foremost, the idea that Messi is somehow a “failure” on the international stage is itself bullshit. During Messi’s prime years when he’s been both old enough to be the main man (which wasn’t true during the 2006 World Cup) and lucky enough not to be coached by the drug-addled mind of a fat, egomaniacal gremlin (which was unfortunately the case at the 2010 World Cup under manager Diego Maradona), the GOAT has done pretty damn well in international play.
Messi—Argentina’s all-time leading scorer, mind you—has led an exceedingly mediocre Argentina team to three consecutive tournament finals. That’s two Copas América in 2015 and 2016, both lost on penalties to a fantastic Chile team managed by a great coach, and one World Cup, the 2014 edition, during which Argentina fell to an all-time great Germany team in extra time. This alleged “failure” is about a whisker away from being a historic bounty of international trophies, making it not much of a failure at all if you think about it for more than two seconds.
But even granting Rongen’s faulty framing of Messi’s failed Argentina career, his argument still makes no sense. He’s maybe a little bit close to a semi-valid point, which is that when playing for Argentina Messi has a tendency to do too much. He’ll often drop deeper than would be ideal, looking to get on the ball and orchestrate the entirety of the Albiceleste’s possessions from defense to midfield to attack and into the opposing net. This does cause some structural problems now and then, which could be solved if his teammates were more empowered to control the other areas of the pitch and leave Messi free to concentrate on the final third.
However, to attribute these small tactical hiccups to Messi’s “soccer IQ” is pure nonsense. Maybe Messi is too dumb to realize that a forward dropping to the defensive midfield line every possession and trying to dribble through the entire team himself isn’t the soundest strategy for victory, or maybe he’s routinely been surrounded by a collection of stodgy, uncreative defensive-minded players incapable of progressing the ball up the pitch playing behind a couple pure strikers with no affinity for the passing game, and in recognizing this he decides to go do what needs doing himself. Maybe Messi’s taken too many headers to understand the value of compactness, or maybe his teammates are so used to relying on him to do everything that if he didn’t drift all over the pitch looking for the ball, the team would just stand there looking confused with the ball at a defender’s feet and no idea about what to do next. Maybe it’s Messi’s fault that he hasn’t figured out how to maximize the talents of very good players like Paulo Dybala and Éver Banega in a balanced fashion, or maybe Argentina’s managers over the past decade have rarely if ever put out sensible lineups of complimentary players in a tactical setup where everyone’s roles are clear. Maybe the handful of incredibly high-pressure matches Messi plays with his country every couple years expose the true dummy underneath the unceasingly brilliant and tactically perfect player we’ve seen 50-some times every single year for a decade, or maybe the Messi in Barcelona is the real Messi and the still-very-good version that plays in summer tournaments with Argentina is the exception. Maybe Rongen is right and everyone else who’s ever seen Messi play and considered him a genius non pareil is wrong, or maybe Rongen, as is the fate of many tap-eaters, has stuffed his mind with so much game footage and needlessly complex theories about how soccer is supposed to be played and has doused all that with a heaping helping of unearned arrogance that his brain is now fried and useless and leads him to proudly espouse the most self-evidently moronic takes without a hint of self-awareness or shame.
Anyway, now you know who Thomas Rongen is. It’s too bad you had to learn about him in such tediously annoying circumstances, but at least now you know that he’s a numbskull and to never listen to anything he has to say ever again.
Correction: A previous version of the headline above read “Screeching Moron Formerly In Charge Of U.S. Soccer Scouting Offers Braindead Anti-Messi Take.” It has been updated to reflect U.S. Soccer’s clarification that Rongen is no longer chief scout for the men’s team.