Well it’s that time of year again, and in the spirit of the holiday season I thought now might be a good time to compile a “wish list” of players I think Darren Eales and the Atlanta front office should target for the 2017 season.
Now before you dive in and start scrolling, it’s best to first understand the MLS and why attracting marquee names to the league isn’t as easy as one would think. In contrast to other major professional soccer leagues around the world, MLS has a drastically different transfer system. Throughout Europe and the majority of the world, player transfers are an open market where the best players go to the highest bidder. This ultimately means that every league is top heavy, and barring the occasional oil baron or Middle Eastern takeover of a smaller club, every year only the same 2-3 teams have the financial clout to realistically compete for a title.
In contrast to the global norm, the MLS has set up their transfer policy in a far more frugal fashion. In order to make the MLS competitively balanced and most importantly for its franchises to remain financially stable, the MLS has a very strict set of rules pertaining to player salaries.
Without getting into too much detail I’ll try and make it as simple as possible. Each franchise has a salary cap of 3.1 Million dollars. The average player salary ranges from $36,500 – $48,500 for the majority of 27 players on the roster. However in 2007 thanks to David Beckham and the league finally realizing that in order to sell this league to American audiences, it’s going to need world stars to do it, the league allows each team 3 designated player spots where there are no salary restrictions (Only portion of the salary goes against the cap) Thanks to the “Beckham Rule” MLS has been able to attract aging stars looking for one last pay day such as: Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe, Alessandro Nesta, Tim Cahill, and Freddie Ljungberg just to name a few.
Now this is a very high level and simple break down of how things work. There are different salary stipulations for homegrown players, age limitations, etc. Just know that in short, 3 roster spots are reserved for guys to ball out and continue to live the life they are accustomed to as a professional star. For example, Kaka will be making $7.1M when he suits up for Orlando next season. As glamorous as the designated players salaries are, for a lot of these players you’re probably more likely to catch a ride with one of them as your Uber driver during the off season. Now is this fair? No. But it’s because of this model that the MLS has been able to stay afloat since it first began play in 1996. As the popularity of the sport has continued to grow, so has its salary cap. Ultimately, this has made the MLS one of the most competitive and evenly balanced leagues in all of professional sports.
Now I’m certainly putting the cart way ahead of the horse on this one, but tis the season. So I’ve made my list, I’ve checked it twice, and it includes some players both naughty and nice. So without further ado, I give to you “The Atlanta MLS holiday Wish list”.
(These are players who I feel we could realistically bring to the ‘A’…Sorry, no Ronaldo’s, Messi’s or Ibrahimovic’s on this list)
The fading European giants
Samuel Eto’o – Striker – Everton
Former clubs of note: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Chelsea
Club Honors: Champions League 3x, La Liga 3x, Copa Del Rey 2x, Seria A 1x, Copa Italia 2x, African POY 4x
Age in 2017: 35
Eto’o is a natural goal poacher and has won just about every single club honor there is to win. His flare and instinctive ability to find the back of the net are exactly the qualities we need in front of goal. He’s lost a step or two with his age but given his skill set, there is no reason to doubt he couldn’t shred MLS competition for 15+ goals a season. However, given the fact he was once the highest paid player in the world at Anzhi Makhachkala, he may have his sights on a stage “worthy” of such a billing in LA or NYC.
Michael Essien – Midfielder – AC Milan
Former clubs of note: Chelsea, Lyon, Real Madrid
Club Honors: Champions League 1x, Premier League 2x, FA Cup 4x, Ligue 1 2x, Trophee des Champions 2x
Age in 2017: 33
Essien is quite simply a bull on the pitch, which is why he is often referred to as ‘The Buffalo’. With an endless motor and never one to shy away from a tackle, he is exactly the sort of hardnosed tactician you can build a team around. Though he’s never been known for his scoring prowess, his ability to dictate play and organize from a central position would be a welcomed addition to ‘A’.
Steven Gerrard – Midfielder – Liverpool
Former clubs of note: He’s a one team man – “You’ll Never Walk Alone”
Club Honors: Champions League 1x, UEFA Cup 1x, UEFA Super Cup 2x, FA Cup 2x, League Cup 3x
Age in 2017: 36
Stevie G is one of the true statesmen of the game. A rarity in today’s game, he’s remained at Liverpool his entire career. Though his days of booming down the wings may have past him, he is still very much the field general that makes LFC tick. With a flair for the dramatic and a constant free kick threat, Gerrard would often times find himself in a class of his own if he were to move to the MLS. With a diminishing role at Liverpool becoming an ever more present reality, a move state side might be a fitting end to one of the game’s all-time greats. Not to mention the weather in England is miserable…its 60 degrees here right now Stevie.
John Terry – Centre Back – Chelsea
Former Clubs of note: Chelsea Blue through and through
Club Honors: Champions League 1x, Europa League 1x, Premier League 3x, FA Cup 5x, League Cup 2x
Age in 2017: 35
Forget that clown from the WWF, John Terry IS the real British Bulldog. An enforcer in every sense of the word, Terry’s style of play would fit in perfectly with the physical nature of the MLS. Though controversy seems to have followed him throughout his career, John boy is exactly the sort of man the ‘A’ could use holding down the back line. The thought of John Terry donning the Red and Black, barreling down on opposing attackers is a sight the good people of Atlanta would pay good money to come see week in and week out. As for opposing teams, when they see his name on the team sheet, they know a “Chelsea Grin” might be in their future if they don’t tread lightly.
Patrice Evra – Left Back – Juventus
Former clubs of note: Manchester United, AS Monaco
Club Honors: Champions League 1x, Premier League 5x, League Cup 3x, Coupe de la Ligue 1x
Age in 2017: 35
Though a left back isn’t necessarily a “sexy” position, when you play it with grace such as Patrice Evra does, it’s hard not to see why it’s called “the beautiful game”. With the experience of captaining both Man U and France, Evra would bring a wealth of knowledge to a brand new franchise. Though the PR department would probably prefer a goal scorer to market the team around, from an organizational standpoint having a player like Evra leading from the back would be a master stroke as far as on field performance is concerned.
Darren Bent – Striker – Brighton & Hove Albion (On loan from Aston Villa)
Former Clubs of note: Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland, Ipswich Town
Club Honors: Still waiting
Age in 2017: 32
Unlike the other names already mentioned on this list, Darren Bent is not a world beater with a trophy case full of accolades. Bent unfortunately is going through the all too familiar scenario of former Premier League stalwart desperately trying to stay relevant. Sadly this tale usually ends with former greats waddling around in the lower divisions until they finally hang up their boots. Bent is in desperate need of a change of scenery and given his former time at Spurs, I think a call to former employer Darren Eales is just the sort of opportunity he needs. Bent is a natural goal scorer from within the box, and the chance of a fresh start on a different continent is exactly what he needs to tap into what I feel is still plenty of goals in his tank. Of all the names mentioned on this list, Darren Bent in my opinion is the most attainable.
John Arne Riise – Left Back – APOEL
Former clubs of note: Liverpool, Monaco, Roma, Fulham
Club Honors: Champions League 1x, UEFA Super Cup 2x, FA Cup 1x, League Cup 1x, Ligue 1 1x
Age in 2017: 36
In case you haven’t caught on, I’m in the minority that wants a designated player with experience who can lead from the back line. As the most capped player in the history of the Norwegian National Team, Riise has the experience that could not only help our team in the immediate future, but would also pay dividends with our young players down the road. All one has to do is look back on his days at Liverpool to know that Riise is an absolute marauder, and would definitely bring a certain level of “Boom” to an Atlanta back line. Take a look at his youtube highlights, and you’ll see that he’s no ordinary defensive player. He has an absolutely devastating attacking left foot. Not to mention he’s currently playing in Cyprus….come on bro, I don’t care what they are paying you, you’re better than that.
Roque Santa Cruz – Striker – Malaga
Former clubs of note: Bayern Munich, Man City, Blackburn Rovers
Club Honors: Champions League 1x, Bundesliga 5x, DFB-Pokal 4x, DFB-Ligapokal 2x
Age in 2017: 35
At 6’3, Santa Cruz is an imposing figure who would intimidate any opposing defender. Like many of the players on this list, his best days are certainly past him. However he still has enough in the tank where he could easily challenge for the league’s top scorer if he took his talents to the MLS. Currently playing at a mid-table club in Spain, the chance to get one final pay day in a very friendly Spanish speaking market could be a welcomed challenge before he hangs up his boots and retires to his home country of Paraguay.
Giovani Dos Santos – Striker / Attacking Midfielder – Villareal
Former clubs of note: Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Galatasaray. Mallorca
Club Honors: Super Copa Espana 1x (Yeah, this isn’t anything to write home about)
Age in 2017: 27
Dos Santos is an enigma in the world game. He showed flashes of brilliance as a youngsters at Barcelona, but has largely fallen flat ever since. On occasion his former self will turn up again for the Mexican National team and leave you with a “Wow” moment. He, like bent I feel is very much attainable because of a common link: Darren Eales. During much of the 2012 season while at Tottenham, Eales had to fight off several MLS teams who were after Dos Santos. Now the tides have turned and Eales has the power to make Dos Santos’s MLS move a reality. I personally think this would be a dream signing for the franchise. At 27, Dos Santos would be in the prime of career, and given a change of scenery, maybe the Giovani of old would take up permanent resident in the Atlanta attacking front. Also from a marketing perspective, given Atlanta’s growing Mexican population, this move could not only pay huge dividends on the pitch, but in the turn stiles as well. Do it Darren, pull the trigger on this guy!
Didier Drogba – War Horse – Chelsea
Former clubs of note: Marseille, Galatasaray
Club Honors: Champions League 1x, Premier League 3x, FA Cup 4x, League Cup 2x, Super Lig 1x
Age in 2017: 38
Drogba will be 38 in 2 years’ time, and in soccer terms that’s ancient. This one is more of a fantasy pick. As much as I would like Drogba to still be around by then, sadly I don’t see that being the case. If Drogba does decide to head state side, it’ll be at the end of this year and LA or NYC is where he’ll be headed. He’s simply one of the most powerful and menacing players the modern game has ever known. Do I wish we could sign him? Absolutely. But in all honesty I just hope he’s still around and is playing in this league in 2 years’ time just so we can all have the privilege of seeing him play.
So there it is. These are 10 aging stars who I feel could prolong their careers and could be the foundation of our new franchise. Will be able to afford stars of this caliber? Well that’s all up to dear old Uncle Arthur. It’s definitely a tricky game when it comes to the transfer market in the MLS. But by signing an experienced player with a credible name would be the perfect move to not only promote this team to a new fan base, but also be the foundation of what will hopefully be a very successful franchise moving into the future.
Stay tuned for additional upcoming articles on American players who I think we should pursue, as well as who I feel is the perfect coach for such a project (Here’s a hint, he’s from Atlanta and would appropriately be named the Wolff of Peachtree Street)
Let us know, who would you like to see us sign?