There are media reports trickling out that the Chicago Fire are making overtures to current Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand to join Major League Soccer, and even though to this point it seems Ferdinand is more than happy to decline the invite, the idea still brings up a nice topic for discussion.
In the case of Ferdinand, he's a player that at one point in time was one of the best in the world at his position, but age (he's 32), and injuries have started to take their toll as of late. It doesn't help that Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is once again injecting youth, and reinventing the make up of the Red Devils squad, which may just mean that Ferdinand might be on the outside looking in as far as regular starter type playing time is concerned.
Which brings us to MLS, which has seen a number of former world stars (David Beckham, Thierry Henry, etc) join the league once their talents started to diminish, and they couldn't consistently vie for major minutes at the big European clubs.
For many of these players MLS offers a number of perks. Players like Henry and Beckham are designated players, which means they can be paid rather handsomely by any club that can, and is willing to shell out the cash to sign them, and most of the teams that could afford to sign such players are the big market teams (LA, NY) where an athlete/celebrity can continue to live the life they were probably accustomed to living overseas.
While the addition of such players no doubt raises the profile of Major League Soccer, one has to wonder if the type of attention these older players draw to the league will actually have a long-term impact.
After all, most of the big-time players joining MLS are past the age of 30, and also well past their prime. Which means that the bump in interest the league sees from the addition of players like Beckham, Henry, and potentially Ferdinand might be relatively short lived.
I definitely understand those who believe adding these type of players to MLS is a good thing. Not only does it raise the profile of the league around the world, but it also raises the talent level, even if it is relatively short term. But I can also see how some would think that perhaps MLS should focus more on cultivating younger talents, and then investing the money a club might have used on a high-priced, aging DP into keeping those younger players here in North America as a part of Major League Soccer.
In the case of Sporting Kansas City, we see a potential example of the latter. Right now the club is paying DP Jeferson close to half a million dollars to basically ride the bench, as his lackluster play, as well as the return of Davy Arnaud, has forced Sporting head coach Peter Vermes' hand in not giving him many minutes.
It's also worth noting that a number of Sporting Kansas City's core players are underpaid at the moment. Graham Zusi, Seth Sinovic, and CJ Sapong currently make close to the bottom of the league in regards to wages. I'd have to think the $500K Jeferson is making could be put to much better use by letting Jeferson return to Vasco da Gama at the end of the season, and using that money towards new contracts for the team's core players.
It's just a thought to chew on.
Will Ferdinand actually end up playing in MLS?
I think there's definitely a good chance if we're talking about a couple of years down the road, but right now I'm not buying that a smart, savvy player like Rio can't still offer a lot to Manchester United, and if there's a place on the team for him, I'd have to think he'll be more than inclined to stay.