The Huckerby Saga


Huckerby scores for Man City/ BBC Sport


Darren Huckerby the former Coventry, Manchester City and Norwich man will be able to sign with San Jose after all. Huckerby originally traveled to North America two weeks ago to join up the club that had filed a discovery claim with MLS on him: Toronto FC. But the saga to get us to the point where Huckerby could play in MLS has been anything but normal and it owes itself to MLS odd rules and the allowance of artificial surfaces by MLS clubs.

Two media sources have been on top of the Huckerby story from the get go. The often maligned, but truly indispensable MLS Rumors, and CSRN. Since last week between this blog, and our daily shows we’ve been reporting the latest on the Huckerby saga. My connections to members of the Manchester City fan community in the UK as well as cultivated sources in Canada and here in the U.S. allowed us to be proactive on this story. Throw in my colleague Peter Brown’s conversation with Frank Yallop last Saturday as well as Johnathan Starling’s mastery of the MLS rules and his call to me yesterday after hearing the American Spoccer Show to tell me Huckerby couldn’t sign with San Jose without compensation for TFC because of the discovery claim the Reds filed with MLS, and we had all bases covered on this story. When it happens in American Soccer we do our best to cover it here in a proactive and analytical manner. That’s why we are the network of record when it comes to this sport here in the U.S.

Now that we’ve discussed our reporting of the story let me say this is an exciting signing for me personally. I don’t often devote whole columns to one signing in MLS unless its a player the caliber of a David Beckham or Claudio Lopez. But in the case of Darren Huckerby he is one of my favorite players in the recent history of my favorite club, Manchester City. Kevin Keegan made a huge mistake by loaning out and eventually selling Huckerby when the club signed the volatile and generally mad Nicolas Anelka and also the useless Jon Macken whose reputation was created simply because he was a youth player at cross town Manchester United (much like Terry Cooke who despite a solid MLS career was a flop at City). Huckerby in my mind should still be with City, and should be a pillar of the club. Instead he ended up with Norwich a club I don’t particularly fancy nor follow. Thankfully ‘ll be able to follow a player I truly admire once again here in MLS, and hopefully he can find the surroundings here in the states are hospitable as they have been to some other recent British imports.

Now back to the story. Huckerby and fellow former City attacker Paul Dickovarrived almost two weeks ago in Canada with the intention of signing with Toronto FC. However, when Huckerby saw the condition of the pitch at BMO field and the field turf training facilities he began to explore other options back home in England and elsewhere in MLS. Last week, Huckerby met with former Ipswich Town defender and current San Jose Earthquakes coach Frank Yallop and agreed to join San Jose after seeing the fantastic natural grass pitch at Buck Shaw Stadium and the training facilities. However, one problem existed: under MLS’ rules which mirror those of North American professional sports leagues not other leagues in world football, the discovery claim filed by Toronto meant San Jose had to either buy Huckerby from TFC or trade for him.

I’m told Huckerby began exploring options back in England even though he had decided previously to come to MLS. Again to an English footballer of his pedigree the strange rules of MLS and American sports in general probably struck him as odd and perhaps not worth fighting. However, tonight San Jose has sent an undisclosed amount of money to Toronto for Huckerby’s rights which means he will be able to sign with San Jose when the MLS transfer window opens on Tuesday. This ends a saga all too familiar in MLS. Teams claiming rights to internationals playing abroad and then either receiving compensation for a player they never owned or worse yet keeping the talented player from enhancing MLS’ overall product.

As MLS transitions from a league merely trying to survive to being a league that thrives rules like the Discovery player rule need to be revisited. However, some of the rules MLS has that European oriented fans complain about are actually quite good and introduce a competitiveness and a fairness totally lacking in some of the world’s most prestigious leagues. At a future date we’ll dissect these on the American Soccer Show and here on the blog.

9 thoughts on “The Huckerby Saga”

  1. Homer! I like it though, its nice to see the fandom shine through. Would definitely appreciate a discussion of some of the strange and anachronistic rules of the MLS.

  2. MLS rules sometimes make the game look so bad. The Discovery claim rule is the first rule that should be dumped.

  3. Yes Berlin. We will dedicate a show in the near future to discussing these arcane confusing rules. As far as the discovery player rule my colleague Daniel Feuerstein has a great post about it at his new blog site which can be accessed on the side menu on “Feuersteins Fire”

  4. I’m probably in the minority here but I like the ‘Discovery’ claim as it reduces the chances of a bidding war on hot prospects and encourages the development of good scouting networks.

    The Canadian Football League has a similar “Negotiating Rights” type of rule in place where teams have to register interest in ‘import’ players that are currently not assigned to a team.

    Most of the players are future prospects, some coming from U.S. colleges and others who have spent time with pro teams in NFL Europe, Arena league and NFL teams. The majority of the players are imports, although there are sometimes unsigned, undrafted, non-imports who appear on neg lists.

    The eight CFL teams regularly make changes to their negotiation lists, such as when a player signs for another league.

  5. On a separate issue, why is it that people are so uppity about field-turf and pitch conditions? I think it has become a convenient excuse for players to fall back on. That’s one of the elements of the game that makes it unpredictable, the weather and field conditions!

    Seriously, can professional players not adjust their game to the field conditions they are presented with? What do American football players do when it rains? That’s right, they adapt.

    Sure, we’d all love to have perfect grass and sunny weather for every single fixture but that just doesn’t happen. Should players start complaining about the shadows on parts of the pitch at Newcastle’s St James Park and other such venues?

    I think the whole thing is overblown.

  6. Lonnie I like the discovery player rule also but feel it should not be applied to a 32 year old whose career is well known to most fans of world football. Limit it to guys under 25 who are more obscure.

    On turf, I don’t agree. Players are afraid they are going to get hurt. Huckerby didn’t like the way the ball bounced at BMO and I am told he LOVED the pitch at Buck Shaw which is natural grass with a great watering system installed by the Quakes to keep the pitch from drying out in the summer heat. And to think SJ doesn’t even own that stadium. When they do open their new facility at Santa Clara I would expect it to be top class.

  7. Well we all should say thank you to BC for saving the day!

    I take the position of liking the discovery rule but seeing in this situation, a 32 year old` veteran player well know in the football world, that the rule does not work.

    Hopefully, the MLS will address the issue in the off season. The real issue maybe is if the MLS will adopt player transfer rules on a North American model, ie: MLB or NBA, or go with a international football standard. While, I often think it best for the MLS to go with worldwide football rules and concepts in this case the new American fan may happier with something that is known to them.

  8. Not wanting to play on turf is perfectly reasonable and something Seattle and TFC are going to have to accept going forward. I’m surprised so many foreign players already are willing to play on turf quite honestly.

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