At one point, Major League Soccer was happy to bring any big-name player into the league to help sell shirts and tickets. And while some were hits, there were also a fair share of flops. For every David Beckham or Robbie Keane, there’s a Steven Gerrard or a Jermaine Defoe. But Neymar has put the league tag of retirement back at the center of his mind by saying he wants to end his career in MLS.
“I don’t know if I will play in Brazil again”. “I have some doubts about it. I would love to play in the United States, actually. I would love to play there at least for a season. First of all, their season is shorter, so I would have three months ” vacation.”
We don’t know what vacation Neymar may be referring to, as MLS has extensive travel requirements and teams such as New York had a total of six weeks off between winning the MLS Cup and the start of the season. their pre-season. Either way, retiring from MLS isn’t the light the league would like to be seen in, which is why commissioner Don Garber called it out in his state of the league address ahead of the game. opening of the regular season this weekend.
“Anyone could sign Messi today and pay him whatever they want to pay him as a Designated Player, if Lionel decides he wants to play in Major League Soccer,” Garber said. “And that’s the same for Neymar or any other player. What’s happened, and it’s been a declared priority for the league, is that we want our story to be about young players who come here. at the very beginning of their career or in their prime and making our league their league of choice.”
Garber went on to talk about the changes in the profile of players bought by MLS teams: “You’ve seen a dramatic change from where we were to where we are today. If you look at [Thiago] Almada, you look [Alan] Velasco, you look [Christian] Torres, they are young players that we were competing for against top international clubs and they decided to come to Major League Soccer. [Xherdan] Shaqiri is 30 years old. You have players reaching 30 and personally I don’t think 30 is old when you’re a Major League Soccer player. When we consider bringing in players 30 and under, I’m proud of that.”
And to some extent, he’s right because the Under-22 initiative and Designated Young Players rules have changed both buying and selling power in the league, and teams have gotten younger. But Garber doubled down on his statement:
“We don’t need to bring in a big-name player at the end of his career because he has decided he would like to retire to MLS. I think there has been no shortage of players towards the end of their careers who were great players in MLS, and David Beckham is one of the best examples of that, I can’t imagine what Major League Soccer would be like without players like that.
That’s not to say MLS wouldn’t welcome Neymar with open arms because they would. But as league commissioner, Garber needs to lead the discussion to focus on the league’s youngsters and the selling power he’s gaining. Even looking at older players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nani who left the league, they’re still rolling in Serie A these days, which you can watch on Paramount+.
“Interestingly, when Zlatan left Major League Soccer, no one said he went to Italy to retire,” Garber said. “Frankly, I was insulted by that, because if Zlatan came to us at the same age as he returned to Milan, it would have been [perceived as] retirement on his part. He’s worked his tail in MLS and he’s been working his tail in Serie A. I’m not sure why we’re perceived differently, but that’s what it is.”
So, was MLS a retirement league in these cases? Not particularly, which is why every move an older star makes must be judged on its own merit. Neymar simply didn’t choose the right words, so the commissioner had to go on the defensive.
“If they’re not here to come and play and be a great contributor to their club and our league and to respect the league and its fans, then we don’t want them in Major League Soccer,” Garber said. .