In this Men in Blazers podcast special, Rog interviews the president of new MLS franchise, Atlanta United FC, Darren Eales.
Atlanta United has had a successful inaugural season on and off the field, due in large part to Eales efforts and his experience.
Eales was hired from English Premier League side, Tottenham, so he knows the business.
About 26 minutes in, Eales discusses the MLS and transfer fees. He makes some great points.
One of the issues it [MLS] has had is its been almost like a little island of its own. It’s almost isolated itself from the rest of the world football.
The point I made to Arthur [Atlanta United FC’s owner], the first time I met him was that every club is a selling club… You got to get used to that. You shouldn’t be frightened of it. This is how it works.
So my vision is that we could take players that were younger, invest in a transfer fee, rather than dead wages on player that was going to be retiring at the end of their contract and use that as a way to bring better talent in.
My view is, if MLS establishes that, you then are going to be able to attract better players, because more players are going to want to come, if they feel it can be a stepping stone.
It’s a virtuous circle. Yes, you’re going to have to be prepared to lose some players. But you’re going to bring better players in and be able to take the transfer fees and reinvest them.
It was easier for me to have that view because I came from outside of it [MLS].
The MLS seems to be moving in the direction of more participation in the transfer fee market, but has been reluctant for a few reasons.
One reason is that it wanted to avoid being a ‘selling league’, as Eales says. That means selling the contracts of it’s top talent (or ‘selling players’) to other clubs — perhaps better clubs.
I believe the MLS wanted to be thought of as a top-tier league, itself, that should be buying, rather than selling players.
Also, the MLS wanted to exert league control over transfers to maintain parity and competitiveness in the league, like other American pro sports leagues that try to do this with salary caps, draft positioning, etc.
I’ve always found it ironic that in the U.S., the land of the decentralized planning and risk-taking, pro sports leagues are organized are more centrally-planned, while in countries that are more prone to centrally-planned economies, their sports leagues are organized on decentralized risk-taking and competition.
The long-term effect of league parity is mediocrity. In other American sports leagues this mediocrity isn’t as noticeable because those sports aren’t played widely in the rest of the world.
But, soccer is played worldwide with many inter-country competitions. It is noticeable when American soccer doesn’t match up, like in the US Men’s National Team performance in the qualifying round for the World Cup.
The long-term effect of competition is elevating the top-levels to very high quality.
Eales couldn’t have said it better. Every club is a selling club. You shouldn’t be frightened of it. This is how it works.
Maybe having Eales’ voice in the MLS will help the much needed change of participating in the world transfer fee market for soccer talent become a reality.