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Kaká not what MLS needs, but he certainly won’t hurt

Dec 6, 2012, 1:49 PM EDT

Kaka AP

Noah Davis made a good point on this site yesterday. MLS has greater needs than another big name star. We’ve seen the effect a player like Thierry Henry’s had, and it’s just not the same as David Beckham’s. The contribution on the field is immense, and that addresses a number of needs (quality of play, general perception of league – both domestically and internationally), but when you’re talking about a $5 million annual salary (and Kaká will certainly earn more), it’s worth considering the other places you can put that money.

Thankfully, MLS is in a situation where it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. Just because one affluent team snags a former Ballon d’Or winner doesn’t mean the league can’t make developing and keeping young talent a priority. Perhaps the messages are mixed – the headline-grabbing veterans overshadowing the dedication to nurturing talent – but the reality is clear. You can have players like Beckham, Henry, and Kaká and still be serious about other aspects of the league.

All things being equal, I’d rather the league spend more money on retaining and developing young players than luring icons, but presenting that as a dichotomy is a common flaw of our rhetoric. As we debate issues and try to develop preferences, it helps to juxtapose two ideas against another, if for no other reason than to narrow the discussion. But once we’ve made that evaluation, we often forget to step back and remember the world’s more complicated than a light switch. Even after we’ve developed preferences, we don’t always have to choose. Just because the league pursues Kaká doesn’t mean that is MLS’s (or even the Galaxy’s) top-line priority.

The obvious rebuttal: Why not just take the eight or 10 million per season you’re going to give Kaká and put it straight into development? It’s a good suggestion, but somebody would need to assess what you’re getting for that extra money. Are there players being missed or under-developed now that a surge into development efforts would save? How efficiently can that money be spent before various factors bring on diminishing returns? And we can’t ignore the argument that having players like Kaká and Henry help the league’s brand and quality. That may have an effect on the bottom line which would allow greater long-term investment.

Based on what was overheard at MLS Cup, Major League Soccer is committed to investing more money in the on-field product. There are CBA issues to work out, but if those obstacles are hurdled, you could see more Javier Morales-types brought into the league while players like Omar Gonzalez and Brek Shea are given greater incentive to stay home.

Nothing about the Galaxy buying Kaká would preclude that investment. Thus, the choice becomes simple: Would you like to have a league with Kaká? Or one without Kaká?

  1. wesbadia - Dec 6, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    Would Kaka be an asset to the Brazilian Serie A? If so, why? And, if so, how is that success measured against any success MLS would derive from Kaka gracing North American shores?

    I ask this because I’m still extremely confused why so many pundits are seemingly against a move such as this, lambasting it for being “not what we need”. Does Brazil need it? If so, why? How are our two leagues that different? How is our league that different from any other league in the world (sans the obvious single-entity structure, etc)?

    If Kaka said he were thinking of going to Qatar, China, Australia, or Egypt, would pundits in those countries be having this same debate? How does the simple fact that it’s MLS and not any other league make this move different?

    What I’m trying to get at is that if we’re to be treated by others (and by ourselves) as a top class league in this world, then why this special treatment of turning away players who are of a certain stereotype (ie, over 30, “past their prime”, etc)? Suppose Kaka decides on a move to, say, the Netherlands. Would the Eredivisie be worse off for it? What about the EPL? Would they, arguably the most successful league in all of football, be worse off for it? I can’t imagine how. Kaka is a quality player with juice left in the tank. If LA, NY, or any other club in the world is seeking a player of his caliber because they think he would add what that club needed on the field, then so be it. If they work out a deal at a substantially reduced rate, then all the better.

    I fail to see why this is such a huge talking point in soccer circles. MLS is a world league. Fans of it should not only acknowledge that, but accept it at truth if they’re serious about supporting it properly. Having an air of exceptionalism when it comes to MLS is just absurd, especially if we wish to compare ourselves with the best in the world. Kaka to MLS is a player transfer, just like Kaka to Brazil or Kaka to China or Kaka to the EPL.

    • wesbadia - Dec 6, 2012 at 3:37 PM

      Also, to the point about investing that ~$10M a year into youth development, the uncertainty of the economics with an investment such as that is astounding. Investing a large amount of money such as that into a program that isn’t necessarily going to produce immediate nor absolutely positive results is a huge risk. Diversifying the assets you have by investing maybe 25% of it in youth development, 10% in existing players’ pay, another 25% of it on facilities etc, and the rest on a big name player acquisition would probably be best.

      There is absolutely no guarantee that a whopping $10M is going to produce a linearly proportional result in youth development. Calculating the proper amount to spend is tricky, but investing all of it in one thing that is incredibly uncertain is foolish. Just because that much money is spent does not produce acceptable results. The education or health care industries are proof of that.

      Allowing owners to find the best possible way to invest that much money is the most practical and the most rewarding. Telling how someone else should use their own funds (especially if it’s putting all your eggs in a large basket of economic uncertainty) is just silly.

  2. crnelson10 - Dec 6, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    If I’m a young Brazilian player (or any nationality, really) and I have an offer from the LA Galaxy to come play in MLS, aren’t I more likely to take it if I’m getting to line up next to a guy like Kaka?

  3. joeyt360 - Dec 6, 2012 at 6:22 PM

    The problem is that Time Warner isn’t paying the Galaxy $11M/yr for development. They’re paying the Galaxy that amount to put star players on TV.

  4. footballer4ever - Dec 6, 2012 at 11:01 PM


    The difference between Noah and your post is: Kaká not what MLS needs, ” but he certainly won’t hurt”.

    As the league grows so does the expectations. Therefore, been in the “teen years” , growing pains is the phase our league is at. In a perfect world, Noah’s view of what the league needs is just too naive or simply oblivious and just disregards to what high profile footballers have done for the league and how that can influence young players to come to MLS. It sounds to me that bringing high profile players is more detrimental than benefitial, but let’s not forget the US sporting landscape is comple and every sport’s league is fighting for the fan’s undivided attention and re$ource$.

    Instead of saying “kaka is not what MLS needs”, tell us which reachable high profile player might be available and worth bringing for both footballing skill and marketing purposes.

    • Richard Farley - Dec 6, 2012 at 11:08 PM

      Me: Kaká and a number of others; Noah: Nobody that’s reachable.

    • Richard Farley - Dec 6, 2012 at 11:42 PM

      Just to further clarify, I don’t think MLS needs much of anything, but it would sure be a damn better place with a Kaká.

  5. charliej11 - Dec 7, 2012 at 1:58 AM

    The idea of bringing in the washed up guy, who most likely doesn’t care enough over retaining guys you know is very unappealing to me….I would rather see OG kept.

    One, he will be assured playing time in a competitive league.
    Two, it is a general trend that will help MLS too.

    Someone posted on another site, time to let soccer be the star.

  6. jkbadger10 - Dec 7, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    I’ve got the attitude of who cares what the Galaxy does with player acquisition? If they believe that Kaka is a player who will help them win more championships, that is a front-office decision. Similarly, if another franchise decides to focus on youth development as the best way to in a championship, that is fine too. The fact is that clubs will do what they feel is best for them. Some like LA and NY want to do the “big-star” approach; others will look for younger foreign talent (Columbus, Seattle, RSL); and some will look to develop youth (Houston, KC, Philly). It is actually a great thing that clubs take different directions.

    Would I like to see a higher emphasis on youth. Absolutely, especially as a huge fan of the national team. However, the infrastructure just isn’t there. It is an awfully big jump from U-18 to the first team. If MLS is going to be committed to youth, they will need to develop a U-20 league filled with young professionals along with a full-fledged reserve league.

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