All season Madison Square Garden Corp. Chairman Sonny Werblin has ducked every question put to him about the future of the Washington Diplomats. Each time the subject of next season came up Werblin would say only, "All I'm thinking about right now is this season. When it's over, then I'll worry about next season."
The Diplomats' 1980 season ended late Saturday night in Pasadena, Calif.
Now Werblin must make some hard decisions.
First, he must decide whether he, or, more accurately, Gulf and Western, the team's corporate owner, wants to remain in soccer, an investment that already has cost the corporation more than $5 million for two years.
The answer to that question probably will be -- and should be -- yes. Werblin knew when he invested all those dollars in Johan Cruyff, Wim Jansen and Juan Jose Lozano that the payback would come later. The Diplomats now have won credibility in Washington and could begin to pay financial dividends in the near future; their fall tour of the Far East will make money and the Dips could be profitable at the gate here next season if the second half of this season was indicative of a trend.
Thus, the major question facing Werblin is what to do about Ohan Cruyff. For the Diplomats, the Dutch superstar has become larger than life. Almost singlehandedly, he turned them from a minor-league franchise crying to be recognized as major league into a viable, major-league team that was treated as such by the fans and medea in the Washington area.
If the Diplomats are going to continue to be treated as major league next season, if they are to continue the progress they made this season in attendance -- it increased 70 percent -- Cruyff must return.
The next question then is what must be done to get Cruyff back. Unfortunately, part of the answer is a change of coaches. Gordon Bradley realizes this.
But a coaching change would not guarantee Cruyff's return. First, the Dutchman will be 34 next season. The Aztecs' Wim Suurbier, a close friend, pointed out after the Dips-Aztecs game Saturday that Cruyff had been happier in Los Angeles, where six of the 11 starters in 1979 were Dutch. Wim Jansen and Thomas Rongen of the Diplomats are Dutch, buy Cruyff might be more comfortable with an even larger Dutch contingent.
Cruyff has not voiced any demands and he won't -- certainly not publicly.
Bradley could be an extremely effective personnel director, one of his present two jobs. He does not want two jobs next year, as he has had the past three seasons, and this might be the right time for him to move strictly into personnel.
As he has shown the last three seasons in putting this team together -- with the exception of Cruyff, whose acquisition was engineered by Werblin -- Bradley is an outstanding personnel man.
But what if he wants to remain coach? If Werblin has to choose between Cruyff and Bradley a purely pragmatic decision would be to choose Cruyff. But the choice is not that simple. Bradley means too much to the Washington organization to be sloughed off.
He, not Cruyff, is this team's good will ambassador to the soccer community. Singlehandedly, he turned what, was a very bad relationship between the Dips and the soccer community into a good one. Bradley's reputation is good around the league. But he belongs here, not coaching for one of the many teams that will leap to offer him a job should he become available.
So, Werblin has his work cut our for him. He must find a way to keep both Bradley and Cruyff in the organization. He needs both of them. The Diplomats certainly need Johan Cruyff in their uniform in 1981. Soccer needs Bradley in 1981 and beyond.