Figo, Henry, and My Continued Souring on Beckham

First of all, consider this post a replacement for the middle section of yesterday’s awful, barely-considered post.  I’ll be addressing this later tonight.

For the moment, though, I’m busy joining the parade reversing away from/pointing out the dubious origins of the Luis Figo-to-MLS rumor; in fact, read Steve Goff’s short comment on the subject and you have to wonder how about just how far this deal was from completion. The bigger question, though, is whether any Major League Soccer (MLS) club should have spent time trying to lure the 35-year-old Figo, especially given in light of a passage contained in Goal.com’s report on the limping rumor:

“The Portuguese wizard is in his final year with the Nerazzurri and was expected to retire from professional football come June.”

[SNIP]

“’There’s a chance that I could go to the States to finish my career, but this isn’t the time.’”

Jesus, man.  What “time” would that be?  You’re 35!  In case you haven’t heard, life gets slower and fatter from here on out.  Never mind that the word “retirement” should mean a hell of a lot more to the relevant, moneyed parties.

Talk of a Figo trade, as well as reports that Thierry Henry would like to try MLS “one day,” really gets one wondering about the attention David Beckham’s arrival brought to our shores.  I’ll start this…this…whatever it is (rant?  No, I’m not quivering with frustration), by taking the positives of Beckham’s arrival – mainly a immediate injection of cash – as a given.  But the attention, which the current conventional wisdom leans toward dubbing a simple plus, doesn’t seem nearly as straightforward.  Put it this way: I don’t buy the idea there’s so such thing as bad publicity; the Spears girls are busy blowing that line out of the water.

More fundamentally, the idea that his arrival makes MLS seem like a viable option for bigger names founders on economics.  A Toronto Star piece (also available above in the part about Henry) does a pretty good job of elaborating on the current balance of trade between the U.S. and Europe.  Hell, one needs look no farther than Andy Dorman’s recent departure to understand the limits of this upside.  To take this one step further, Paul Gardner made a fair stab at laying the generally acknowledged improvement in MLS at the door of cheaper, and no less crucially, younger Latin imports – a pipeline we only needed a little scouting, as opposed to the Fiesta del Beckham, to open.

As such, we’re stuck measuring Beckham against Beckham as an on-field proposition. The Gardner article mentioned above dubs this a “mixed bag,” but I view that as generous.  I’ve even come across more optimist takes over the past couple days, a position that Dan Loney’s inaugural piece for USSoccerplayas.com covers (on its way to discussing the U.S. Women’s  Team’s Year in Hell; and congrats, Senor Loney):

“They’re wrong about Whatshisface [that’s Beckham] – actual sports fans are pretty forgiving of injuries, by and large, and significant numbers of fans turned out to see him not play.  If all of American soccer’s failures had similar consequences, MLS would be bigger than ExxonMobil.  Besides, the guy won’t have flopped until he takes the field at full strength, and then proves he can’t do the job.”

I’m not saying Loney’s wrong, but that take rests on a couple assumptions, the most significant of which for my purposes is that Beckham will one day take the field at full strength.  Say he doesn’t: what does that advertise beyond the gullibility of both American clubs and the public that supports them?  I will credit Beckham to the end of the earth for having the right attitude about his time here, but it won’t do him a lick of good if the mind and spirit are willing on a broken, aging body.

The same equation applies to the current transfer talk about Figo and, if he ever makes it to the States – and at a more advanced age – Henry.  If we’re only shopping for marketing vehicles, straight-up return on investment, or “ambassadors-of-the-game” let’s just keep inviting big clubs over for those friendly mid-summer money-spinners.  The on-filed end result might not look all that different from those pleasant summer kick-arounds.

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3 Responses

  1. […] already. In the immortal words of my buddy Jeff Bull over at Center Holds It (who has written an excellent piece on this topic), “In case you haven’t heard, life gets slower and fatter from here on […]

  2. 35 is not that old. Teddy Sheringham plays in the UK Championship and he is 41. Henrik Larsson, who is a year older than Figo, still plays. In fact just last season he was loaned to Manchester United. Provided the passion and the fitness is still there, I see no reason why older players shouldn’t be welcomed into the MLS. They can provide MLS teams with much needed quality and experience. Furthermore they can act as rolemodels, helping to nurture the talents of promising young American players. In short, older players provide the experience that is necessary to improve the overall quality of soccer played in the MLS.

  3. Fair point, Jeff.

    I think what irks me most in all this is my feeling that MLS is buying names, instead of players. That doesn’t strike me as good long-term planning. And given my impressions/assumptions, I think a club runs a hell of a risk going after Figo. Figo no doubt has more overall offensive talent than most anyone in MLS, but his slower pace limits his game, a team loses something in their ability to chase the game, apply high pressure, etc. And I suspect Figo won’t be doing a lot of chasing back on D. Add to that the longer travel he’ll face in the States, the weird schedule, plus friendlies assuming he gets carted around like Beckham was – and is.

    But you’re right. Figo could pay-off. I’m just saying that he runs an equal risk of being one more big-name Euro coming States-side for a big paycheck only to ride pine. Names matter, but they have to produce at some point or the whole thing looks like a sham.

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