Martin Samuel’s column last week which our own BC John responded to in a classy fashion is the final straw with me in trying to understand the majority of the football writers in the United Kingdom. Samuel’s article points out the major flaws in the reasoning of most British writers when evaluating the rest of the football world. I would never make the case Major League Soccer is a better product than the Barclays Premier League, but in reality the products are very different and the football is very different. That’s why trying to subject the evaluation of the quality of MLS to a decidedly English standard is wrong and smacks of poor journalism. In his piece which appeared in the Times of London, Samuel clearly didn’t take the time to research anything about any of the players in Major League Soccer who have not either played in the Premier League or are not English. Simply because a player has spent his club career playing exclusively in the Americas (like Boca Juniors legend Guille Baros Schelotto now with Columbus of MLS) or played in Spain and Italy but not England (Like Cuahatomec Blanco, Carlos Pavon, and Javier Morales) doesn’t mean he is not a quality footballer who plays the game at a high level. Perhaps Samuel needs to consider he hasn’t seen many of the players he’s never heard of in England because of the style of play in the PL and yes the weather.
Comparing Major League Soccer to English Football is in some ways like comparing International Basketball to the NBA. Much like the NBA where many of America’s top stars are developed (since prior to the recent rule change regarding age in the NBA Draft, so many top American stars skipped college where they actually learn the game from top basketball coaches) the flow of the game and general tendencies of the players is different than in the international game. That’s why the US has had so much trouble recently winning big tournaments in a sport that was completely dominated by the US prior to the early 1990s. Major League Soccer’s season is played during the hottest months of the year in the U.S. Players who excel in MLS tend to be the types who can hold the ball and have the stamina to play 90 minutes in oppressive heat. This reality naturally favors players from Latin America, who because of geography and the style of play have excelled in MLS. English Football is played largely in the air and at a fast pace in more pleasant weather. Does the faster pace mean the players are better? Not necessarily, because Serie A whose style of play more closely resembles MLS than that of the English Leagues produced the 2006 World Champions, with the entire Azzuri roster save one player playing their club football in Serie A.
Could English players of an average quality come and dominate MLS as many in the British press have speculated? The answer is a resounding no, Here are some examples of former English footballers who came to MLS and flopped.