By Kevin Koczwara
Nicolas Anelka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic won’t be the youngest studs on the ranch when they decide to move the Major League Soccer. Anelka will be 33 in 2012, when his contract at Chelsea expires, and he expects there to be suitors in America to pick up his big salary desire and a more competitive league in the MLS by then. Ibrahimovic will be 33 as well when his contract expires with AC Milan – his sixth club –and he decides to plunge into the American soccer market.
With all the rumors swirling about layers like Ibrahimovic and Anelka moving to the MLS one has to wonder: is the MLS becoming a last stop on the professional soccer express? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No.
Americans want brand name everything — that’s not a secret — and as of right now, the MLS can’t afford brand name soccer players with its narrow budget. It just isn’t possible. So, we will have to live with the alternative: soccer stars in the dwindling pinnacle of their careers.
Anelka has had a late resurgence at Chelsea and in two years his skills, pace and body may be all fleeting, but he will still be a top-tier player looking for a home, and what better place than the MLS? Thierry Henry won six trophies with Barcelona and still scored a plethora of goals before he found himself on the outside looking in at the Camp Nou. Now, the French international has found a home in New York and his national team teammate, Anelka, could be doing the same very soon.
A team could take a pretty safe bet with the likes of Anelka. He has played in more than one top league in the world, but most of his success has come in the English Premier League, a league that the MLS rivals for toughness, but not speed. Anelka would adapt well to the slower paces MLS games in the later years of his career, but the warmer weather and physicality of the game would be welcomed by the Frenchman. His move is a no brainier if it happens, and he should be a hot commodity come 2012 when his contract expires.
As for Mr. Ibrahimovic, the journeyman will be looking to cash in on the later stages of his career. The MLS will allow the big Swede just that opportunity. His body and style of play will fit into the lethargic and physical play of the MLS. His ability in front of the goal is almost unmatched, and he will be one of the best players int he league once he signs a contract in 2014.
Why wouldn’t I want to see these top-class players finish out their careers in the MLS? Yes, they aren’t the top of crop, but they bring some brand names to teams to sell as the MLS develops more talent. The more money the league gets and the more recognition, the easier it will be for the league in the long run to get players to come and play in the U.S.
Now, if only Ronaldhino would decide to join an MLS side instead of his boyhood club, Gremio, the league would really be making a splash. Maybe, Ibrahimovic can convince the Brazilian that the U.S. is where he wants to be. And while he’s at it, also tell Clarence Seedorf to ponder the decision as well.
The more influx of talent the league gets now, the bigger it will become and the better the competition will be. It’s not the most exciting formula for expansion and growth, but it should help solidify the MLS as a place to play.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.