Article by Anders Aarhus
There was plenty to talk about with the MLS All-Star game last night as MLS defeated Chelsea 3-2. But just as intriguing as the victory was the interview with MLS commissioner Don Garber at halftime. Halftime interviews can be a waste of time, but kudos to the cast of ESPN, specifically Kasey Keller and Alexi Lalas, for asking some tough and direct questions. The most interesting piece of information came as a result of Lalas’ question in regards to the Geoff Cameron transfer saga and what the league’s role is in determining transfers. Specifically, the question centered on the rumor that the league had blocked Toronto FC from signing Swedish defender Olof Mellberg. Garber’s response:
“Let's put Mellberg aside. The league hasn't nixed that, Toronto has decided that economically it didn't make sense for them, and at the end of the day it was a decision that they felt was in their best interest. Let's talk about Geoff, because I know that got a lot of buzz. You know, at the end of the day, the league has gotta come in and make decisions that are in the best interest of everybody; the player, the club and the league. Now the good news is, Geoff is on his way to being transferred and that worked out, but we've gotta be sure that we're making the right decision, that the first offer that comes in we just don't accept. Remember guys, Charlton Athletic offered half of what Fulham offered when ultimately Clint when over there and I get that the fact that players might want to go when the first thing happens, somebody has got to take a step back and say hey, might be the starting center back for our national team, a player that we would have loved to renegotiate his deal and pay him more money to stay, at the end of the day it worked out that he's gonna get transferred and I think ultimately positive for everybody.”
That would be all well and good had it not been for several journalists who quickly pointed out that Toronto had made no such decision. As Ives Galarcep posted on twitter, “Interesting from Don Garber at halftime. Says Olof Mellberg deal wasn't in best interest of MLS, but denied MLS blocked TFC signing him.” He continued in a second tweet, “Interesting because multiple sources told me TFC had a 2.5 year, $1.5 million a year deal in place w/Mellberg, but MLS killed the deal.” Duane Rollins, managing editor of Canadian Soccer News (CSN) also weighed in on Garber’s comments tweeting, “For the record, CSN's sources are IN the #TFC front office and it's been confirmed by those VERY high. @thesoccerdon [Don Garber’s twitter handle/account] is lying.” This was in reference to an article posted on the CSN website when it was originally announced Mellberg wouldn’t be joining the league.
Without hard evidence or people in the Toronto organization speaking on record, it’s impossible to determine what really killed the deal, but the fact a rumor of the league denying a transfer exists and has gathered some steam reflects badly on MLS. The single entity model has done wonders for American soccer, creating stability and preventing overexpansion that would almost certainly destroy the league. However, with the league owning all player contracts and having the final say on player movement there will always be controversy when these kinds of situations arise.
As Garber pointed out this system has worked in the past like in the case of Clint Dempsey. Had Dempsey gone to Charlton Athletic instead of Fulham it’s hard to imagine him having the same level of success or developing into the world-class player he is now. That said the league negotiating transfers can be unfair to the club that produces the player. Geoff Cameron is set to move to Stoke, but had the deal collapsed as a result of MLS holding out for a higher transfer fee Houston would have been left with nothing but an unhappy player.
It’s also important to consider that some of the money received from player transfers is redistributed throughout MLS, another reason why the league attempts to get the highest possible fee from every deal. This helps maintain the parity MLS prides itself on, but again the club who owns the player is at a disadvantage because they don’t receive full value for their asset. Like it or hate it the system is here to stay for the foreseeable future although if Garber hopes to see the league become one of the best in the world, it will likely have to change someday.