Next weekend marks the Major League Soccer kickoff for the 2017 season. Interestingly enough, this transfer window saw how a league from the other side of the world might threaten the growth of the beautiful game in the United States.
With the exponential growth of soccer in the United States, and the many new franchises rising through the league, the MLS seemed like a desirable place for players to continue or finish their respective careers, while continuing to play at a decent level. Many followed the example of David Beckham when he joined LA Galaxy after his stint with Real Madrid back in 2007. Players with the caliber like Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and Alessandro Nesta followed the Englishman’s path to an adventure in the new and ever growing American league. But last year we saw how the Chinese Super League caught the eye of some of the best talent in Europe.
Back in 2016, The CSL (Chinese Super League) came onto the scene trying to make a point. They were here for the best talent and had the pockets for it. A total of $364 million was spent last year with players like Teixeira ($52.8 million) Jackson Martinez ($44.36 million) and Ramires ($40.13 million) who left for the far east. The Chinese Football Association tried to impose restrictions on spending for foreign talent. Little did that help.
The end of January 2017, which closed the transfer market in Europe and most of the soccer world, saw MLS spend $27.59 million in transfers. Compared to the whopping $231.08 million spent by the Chinese Super League, the difference is overwhelming. Last month, we saw how a player who is close to retirement, like Carlos Tevez, became the world’s highest paid player, earning $752,000 a week ($33.77 million a year). That’s almost twice as much as this year’s Ballon D’or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. It also saw Oscar, Hulk, Witsel, and Pato all join the Chinese league, with plenty of talent and years of playing time on their legs. All this compared to MLS’ highest paid players Kaká ($7.16 million) and Giovinco ($7.11 million) and the difference is just abysmal. I guess money does buy happiness.
But the Chinese haven’t only made an impact on player transfers — and this might be the biggest difference with MLS — managers have been a huge part of the transfer window. And I have to say it’s a smart move. Cannavaro, Pellegrini, Meneses, and Luis Felipe Scolari all form part of a star studded league.
MLS should take this seriously. It is vital for the league to remain appealing for players of international footmark to help its expansion, TV, and media revenue. This will also continue to add substantially to the popularity of MLS within the country and around the globe.
Although players like Kaká, Pirlo, and Villa have helped tremendously on the style of the game and are top tier players, they are nearing ending their respective careers. Major League Soccer is in need of players who can not only come to retire, but it needs players to help elevate the level of soccer that is played here. Also something worrisome is the poor exportation of the league’s players to the bigger European leagues. This will end up hurting the USMNT which seems to rely more and more on the American-German raised kind of soccer player. MLS has a long way to go if it is aiming to be one of the best in the world. There are, however, some bright signs.
Maybe the teams in MLS can in no way compete with the budget of our Chinese counterparts. But, we have a geographical and cultural advantage. Even though a lot of players might be convinced by the chunks of money they might earn in China, the U.S. remains, and will remain, one of the countries with the best quality of life. We live on a continent where we have some of the best talent within grasp. South America and Mexico are two golden cradles of natural talent, and MLS should take advantage of this.
As the competition in MLS gets tighter, it will seem more alluring for quality players like Toronto FC signing Giovinco, and LA Galaxy’s Gio dos Santos to join us. Players who still have a lot to give. Also, players like Chicharito, who are being linked to joining us, will be a big revenue driver due to the colossal Mexican soccer fan base. Atlanta United, a new franchise, has made a big step in bringing international manager Tata Martino into the league. Men like him are the ones who develop the right squad protocols and youth structure. Also, the teams should start taking competitions like the CONCACAF Champions League more seriously as this leads to the yearly Club World Cup, which could also help launch the popularity of MLS.
We have all the tools and infrastructure in this amazing country to become a leader in the most global sport of the world. It will take time and patience, but with hard work in developing young talent and taking the sport more seriously from a tactical and financial point of view, we can get there.