Will ‘Financial Fair Play’ close the gap for American Soccer?

The NSCAA Conference in Baltimore always serves as a pretty accurate pulse on what is going on in American soccer. The buzzword this year was ‘player development’, and the clear objective of players, coaches, and leagues is developing players that can push the game forward for the US at every level.

Knowing this, it has become abundantly clear that American soccer simply does not have the resources to spend on player development that Europe does. And even though the economy here is drastically better than some South American countries, their resources are all allocated towards soccer. Meanwhile, US Soccer and its ‘pay-to-play’ model seem to be under internal scrutiny, especially as MLS begins to invest heavily into youth academies.

My theory is that the American focus on player development will be the strongest card that MLS has to play in catching up to Europe. Currently, Chelsea and other top clubs spend up to 20 million dollars on player development, and still need to spend hundreds of millions on players. But that will all change, if UEFA holds true to its financial fair play policy. UEFA’s 2009 benchmarking report, a thrilling 111 pages of dense graphs and statistics, showed that more than half (56%) of the European top division clubs reported net losses in 2009, up from 47% in 2008. More importantly, analysis of the Premier League shows that if the rules went into effect tomorrow, almost 75% of the teams would fail to comply with the rules.

Time will tell what this will do for European soccer. Soccer is big business in Europe, so owners will continue to invest heavily in their teams. But for MLS, these rules (if strictly enforced) could have two serious repercussions.

1)      The transfer market for Americans

More likely is that as the top players get less money, the trickle down effect will make it harder for clubs to take chances on foreign players. If this happens, it will only enhance the quality of MLS, and allow more cohesion between the league and the more popular US National Team.

2)      The public perception

The growth of MLS has also coincided with the growth of international soccer on television. Unfortunately, this means that a fan can go from the EPL, to La Liga, to the German League, to the Brasileno, and the MLS comes on at night. We can all agree that the MLS is not as aesthetically pleasing as these other leagues, but the perception is that it is miles away. The last post, “MLS vs. Europe”, shows that is not the case. The UEFA rules will show that even though Gareth Bale makes ten times more money than Sean Franklin, he is not ten times better.

As these two factors run their course, the emphasis on American player development will only enhance interest in MLS. As more American players stay home, and more American fans realize that Shaun Wright Philips probably isn’t as good as his $112,000 a week indicates, the intrigue will be in young, American stars. This trickle-down effect will happen in many of the second-tier domestic leagues, and could provide a huge boost for particular players, as scouting will now be crucial in European success.

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