This may be an unpopular piece.
A few months ago, TSG named Lyle Yorks, player agent to many Americans earning paychecks aboard, as “MLS Player of the Week.”
The agent–much to his credit mind you–successfully negotiated a lucrative contract for Benny Feilhaber with the New England Revolution, despite all the data suggesting that MLS was, in fact, negotiating against themselves for the services of the California-raised attacking midfielder.
Feilhaber–concluding his time playing for AGF Arhaus in the second division–was rumored to be on the move out of the Danish side on a number of occasions (to second division La Liga sides as well as the Mexican Primera among others.)
When the dust–less smoke–settled though, it appeared that his only plausible destination–unconfirmed–was the New England Revolution (after an MLS Allocation draft) of MLS. Feilhaber earned a non-designated player contract at $375000 in Year 1 (nearly identical to his Aarhus salary) and premium of almost $450,000 in Year 2.
Just who did MLS need to beat out for the right to sign Feilhaber? Aarhus–likely–wasn’t re-upping at the same or comparable rate next year or Feilhaber likely would have stayed in Europe–the proximity to Europe makes it an intra-transfer more plausible.
Now another Lyle Yorks agent Carlos Bocanegra is being hyped for a move to MLS, but here’s the question:
Would it in fact be a coup….for MLS? for Bocanegra? for Yorks? for perhaps the Revs or the Whitecaps (two rumored teams) if “Boca” signs with the league?
It all depends upon the price; the answer will give you a read on the maturity level of the MLS front office proper.
There are many narratives to Bocanegra’s last two years of his playing career, but one could go like this.
Bocanegra moves from Rennes to St. Etienne (July 2010) to retain as much playing time as possible in Ligue 1. The left-footer was a star at Rennes, but once hamstring and abdominal injuries hit, his nova began to wane at the club.
With Bocanegra’s contract running out with St. Etienne, there appears to be a choice.
Let his contract expire with the Ligue 1 mid-table side or take a contract offer from Glasgow Rangers, a team already clearly deep in financial trouble and with a dicey ownership situation already public.
It seemed a curious move at the time, but the unchecked media spin on it was that Bocanegra was moving to a side so he could play in the pinnacle of Euro competition, the Champion’s League.
It’s a peculiar weight–that is a goal of Champion’s League play–to pair as a variable with Bocanegra and Rangers. The Rangers are at best these days a fringe player in Europe’s toughest tourney and Bocanegra was likely attempting to secure his final big European payday.
What is a more probable justification of Bocanegra’s move is the following:
Faced with few (at best) or no (at worst) suitors in continental Europe, Lyle Yorks did what was necessary to maintain the “illusion” of demand by placing Bocanegra at Rangers, a team where he–through James Grant Management–enjoyed a good working relationship and recently steered two others in his stable, Alejandro Bedoya, most recently, and Maurice Edu, firstly.
Yorks had to comprehend the Rangers financial difficulties and tumultuous struggle to remain solvent in SPL.
Further the outcome that is being witnessed today, one where Bocanegra is faced with a choice to somehow salvage a contract at Rangers in some Scottish division or go free, had to be one that was a serious consideration. In short, that Yorks directed his client there at all tells you something of Bocanegra player value overseas or at minimum how much he was re-marketed.
Bocanegra’s plight over the last campaign is not one that US fans hadn’t seen before. In fact, a nearly identical one existed a year ago with a very similar comp: Jay DeMerit, another US national, World Cup veteran and a player a year younger than Bocanegra.
The tactics of DeMerit’s situational management were vastly different though.
DeMerit, unlike Bocanegra at St. Etienne, elected to play out his contract at Watford and hoping to capitalize on a strong World Cup and earn one more glory ride in UEFA. Names like Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen & Everton were bandied about as potential suitors and destinations for an unchained DeMerit post summer 2010.
However, DeMerit–after six months of relocation search–found himself without a contract and European dance partner and, in a move that seemed incredulous when first leaked, ended up as the first designated player for MLS’s new franchise in Vancouver.
DeMerit will make $350,000 in guaranteed compensation this year. He’s been excellent and made the All-Star game, but is he worth more three times the amount of money as 30-year-old Victor Bernardez ($100K) in San Jose? How about 33% more than 26-year-old Aurélien Collin in Sporting KC ($216K guaranteed) who may be able to be sold on? Or what about roughly 25% more than 82-times-capped German national teamer and veteran of two World Cups Arne Freidrich ($230,000) now in Chicago? It’s kind of hard to make that case.
Now back to Carlos Bocanegra.
With Europe seeming a non-option (communication to Bocanegra’s management at James Grant went unreturned) and Rangers likely unable to pay Bocanegra’s current wage demands, will the league agains negotiate against itself for a centerback on the wrong side of 33?
(This is to say nothing of the player’s continued ability, his gritty style of play or his leadership qualities. Removing any emotionality, it’s merely looking at a player profile.)
Is the ability to market the US national team captain that vital to the league or, in fact, that lucrative to break the bank to a sign a player that would appear to have few other suitors? Will MLS break the bank?
MLS is now a viable league.
One that, in fact, is a plausible alternative, clearly for Central Americans (Colombians, Hondurans) looking to step up in compensation and exposure and exceedingly more Europeans who can’t cut their teeth in their continental home leagues (Eric Hassli, Chris Birchall respectfully).
It’s also becoming more of a viable option for developing talent–though not at the level it needs to be a top league just yet–with the likes of Stu Holden and soon Geoff Cameron moving abroad.
It’s a league where its fans lament stars like Alessandro Nesta and Rafa Marquez considering it a retirement destination.
It’s also a league that needs to show it’s grown up at the front office level and pay fair value, not a premium, for it’s US stars as well.
Wouldn’t the Players Union appreciate that in the interest of the greater good?
There is nothing wrong with bringing a recognizable face into the fold in MLS–fans clamor for that all the time, but the league should be prudent on what they need to pay for those services. It’s merely fair value, not over-inflated value. (Note: Benny Feilhaber added no more than a trickle on the Revs attendance number upon his signing last year)
What does a Bocanegra move to MLS–a league that Jurgen Klinsmann has indirectly slammed–do to his national team stature? Does it say something about Klinsmann perhaps or Bocanegra’s agent that the captain of the US national team perhaps can’t find a club in Europe?
This is a player that is so highly regarded that upon his move to Rangers that he was immediately made a captain. That’s a heady stuff for such a storied club to pick a newcomer, non-Scot to lead its squad. There is no anti-American bias on the field in Scotland, but might that, in fact, be the overarching storyline here?