“In the States they look at the commercial aspect. But in Europe transfers are done for technical reasons.

AC Milan VP Adriano Galliani

Oh really Mr. Galliani? This statement could not be further from the truth and is quite frankly an insult to those who have worked tirelessly to take a grassroots game in this country to the recognition it currently enjoys.  These foot soldiers who have made football a prominent feature on the American sporting landscape did it through hard work, fiscal discipline and despite remarkable hostility from the Northeastern based elite sports media.

Over this past summer, Milan made a transfer deal to acquire Ronaldinho from Barca for a sum that at time would have equated to close to $27 million dollars. Almost immediately, the Lombardy club began selling T-shirts and kits with Ronaldinho’s likeness and jersey number. The deal to sign Ronaldinho was never about football: that’s why none of the other purported “big” clubs in Europe went after him. the only other suitor was Manchester City, under Thashkin Shinawatra who was looking for a splashy signing to help his popularity back home in Thailand.

For years Major League Soccer kept costs in check, and rejected the almost constant brow beating of European based agents who looked to get their clients one last big payday in football. One such example is instructive.

Croatia’s Davor Suker won the golden boot at France 98. The next year he decided to leave Real Madrid to pursue a career elsewhere. At the very same time Lothar Matthaeus, Claudio Cannigia, and Gheorghe Hagi were all linked with MLS over the summer of 1999. But none of the four signed that summer (Matthaeus did the following year) even though Suker had advanced negotiations. But MLS was unwilling to pay market value to a player who easily could have been marketed as a contemporary football superstar in America.

Suker signed with Arsenal, and didn’t play much before transferring to West Ham a year or two later. When MLS refused to meet Suker’s contract demands his agent publicaly said he didn’t want the burden of being the centerpiece of football in America. But thr truth is MLS, fiscally prudent and market wise broke off negotiations.

Milan and the other big European clubs spend so much money on transfers and player salaries perhaps they forget that jersey sales and worldwide marketing is what keeps them in business.  By contrast, MLS has taken hits by both the hostile sports media and eurosnobs in the United States for not signing bigger named, more relevant world footballers.

Given this revelation who really is interested in the commercial aspect of the game and who is interested in the technical aspect? For my money Milan is marketing entity while MLS and its partners have worked to grow the quality of play and technical aspects of the sport in the United States. While MLS has strayed from that course slightly in the past three years (through events like Superliga, the marketing of the Mexican National Team via SUM, and the signing of Beckham) throughout most of the league’s history it has been more about football and less about glitz and glamour.