The league will need to embrace the global transfer system and, eventually, solidarity payments
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber says the league needs to embrace its status as a selling league as teams have to truly reap the rewards of the continued investment in young players.
Speaking at the annual State of the League address ahead of MLS Cup, Garber discussed the shifting landscape surrounding youth soccer in the United States and Canada.
Just this season, the league has seen the record-breaking sale of Alphonso Davies, who departed the Vancouver Whitecaps to join Bayern Munich for a fee that could reach $22 million, while midfielder Tyler Adams was sold to RB Leipzig after breaking through with the U.S. national team and the New York Red Bulls.
Adding up also are the upcoming sales of Chris Richards to Bayern Munich, Zack Steffen to Manchester City and, perhaps the most lucrative move of the bunch, Miguel Almiron’s potential move from Atlanta United.
Garber said he views the sale of Davies in particular as a good thing, but also said there’s pressure on the club to reinvest that money correctly.
In years past, Garber has stressed that it was more important for the league to keep hold of its stars in an effort to grow via continuity in local markets, but the commissioner says that idea has changed.
“We need to become more of a selling league,” Garber said on Friday. “As a person who has been selling this league for nearly 20 years, I’ve always believed that you have to have the players that resonate in the market to be the aspirations for young kids peaking through the fence when they see them train.
“We all need to get used to the fact that, in the world of global soccer, players get sold. I viewed a whole list of them over the past couple of days and (Romelu) Lukaku is 25 and he’s already had four or five teams that he’s played for.
“Those clubs, starting at Anderlecht, in those countries they don’t have to worry about building a league because their league is already built.”
The “big issue”, Garber says, is the lack of solidarity payments in the U.S., with big-money moves for Michael Bradley and DeAndre Yedlin being the subject of lawsuits from the USMNT stars’ youth clubs.
As things stand, youth clubs are not entitled to training compensation, but Garber says that needs to change as well.
“I don’t know that it’s entirely about young players chasing their dreams as it is about international clubs chasing our young players,” he said. “That’s something that we have to wrap our collective minds around and figure out how we manage that in a way that justifies our owners investing north of 100 million outside of our first team rosters.
“We are not, as a country, participants in solidarity and training compensation, and I think that probably has to change. We have to find a way that that’s going to happen. How do we at least get compensated? I don’t know how we can justify making those kind of investments that we’ve been making.”
“Our view on this whole area is very, very different than it was two,three four or five years ago,” he added. “The product that we’re developing has become some of the more important assets, and we need to start finding ways of protecting or finding some ways to get compensated if we can’t protect them or can’t sign them.”
That conversation will likely be a long one as the league will have to navigate various laws and practices in an effort to fit a more traditional compensation structure into the league.
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By and large, the goal for Garber and MLS is to become more competitive while taking the right financial steps to make that happen.
“Many of you know that I had a pretty public confrontation with Jurgen Klinsmann regarding his views and what needed to happen with our clubs being more competitive,” Garber said.
“Many years later, as I look at the competitiveness of our teams, we need to have the kinds of clubs that exist all over the world where you have to earn your way onto that field as a young player and you have to earn the money that is now available. “