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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


TANGENTS

MLS Shouldn’t Waste a Good Crisis

Written by on March 2, 2012 | 11 Comments »
Posted in General, MLS

Imagine working in an industry where companies are constantly being forced into administration, contract disputes are a regular occurrence and where, if the company that you work for has one bad year, your salary can drop by a substantial amount.

Probably not that unthinkable for a number of us but sometimes we forget that it is also the world that the vast majority of soccer players inhabit as well.

We have become so ingrained to the image of the superstar player that it is all too easy to forget that for every Carlos Tevez (who can afford a golfing vacation until his disagreement with his club is concluded) there are thousands of players who wake up everyday worrying about paying their mortgage and wondering exactly how they will earn a living once they inevitably lose their current job.

The worries that those players face have surely become more acute of late.

The travails of Glasgow Rangers and Portsmouth have been described as “tips of the iceberg” when a better description would be that they are  simply two more rocks in an avalanche that is growing  faster and more substantial by the day.

Rumours are already swirling that the British taxman is using the plight of Rangers as a test case before they move in to a number of English Premier League clubs, and whether those rumours are true or not the perception of financial instability can often be as damaging  as the reality; especially to the morale of the workforce.

And it’s not just British clubs that are coming face to face with this new financial world.

Every club in Europe is affected in some way by that Continent’s continuing debt crisis, be it in falling ticket sales, lost sponsorship revenue or the possibility of reduced broadcasting money.

So where does Major League Soccer come in?

Imagine that within that nerve jangling industry that we envisioned at the beginning there is one company that is known to manage its affairs with rigour and with probity.

It may not pay the kind of exorbitant salaries that  some do, but it does at least guarantee that those salaries are always paid, and it comes with none of the uncertainty that has suddenly become a part of everyday life in the rest of the world.

The weakness that Major League Soccer has faced in attracting players has always been its rigid financial restrictions yet, paradoxically, those same restrictions could become a strength in the coming years.

A whole raft of players may begin to see MLS as a lifeboat (pun intended) away from the listing ship of European soccer, and Commissioner Don Garber should ensure that his teams are ready and willing to deal with many more distress calls in the coming months and years.

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11 responses to “MLS Shouldn’t Waste a Good Crisis”

  1. Ed Gomes says:

    Ahh, No.
    You mean to tell me that Brits are coming to the MLS for 40k a year? I don’t think so.
    If the financial crisis is as such that teams have to cut way back, a few things will happen.
    First the cut back won’t be that great at the big clubs. So the big super stars will always find a home. The stars that are trouble or malcontends, they will be shipped.
    If players have nowhere to go, I still say a pay cut in the EPL lower table club is better than the MLS. At least there I can still get noticed by the bigger clubs.
    If you are talking about lower level clubs, then maybe I can see that. But how exactly is that going to make the MLS better? Or is it that you’re stating they will still be better than what’s here?

    South Americans will still believe in Champions League football and European riches/fame, even if those riches are less. That will mean that talent will still go there first. I do admit that “selling” leagues just might find it more difficult. But if the crisis is across the board, it will just mean that the cost will be lower for everyone.

    Let me add that Brazil and Russia will become major players. Both those nations are poised for huge economic fortunes. We are already seeing Brazil clubs hanging onto their players and now they just might become buyers in the European market. Russia is a bit sketchier due to schedule/weather, but there’s already been a large influx of South Americans so Europeans just might be next.

    Can the MLS profit from the economic downturn? Maybe, but I just don’t see it. There’s plenty of economic downturn in the US so advertising dollars and tv revenue is going to be squeezed. I think that we can all agree that there’s other sport leagues here that would be getting the lions share of those squeezed dollars ahead of the MLS.
    Just so I don’t get killed about soccer in the US, let me add that I truely feel the sport is alive and well in this country. ESPN is investing a ton of money as is FSC. But I think that it’s clear that the invested money is going to bring foreign leagues/games/tourneys to the US instead of the MLS. Millions upon millions of people follow plenty of leagues outside the US.

  2. Russell Berrisford says:

    Ed- I agree with you about Brazil and Russia and if somebody had said even 2 or 3 years ago that a Russian club would be able to get a player like Samba ahead of a Premier League club it would have seemed fairly unlikely.

    And though, as I said, the superstars aren’t going to be coming to MLS in anything like the near future if the League can entice more Europeans based players here (and not just Brits) then the move seems less daunting as that experience gets passed around.

    Players will pretty much “follow the money” and that doesn’t always mean the highest amount.

    If I was an Aston Villa player, for example, I would be getting very nervous about my future given their recent financial results (and the same goes for an awful lot of other clubs around Europe).

  3. I don’t think the vast majority of people in North America realize how much economic trouble Europe in is and how much worse it could yet get. It is still on a knife edge and even if further trouble is avoided there are going to be severe problems for years to come.

  4. Ed Gomes says:

    Bobby I couldn’t agree more. I’m fortunate to being able to travel abroad for business and have family in Portugal. Things are pretty scary.
    I will say this, there’s plenty of leagues, that are living off of TV money already. Attendance has been abysmal already and I’m sure merchandising has taken a hit as well. That being the case, things just might be “as usual ” for them.

    Sadly this economic state is just going to expand the distance between the haves and have nots.

    O still say that presidents, boards and owners are just as much at fault. Many like Villa have been living off the big clubs and haven’t prepared properly.

  5. Rob says:

    Bobby-” I don’t think the vast majority of people in North America realize how much economic trouble Europe in is and how much worse it could yet get. It is still on a knife edge and even if further trouble is avoided there are going to be severe problems for years to come.”

    Are you talking about Europe in general or European football?

    Russell- Do you think the MLS will be able to stabilize itself even with a rigid pay structure? And, if you could, what type of talent do you see MLS pulling to these shores?

  6. Russell Berrisford says:

    Rob-if anything the rigid pay structure should help it to stabilize (it can be both stable and increase).

    Hard to say what kind of talent they can attract- but here in Vancouver the Whitecaps have signed Barry Robson from Middlesborough who, on the face of it, looks like a standard DP signing in his early 30s, but in fact is still a current Scotland international and was also offered a two year contract by Middlesborough and had offers from other clubs including at least one in the Premier league, but chose to come to MLS.

  7. John Bladen says:

    Well said, Russell. European clubs have been their own worst enemy for some time. As a dearly departed friend of mine used to say, “It doesn’t matter how big your bucket is if it has a hole in it”.

    Bobby: The European financial crises are a long way from over, agreed. Much of the effort presently being made to “deal” with it looks like a weak bandaid solution at best (and that’s only if these deals can ever actually be agreed).

    Perhaps a major financial correction – though very damaging (even fatal) to some clubs – could be the catalyst saner club management?

    I’d like to believe that, but much of what has been done to address ‘economic downturns’ around the world looks like reinflating the bubble (temporarily) to me. One seldom resolves problems by repeating them. I don’t know that football would be any different…

  8. Russell Berrisford says:

    Just looked at The Guardian Football page and all these stories are there;

    Rangers deciding which players to let go, Portsmouth loaning out their Captain to raise cash, Birmingham and Coventry placed under a transfer embargo for failing to file their club accounts on time, and Port Vale didn’t pay their players last month.

  9. John Bladen says:

    BBC has most of the same stories, Russell… turns out spending your way to financial health is difficult. Who knew?

    And these don’t include allegedly “minor” stories like club chairmen seeking new minority partners (IE: people who will give them money without wanting any control or any assurance that they will get their money back at some point in the future).

  10. Europe is in trouble that may well get worse and teams cannot will not be able to avoid the fall out. As Russell alludes to there is a strong sense that a tipping point may be coming close.

  11. Soccerlogical says:

    Most think that Europe’s and N America’s economies are destined for a double dip.

    But I guess Bobby and Russell know something the likes of Abramovich, Kerimov, Sheikh Mansour, Sheikh Al Thani and other billionaire owners don’t…. 🙂

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