New York City FC midfielder Andrea Pirlo has called for the MLS salary cap to be scrapped in order for the league to compete with China’s top division.
After the financial collapse of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1980s, the MLS developed a system so that the same fate couldn’t be repeated- but it could cost them the ability to attract the world’s best players.
The rise of the Chinese Super League has escalated over the last couple of years- with teams spending enormous amounts of money to buy some of the highest quality footballers on the planet. Hulk, Oscar, Axel Witsel and Carlos Tevez are just a few of the players currently plying their trade in Asia on mega-buck contracts.
In comparison, the MLS have integrated a system in which clubs can only sign a maximum of three designated players, who can earn above the salary cap thats set across the league.
37-year old Pirlo told Gazzetta dello Sport: “The league needs to get rid of any restrictions on transfers and end the rule which allows only three so-called designated players to earn big money beyond each team’s set budget if it wants to compete.
“I’ve seen improvements and from what I have seen in friendly games and the first two rounds of the regular season. The quality has risen a lot.
“But certainly I would get rid of the restrictions on the transfer market. Enough with the three exceptions to the salary cap, which is too little to convince other stars to come here. They need to develop a liberal system where you can buy and sell players without restrictions.
“Now there is even the competition from China. If you want to compete with other leagues, at home and abroad, you have got to get rid of any restrictions.”
Pirlo, along with David Villa, are two of the three designated players currently on the books at Yankee Stadium.
Other notable names on designated contracts include Orlando city captain Kaka, Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, as well as LA Galaxy trio Jelle Van Damme, Giovani Dos Santos and Romain Alessandrini.
David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba have all been previously on designated player contracts.
The major problem for the MLS is that players have only considered moving to the states as a last big payday. Most players listed above joined their retrospective clubs when they were in their 30s.
The restrictions on contracts and transfer sums means that players aren’t ready to join a league that isn’t as competitive as the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga when they are at their peak.
A shift in the rulebook could help the teams compete with the Chinese Super League, but it would definitely hamper certain clubs chances of success.
Even if the restrictions were lifted, not all MLS clubs have mega budgets they could use to sign quality players. Like some leagues in Europe, we would probably see three or four clubs competing for the MLS Cup every year, which could drive away certain fans.
At the same time, fans do want to see the world’s best players. Rumours are going round suggesting that LA Galaxy are preparing to offer Zlatan Ibrahimovic a deal to come over to the MLS- a deal which would excite the country let alone LA.
But you couldn’t imagine other clubs, say the San Jose Earthquakes or Sporting KC offering the same deal to the 35-year old Swedish captain. Only a handful of teams could, and that is why the salary cap is worthy of being in place. It makes the league fairer for the smaller budgeted sides.
The quality of the American top flight is forever growing stronger, and when it is at a standard where most if not all players would be worthy of designated player contracts, then we could see a change in the rules.
China may have the money, but it will take time to integrate better footballing standards in the country. Look at the English clubs spending big, like Manchester United. They are still nowhere near winning the Premier League title. Liverpool also have spent a heap of cash and look like possibly missing out on Champions League football.
Leicester City won the Premier League last year, and had one of the smallest budgets in the division.
Money isn’t everything. It may bring the stars, but it doesn’t necessarily bring better standards and excitement. The MLS this year is as competitive as ever, and it’s only going to get better.