High mountains have been conquered in luring biggie-big names into Major League Soccer. David Beckham was foremost, of course, but Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba, Kaka and quite a few others aren’t exactly $1.50 hamburger, either.
But we live in a day when players aren’t the only superstars of the global game; a few managers have arrived into this exalted place, this lighted stage of tactical enlightenment and leadership savvy.
It’s a relatively short list, depending on where you draw your line. Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho are the latest “daily specials,” so to speak. From there, depending on the week’s deliveries, you might include Roberto Mancini, Fabio Capello, Louis van Gaal, Arsene Wenger and perhaps a couple of others. Diego Simeone seems like he’s in the queue, for sure, and Sir Alex Ferguson was certainly there before he retired to write books and establish a permanent, lurking shadow over Old Trafford.
We could, perhaps, throw a few more names out there, those who have clawed their way into higher managerial recognition through national team acclaim: Marcelo Bielsa, Joachim Löw and, well, name the Mexican national team manager of the month. Either way, you get the idea.
So we nerds of the domestic game, those who spend their time watching professional clubs in North America and debating implications of each national team roster, now pose this question:
When will one of these managerial superstars find their way into Major League Soccer?
These guys are liberally swapped among the big boys of Bundesliga, EPL, Serie A, La Liga and PSG. One day, surely, one will break ranks and flee West to MLS. But which one? And when?
And once he gets here … will it be his Waterloo? That is, will he even succeed? Carlos Alberto Parreira was still pretty fresh off a World Cup win, but he flopped badly for the MetroStars back in 1997. He is probably the biggest coaching ship to land on MLS shores.
There is an obvious impediment to a Klopp, a Pep or – Oh, please make it so one day! – a Mourinho hitching his horse to an MLS wagon: the salary, of course. Being merely “pretty good” in the manager’s seat earns you about $3 million a year in the Premier League. That’s what Mauricio Pochettino gets now for his work at White Hart Lane, and he’ll probably deserve a raise if Tottenham retains its place in the EPL table.
Slaven Bilic is earning around $4.4 million this year for his good work at West Ham. And you can see that we still haven’t gotten past the guard gate to the seriously tony neighborhood of Premier League estates. Klopp, the man who worked wonders at Dortmund before a quick re-set and then a ballyhooed arrival into Anfield, will make $10 million this year, according to British media reports. That apparently puts him fourth in earnings. Yes, fourth.
Wenger, van Gaal and, of course, Mourinho, are all on salaries north of there. (Mourinho, of course, must now have his salary figures from West London reported in past tense, as he just once again had his Stamford Bridge key card deactivated.)
What does that kind of money buy you in MLS? Well, let’s toss the LA Galaxy and Toronto FC out of this conversation, for the big spenders at the StubHub Center and BMO Field tend to skew this picture. But consider that Seattle, not quite in the TFC or Galaxy galaxy, still spend considerably on player salaries. Their total payroll was fifth among Major League Soccer’s 20 clubs, but “all in” it still didn’t quite reach $12 million in 2015.
And there you have it: a moderately big spending club in MLS currently pays $12 million in player salaries; they aren’t likely to pay $10 to Guardiola or his fellow fraternity members.
And yet … this is going to happen one day.
SEE MORE: 10 predictions for the 2016 MLS season.
Bruce Arena, 64 years old, won’t go on forever in Carson. He still seems energized, but he’s an East Coast guy at heart. Or perhaps he’ll want to spend more time with his grandchildren. Or maybe he’ll just get tired of rising habitually at 5:30 a.m. (you know, to get into the office by 7 a.m.). Either way, the Galaxy will need a new boss sooner or later. And since the AEG model is unlikely to change, stars will prowl the lot. They’ll need a firm hand, someone with enough bona fides to tell heavy hitters what’s what. Giovani dos Santos, Steven Gerrard and Robbie Keane won’t be around forever, but their younger contemporaries are lining up.
Down the road from Carson, LAFC is growing from its spindly roots. They’ve already got a swell website! And they were barely a rumor when thoughts took flight of Cristiano Ronaldo bouncing regally around the ground. No disrespect to Ben Olsen or Jay Heaps or anyone else in the MLS coaching circle, but the $22 million man (Ronaldo, that is) might have a hard time taking orders from a guy who couldn’t afford his shoe collection, not even at a discounted price.
New York City FC is other obvious candidate to spend lavishly one day on a global hotshot manager. They already have hit the EPL pace on burning through coaches; Jason Kreis went above the average in wins for an MLS expansion team and still got kicked to the curb. If Patrick Vieira, now the man with the whistle at Yankee Stadium, can’t wave a magic wand fast enough, they’ll probably fire him, too. Then what?
I’ll tell you what: they might just reach out to a Mourinho or a Klopp or a Pep. After all, these guys are already filthy rich and might be willing to take 50 cents on the dollar to manage in the Big Apple, to prove themselves worthy of the MLS challenge.
It might be New York. It might be one of the teams in L.A. as that arms race escalates. It might be in Miami, where the David Beckham-led band of VIP brothers will surely want someone befitting the luminary brand. Guys like Carl Robinson and Oscar Pareja are terrific young names with serious upside, of course. And yet, I’m just not sure they have enough sizzle for a group with such a peacocky name as Miami Beckham United.
At some point, some bunch of Richie Riches will simply not be able to contain themselves. Frustration boiling over that their man with the whistle keeps getting beat by a Robinson, a Pareja, a Jesse Marsch, etc., some club will turn to a special one. Or a “Normal one.” Or they’ll remind Guardiola of that nice year he spent in New York.
And what a glorious day it will be, a PR bonanza for the league, a payday for writers and broadcasters covering MLS and a delight for fans who love to hate the big managerial cheese. (Well, unless it’s Klopp, because who doesn’t love that guy?)
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