Is The Money Talking?

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 16.35.28It is eight years since David Beckham signed for the MLS side LA Galaxy from Real Madrid and it will not be news to anyone reading that the Los Angeles team have just announced their signing of Steven Gerrard on a free transfer from Liverpool.

This comes a matter of months after Frank Lampard ‘signed’ for the new franchise on the other side of the country in New York, a move that has seen its fair share of controversial headlines since.

I will go on record now as saying that I am the first to admit I have seen a rise in the quality of the football in the MLS in the last eight years but is it reflective of the money spent? Has the quality of football really improved that much?

Everyone knows what happened with Beckham, he came with a lot of razzamatazz, talk of a $250m five year contract and speculation that a whole array of stars would follow. That never happened the way we thought.

Beckham annoyed a few with his loan spells back in Europe although it was a little understandable, as a professional desperate to play for England I could understand that patriotic urge. He needed to be in a spotlight and a competitive arena that demonstrated he still had the quality, and his injury while on loan at Milan in early 2010 was devastating for him.

Thierry Henry was arguably the biggest name to follow and he did okay for New York Red Bulls but was clearly not the player we had seen at Arsenal. Other players like Robbie Keane have come and done a good job but he was hardly of the profile of Beckham or even Henry.

Let’s forget about the money for a minute and look at the players making an impact on the game, raising its profile and paving the way for others. Gerrard comes over with his reputation as a fabulous player in his career but nobody can be fooled that he is not the force he once was, he is long past his peak and going in the wrong direction, and so coming over on a huge payday has to raise fresh question marks over the MLS going in the wrong direction.

LA has a lot of sport going on and the Galaxy are still in the process of trying to establish themselves… they won’t fold, the MLS won’t do an NASL in the short term, but we’re still in a process, and it’s a process that doesn’t show any signs of advancement when players like Gerrard are coming to the league and getting huge wages. It’s not sustainable.

Look at the Lampard situation with Manchester City. It’s a farce and clearly looks like some manipulation of the rules. The only ones to lose out are the fans in New York who have been sold false promises but the underlying message is the damaging one, worse than money – a club, or franchise, in the US can still be used as a plaything by a European club. If you allow yourself to be treated in a certain way then you only have yourself to blame.

Manchester City do have a tradition of their own but this modern incarnation of them is not familiar to those of us who grew up watching and playing with and against the likes of Franny Lee. Before their takeover they were a small, proud club making their own way. The point I’m making is that by now I might have expected teams in the MLS to provide good competition for the likes of the old Manchester City, a mid-table Premier League side, but the standard is no better than the Championship.

Add Gerrard and Lampard to the equation and I have to wonder if the ambition has gone the other way, if the MLS is content to be viewed as that graveyard for Premier League players to retire that people seem to dismiss it as. Where’s the ambition?

It just saddens me to see it go like this, moving forward with no real progress, particularly after such a wonderful year for US Soccer with the World Cup in Brazil.

Jurgen Klinsmann has done such a fantastic job despite the problems that exist in the infrastructure of the sport which I have written about plenty of times before but I don’t think that the adequate and appropriate advancements are being made at club level to support the progress at international level.

At least Beckham has shown some dedication to the American game by the plans to re-invest in a Miami franchise (although that has gone quiet) but if anyone had said to me that the biggest news in the North American game eight years after David Beckham signing would be David Beckham buying a franchise then I would have been a little disappointed, as I am.

I don’t blame Steven, that’s the nature of today’s player, you have to accept where the money is being offered, but I’m just disappointed in the Galaxy and MLS – it seems like a backward step and makes me wonder if anything has been learned from the spending of all of this money.

I was on the RetroUnited.com podcast as usual last week. You can listen to it by visiting the website here.