Do Top European Players View MLS as a Retirement League?

File photo of England's Frank Lampard celebrating after scoring penalty kick against Croatia in London

England and Chelsea star Frank Lampard recently stated he’d consider pulling an Eddie Murphy in the 1988 John Landis vehicle Coming to America, and, well, head stateside and over to the prestigious MLS in the future. The only problem with super Frank’s comments were that they were followed by the numbers 35 and 36. Like so many others before him, the implication here is that MLS may not be a bad 1 or 2 quiet years in the luxurious states resulting in one last decent paycheck before footballers hang up the old boots. Why has MLS gained such a potentially negative stigma among European talent? Will MLS ever see a top European player transfer over in their late 20’s?

Lampard, now 31 and in the prime of his illustrious career has arguably been the best player for Chelsea this season and just came off an enjoyable campaign which saw the west London club win a league and cup double. Lampard still has three years left on his current Chelsea contract but admits he may one day follow fellow international team-mate David Beckham and former Premier League star Freddie Ljunberg to America.

I’d like to go and play in America when I’m 36 or 35 but you can’t take away someone’s right to go and play where they want.”

Lampard’s comments again raise the question of whether or not top European players view MLS as a sort of retirement league, an easy run out they can migrate to in the twilight of their 30’s. The aforementioned David Beckham’s recent MLS stint has been anything but fruitful for the league and the Galaxy, at least in the opinion of serious soccer fans in the states. They’ve reached an MLS Cup Final, but have yet to win the trophy and have endured some pretty woeful seasons since Beckham’s arrival. All the while Beckham travles the globe in some sort of coaching/mascot role for the England national team as the Galaxy pay his massive wages.

Still, as young a league as MLS still is, is receiving the upper echelon of European footballers in their last few years such a bad thing? Imagine a 2011 with Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Beckham, Andriy Shevchenko and maybe even Raul. Surely this kind of talent couldn’t hurt the league. As top young American talent such as Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Michael Bradley and others head to England and Germany to begin and further their careers, is there really anything so bad about the opposite heading this way towards their end?

I think not. MLS has done a pretty decent job of recruiting talent from North, Central and South America while not failing to bring in marquee players to sell tickets. Time will of course tell whether or not all these rumored transfers of top talent will come to fruition or fade from memory. Until more young US soccer talent takes over MLS to help shape the future of the American domestic league and bring it credibility the world over, MLS fans will have to endure the arrival of more former European greats cashing one last check whether they like it or not.

35 thoughts on “Do Top European Players View MLS as a Retirement League?”


      1. That’s funny. I nearly spit out my drink when I read that. Lampard is the antithesis of class. He’s a dirty chav.

        1. No, he’s not confusing him with John Terry. Lampard has no class either. Re: 911 comments with Terry in 2001. MLS doesn’t need useless old men. Lampard can piss off.

          1. What do Americans know about having athletes with class? Check into your some of your greatest athletes and see what their backgrounds are like (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Lawrence Taylor, Kobe Bryant, and the list goes on).

            Second, why do athletes have to pass an ethics test to play a professional sport?

          2. Frank is no angel… He may have had a top education, grown up with a silver spoon, but …. The guy is a very confused man. Personally I think a bit bipolar who finds solace in football.
            As a West Ham fan I try to be objective here when I say why would a world class player playing at the top levels hold such acrimony for the supporters of WHUFC?
            Sure they called him Fat Frank, cause he was then… They called him on the fact that his godfather rushed him into the starting 11, and Harry did. and they feel betrayed that he ran the second Harry left. His dad was a legend, and it must have been hard to be compared to him but come on… You’ve proven yourself… be bigger than it. you are a professional. LET IT GO BIG FAT FRANK….

            anyway. He’s no John terry, he’s just a bit conflicted or something.

  2. Definitely. I mean most of the player would want the money and some of them would have gone to the Gulf region and get a hefty retirement pay packet but maybe with the MLS there is the idea of being able to play while also enjoying the place. Like say a summer holiday retreat of sort.

  3. I never really watched MLS matches on a regular basis until the Philadelphia Union. And after watching every second of their season so far, I think its fair to compare the level of play with English League One, and in the Union’s case Two. Seeing freddie ljungberg play for Seattle vs his last days in the PL with West Ham, its easy to see why they make the switch. Refs give them calls, players don’t close them down, unless they want a card, they get exposure to US markets…

    The MLS by the very nature of its salary structure is set up to be a feeder league. Some of the squad players could make more a year working in fast food. The MLS has set up a nice niche business. Americans get professional soccer, with a few big names splashed in, teams get a payday if one of their ‘draft picks’ makes it to the next level… But the days of the Cosmos in the NASL are well over. Mainly because the core is run by soccer people.

    1. “Seeing freddie ljungberg play for Seattle vs his last days in the PL with West Ham, its easy to see why they make the switch. Refs give them calls, players don’t close them down, unless they want a card, they get exposure to US markets…”

      Clearly you haven’t seen Freddy play very much. He’s one of the most fouled players in MLS and spends most of every game bitching at the refs for lack of calls. Sigi actually called him out on this last week in a press conference.

      I don’t disagree with your take on the MLS being designed to be a feeder league but your observations of Ljungberg are way off. Try not generalizing based on his 1 game against Philly.

      1. You are most likely right, and it could have been that when I saw him play it was against a team that went out and just gave Sounders a kicking as a positive tactic. I want to love the Philly Union but they seem to be a bit like Bolton under Fat Sam. and maybe I was really talking/thinking about Beckham.

      2. Yes, MLS is a feeder league. So what? EPL is a feeder league for Spain.

        Ljungberg is a Eurotwat. He complains. He dives. He harasses the ref incessantly. He misses open nets (actually, he doesn’t even take the shot). He embellishes shamelessly. His crosses stink. His corners float 15 yards past the far post. His free kicks routinely hit the wall and turn into opportunities for the other team. He doesn’t have a single ounce of creativity on the ball. He never makes any defensive effort. He didn’t show up at training camp and instead posted a picture of himself snowboarding. When he did show up he was out of shape. He went 6 games without making a single pass to Montero, the Sounders most productive forward, because he doesn’t like his work ethic. I could go on.

        MLS should focus on young latin players. The real fans know the difference between a talented hungry young player and some broken down old Eurodouche looking for one last fat paycheque. Those are the fans who show up regularly. Not the goddam idiots who pay to see Beckman limp around.

        1. Your assessment is over the top but not completely off base. Freddie’s attitude pretty much stinks. It’s clear that he doesn’t appreciate the league he’s playing in as he basically told his coach that he’d complain all he wants because he’s world class. The guy’s scored one goal in his MLS career and the team he leads can barely score at all. I’m not sure that arrogant euro has beens is the answer for MLS.

          In general, I think MLS should skew towards young americans and latins or older players that may be overlooked for one reason or another.

  4. He’ll go to america when he’s too old to cut it in europe, why else would you want to go to that micky mouse league. No one in their prime is going to go there. I’m afraid that MLS will just have to get used to this.

  5. And signing these pro with big game time experience will help raise the quality of the league. I mean look at Pablo Angel he couldn’t score much in EPL but he is doing a good job in the MLS. Imagine if you have players like eg Figo/Zidane they will definitely light up the stadium with the skills and thus ultimately raise profile of the game there. Trust me in my country,we used to “main bola bawah block” before S-League came along and a decade later now we have a viable successful commercial entity in the form of the league and we are even involve in the ACL.

  6. With Platini’s new rules potentially tribalizing domestic European leagues again, MLS may like the old NASL become a world force. Look for the Japanese J-League top emerge as a top world league before MLS, however. But both will be competitive with all but the very top European leagues when the full scope of Platini/UEFA’s fiscal regulations are imposed.

  7. i got a message for the euro snobs. in the future when european soccers debts are so massive if not already, a salary cap will be placed and trust me it will. mls will start getting more players from europe. you can’t spend more then your means, mls knows this from the nasl days. platini has been studying are model. unless europeans expect rich foreigners to buy their clubs and pay off their debt and that doesn’t always work. until then we will get players in their 30’s instead of 20’s. but in the future we will get those superstars.

    1. I love the term “Eurosnobs”, especially when it’s used by an MLS fan to describe people that like to watch football played at a high leve…like what’s played in Europe.

      So, in your opinion, the saving grace of MLS will be other leagues collapsing in debt? MLS can’t make it on it’s own, it has to hope for the downfall of other leagues in order to finally get good talent? What an awesome league!

  8. Why is this even an issue? Who cares if we’re a feeder league or a retirement league? If you’re not the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga chances are you are either a feeder or retirement league. Just sticking with the English speaking world, the SPL, IFA and the A-League have talent that is more in line with MLS than with the Premier league. Not everyone can be the best, people need to get over it and appreciate what they have.

    1. i care that it is a feeder league for now. but paul you are right we have to be happy with what we have. by the way i welcome your opinion on a salary cap put on european teams. i know this is not the topic but i want to see an article by the writers in refference to that.

    2. I completely agree. For some reason, people keep comparing MLS to the top leagues in Europe. It’s a young league in terms of football/soccer and will never be able to offer the kind of pay or opportunity that the big European leagues will. I think the A-League is the perfect comparison as they also function as a bit of a last hurrah for some Aussies/English (Robbie Fowler).

      I think that as long as the players take it seriously then it doesn’t matter if they are 35, they are still class. Beckham has never really done that but I think a player like Lampard would. For all the stick he’s received he does seem to be a pretty class act.

    3. amen brother paul. well said.

      …and as for the effects of signing washed up euro league stars? why not? the age will keep creeping down until some magical tipping point when some world-class dynamo (no pun intended) chooses mls over europe and it’ll be that day when we can say the mls has reached a worthy vista. i’ll take every old beckham, lampard, henry, and ronaldinho you got.

  9. Lampard should never be allowed to play in MLS due to his atrocious actions on 9.12.01 (along with Terry). I’d be very upset if any team looked to sign either of these clowns. Thankfully Jody Morris was never good enough to entertain the thought of going to a retirement league, as he was just as guilty as the two big names.

  10. MLS will never attract top world talent, “the next Messi” until it pays decent wages. I understand the need not to over spend as the Glazers have nearly destroyed our finances. But the top players in the world will go where the money is regardless of location. Having said that, I think that if MLS can selectively sign quality elder players it will only help the quality of MLS. What MLS needs is exposure to as much of world football as it can get. America as a nation is successful because it is a melting pot. That’s why the EPL is successful and that will make MLS successful. But money is a problem for the young quality right now.

  11. Does this harkes guy ever shut up? Tyler will be giving him a slap round the chops if he talks this much during the england game.
    The main guy in this game can’t get a word in.

  12. Unless something hugely unforeseen happens, the MLS is simply a small league. No amount of wages will change this. I don’t understand how we can even begin to expect that someday the MLS will be a huge league. The top leagues are long established. Just because other sports leagues in America are the best, does not mean that it’s just meant to happen and inevitable. The top european leagues will remain the top. The MLS is what it is and just because it’s the United States doesn’t mean we should be expecting anything, it’s like expecting the Mexican or Argentinian leagues to one day become major.

    I, for one, would be perfectly happy with the MLS being a feeder league. That would be a great accomplishment for the US if we were consistantly putting out young talent to the top Euro leagues. It would mean that one, we have a good national team, and two that the MLS and the US would be a respected soccer nation. Also, I think it’d be great if we became a retirement league. As long the media didn’t make a big deal about it being a step towards the US becoming a major league, then it would be great to get old superstars here.

    I think we need to see the MLS for what it is and leave it at that. If we can develop our young domestic talent in the MLS, I think that would be an amazing thing for US soccer fans.

  13. Who cares as long as the MLS is interesting to its fans? It’s not all about having the best players in the world its important to have a good competitive league. Would you choose a league with rich spoilt brats and no real competition or a league with good healthy competition between players will to give life and soul for their team?

    I think the downside with the MLS at the moment is a lack of support in the country. If you remember the David Beckham situation when went to the USA he was the highest paid player on the planet bar none. He didn’t become disorientated with the MLS because he wasn’t being paid enough(in fact in the US he was being paid more than he’d ever been paid during his entire career due to endorsements and his wage packet), he became disorientated with the MLS because of the fan situation.

    When David Beckham was asked about wanting to play for AC Milan he made it very clear the situation was he felt better playing in a football loving nation. Thats not to take away from the educated MLS fans but look at it this way. If you were a young footballer who could play anywhere in the world would you rather play in front of 75 thousand cheering fans at Old Trafford with the nations eyes glued to the TV or play in the MLS?

    Can you imagine being a Barcelona player in the Nou camp playing against Real Madrid? Can you imagine being an Inter Milan player and against all odds reaching the Champions League trophy while the whole nation looks on biting their fingernails?

    Theres nothing wrong with the MLS but it is a young league and the sport has a long way to go in the US. I don’t doubt the MLS will become a major league one day but you simply can’t expect Lampard to swap his champions league and premier league winning club, his incredible famous face known all over Britain for a club in the MLS. They are worlds apart.

  14. I think you’re right, but attracting top European players, even if they are at the end of their careers, can be a great benefit by promoting global awareness and interest in the MLS, change won’t happen overnight, you only have to look back 15 years and the English league was in the same situation and now look at the EPL.

  15. As a longtime follower of MLS and a recent convert to the EPL, this seems to me to be an apples/oranges debate. The MLS is getting better, albeit slowly, and the emphasis has to be on homegrown talent. The LA Galaxy is playing great football this year without the distraction of David Beckham. A previous commenter pointed out that not every league can be at the top. I agree. Enjoy what you have for what it is. And thank god for FSC and ESPN HD. And yes, the American commentators can and should talk less. Go Galaxy and Go Blackpool!

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