Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Landon Donovan & The Needless Markup League

CHICAGO - MARCH 05:  A bronze logo hangs on the side of a Neiman Marcus store on the Magnificent Mile March 5, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. Neiman Marcus Group Inc., which operates Neiman Marcus, recently reported a 24 percent decline in sales.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

I was still scratching my head over the events, or, more appropriately, lack of events, leading up to Monday night's announcement that US Soccer and Bob Bradley had agreed to a four year contract extension when I heard that, according to Martin Rogers of Yahoo! the retail price tag Major League Soccer had apparently affixed to Landon Donovan's head was $16 million. Since I have four years to express my opinion on keeping Bob Bradley around for another World Cup cycle with no evidence of US Soccer testing the waters of the international coaching market, the greed of MLS owners is a more immediate concern and priority in my opinion.

Anyone who is familiar with my opinions on labor issues in the world of professional sports knows that 99.99% of the time I'm on the side of labor; therefore, it should not be surprising that I'm outraged by the King's Ransom of a transfer fee that MLS has apparently placed on Landon Donovan, arguably one of the best American soccer players of his generation. Not only does this price tag show the blatant hypocrisy of MLS, which loathes having to pay transfer fees to bring players from other leagues to MLS, but should also serve as a bright red warning flag to young, talented players who are currently playing in MLS.

For almost ten years now, the fact that Landon Donovan was one of the best American Soccer players has been apparent. While his difficulties finding his true form in Germany are well documented, Donovan has proven to be a top tier player for MLS and the US National Team. It wasn't until this past Spring that the soccer world got to witness Donovan turning on his magic in a top flight foreign league, and the fact that this occurred at Everton in the English Premier League only gave Donovan a global stage on which to excel as he prepared for South Africa 2010.

In order to get MLS to agree to a loan deal with Everton, it appears that Donovan had to cave into MLS's demand for a four year contract extension, thereby preventing him from heading to Europe on a free transfer while still at the peak of his playing career. In the end it appears that by agreeing to the contract extension, Donovan made a Faustian deal that allowed him a small window of glory in the EPL, but a deal that will ultimately keep him in MLS until the owners no longer have any use for him. The amount of interest from top flight foreign clubs in the 28 year old Donovan will dwindle exponentially over the next four years, to the point that MLS will likely sell him off to the highest bidder after the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. So long as MLS overprices Donovan on the transfer fee market, the most he can hope for is one or two more short loan stints in Europe.

I hope that MLS proves me wrong and Donovan secures a good transfer before he turns 30, but more importantly, I hope that young, talented players in MLS have followed the Donovan situation closely and have taken it seriously. I suspect that it is my latter hope that will prove more realistic, in fact, based on recent Houston Dynamo history, I know that many of the younger players wised up to the MLS transfer situation long before I had.

In recent years, Houston Dynamo fans have seen players like Bobby Boswell, Nate Jaqua, and Joseph Ngweyna explore options in Europe following the expiration of their respective MLS contracts. More recently, Dynamo fans have seen Stuart Holden and Ricardo Clark, core Dynamo players, chose to follow their soccer dreams in Europe instead of signing new MLS contracts. As it stands, Dynamo fans are already debating whether Geoff Cameron will head to Europe when his contract expires after the 2011 MLS season or sign a contract extension.

My advice to Geoff Cameron, one of the most underpaid players in MLS, is: "Head East across the Atlantic young man!"

In fact, that's my advice to pretty much any young player in MLS with dreams of playing in Europe. If a MLS player believes he has the talent to play in Europe, he should always check out his options there after his MLS contract expires. Choosing to go on trial in Europe does not close the door on signing a new contract with MLS, but signing a new MLS contract before checking out Europe could result in MLS quashing the dream and the player left asking himself, "What if?"

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