Good Friday morning Caps fans, I hope your upcoming weekends are filled with good weather, summer time activity and as few household chores as possible.
Scrolling through my Twitter feed this morning, I was intrigued by a FourFourTwo article entitled “How player power became a ‘thing’ – and why it’s now terrifyingly acceptable in football.”
Even before clicking on the story, any reasonably engaged fans of global soccer will probably get what its about—the ongoing transfer sagas of Neymar and Antoine Griezmann. They have been now joined by Arsenal centerback and captain Laurent Koscielny, who is refusing to join Arsenal’s pre-season tour after failing to reach an agreement to have his contract mutually terminate, thus facilitating a return to his native France.
Now, my usual response when any pundit complains about player behavior and why its a scar on the modern game is usually to roll my eyes. After all, the article even readily admits that players attempting to force the hand of their parent club to either win a new contract or a desired transfer has existed as long as football itself.
The difference this summer is that more and more, players are starting to push back on the enormous power clubs wield in global soccer. Running down a contract to leave on a free transfer has been a practice that has existed for awhile but has become steadily prevalent, with noted Bosman transfer merchant Juventus snapping up midfielders Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey on frees this summer.
But this is small peanuts compared to what Kylian Mbappe or Christian Eriksen, who are reportedly considering similar moves, might make if they were to hit the open market. This is in part because it is obviously beneficial to a player to do that—they make more money—but also due to the insane transfer fees, which are only getting more insane (see: the $160+ million fee payed by Atletico Madrid for talented yet relatively untested teenager Joao Felix).
So the article is, in some sense, right: player power has risen but only in the face of the massive control clubs wield over their most valuable commodity. Coming from American sports, where players’ unions have advocated for far greater protections for their members, the relative lack of protections that exist in most countries are rather jarring. Granted, many players in Europe (particularly in smaller leagues) are still at the whims of their clubs but I would still argue progress is being made, even in those locales.
Which brings us to MLS (because this is a MLS blog). Relative to the other major North American sports leagues, MLS is an outlier. Other leagues have robust free agency, which can net eligible players massive contracts. While the next collective bargaining agreement will likely address this issue, free agency in MLS has so many qualifications and conditions that it is virtually useless, unless you are one of a small handful of players.
In addition, player salaries can often be a pittance, especially in some of the most expensive cities in the world (to be sure, players in Europe’s lower leagues are not getting paid as much but cost of living in Bury or Borchum is different than Boston). It is even worse in USL, where player rights are even more watered down.
In an era where, globally, players might be seizing more power, what does that mean for MLS? It isn’t as if MLS players haven’t agitated for a move (Vancouver has been party to perhaps one of the more infamous displays of force by a player) but the number of players in MLS that have real leverage are far fewer than even its peer leagues in Europe.
Part of the problem are the incredible spending restrictions—unique not only to global soccer but far more stringent than its peers in North American sport—which basically rewards paying players less than they are worth for as long as possible. Not that this incentive doesn’t exist elsewhere but teams in MLS have ironclad reasons for being unable to pay players more. The way wages in MLS are artificially depressed is rather unique.
CBA negotiations are coming up, with a new deal needed prior to next season. It is likely there will be changes to the league’s salary structures, although they will likely not be as sweeping as will ultimately be necessarily to ensure the league’s success. In a world of increased player power, the need to pay even its lowest paid players better will be crucial to ensuring MLS can compete globally, even though it is less flashy than the “will he or won’t he” sagas in Europe.
Now onto the links
Shameless Self Promotion
We have report card grades from the Caps’ 0-0 draw with CPL foe Calvary FC from Wednesday’s Voyageurs Cup action. But if you’d rather look forward to Saturday night’s must-win clash with Sporting Kansas City, we can help with that. And don’t forget to get your lineup predictions in for the SKC match!
Best of the Rest
Speaking of the Griezmann saga, it has officially come to a close after FC Barcelona paid the Frenchman’s $135 million release clause
Matt Doyle doled out midseason grades for MLS teams and Vancouver passed … barely
Theo Bair was tapped for the MLS Homegrown Game (which is tragically no longer presented by Chipotle, meaning I don’t get to use the free Chipotle coupons that were part of the promos). At this rate, Bair may well get more minutes in that game than he will for the Caps all year
A good story on SKC’s Yohan Croizet ahead of Saturday’s match
The World Cup is over but our SB Nation Soccer fam has you covered on how to get into NWSL (TBT to the NWSL-to-Vancouver rumors 🙁 )