Noah Davis made a good point on this site yesterday. MLS has greater needs than another big name star. We’ve seen the effect a player like Thierry Henry’s had, and it’s just not the same as David Beckham’s. The contribution on the field is immense, and that addresses a number of needs (quality of play, general perception of league – both domestically and internationally), but when you’re talking about a $5 million annual salary (and Kaká will certainly earn more), it’s worth considering the other places you can put that money.
Thankfully, MLS is in a situation where it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. Just because one affluent team snags a former Ballon d’Or winner doesn’t mean the league can’t make developing and keeping young talent a priority. Perhaps the messages are mixed – the headline-grabbing veterans overshadowing the dedication to nurturing talent – but the reality is clear. You can have players like Beckham, Henry, and Kaká and still be serious about other aspects of the league.
All things being equal, I’d rather the league spend more money on retaining and developing young players than luring icons, but presenting that as a dichotomy is a common flaw of our rhetoric. As we debate issues and try to develop preferences, it helps to juxtapose two ideas against another, if for no other reason than to narrow the discussion. But once we’ve made that evaluation, we often forget to step back and remember the world’s more complicated than a light switch. Even after we’ve developed preferences, we don’t always have to choose. Just because the league pursues Kaká doesn’t mean that is MLS’s (or even the Galaxy’s) top-line priority.
The obvious rebuttal: Why not just take the eight or 10 million per season you’re going to give Kaká and put it straight into development? It’s a good suggestion, but somebody would need to assess what you’re getting for that extra money. Are there players being missed or under-developed now that a surge into development efforts would save? How efficiently can that money be spent before various factors bring on diminishing returns? And we can’t ignore the argument that having players like Kaká and Henry help the league’s brand and quality. That may have an effect on the bottom line which would allow greater long-term investment.
Based on what was overheard at MLS Cup, Major League Soccer is committed to investing more money in the on-field product. There are CBA issues to work out, but if those obstacles are hurdled, you could see more Javier Morales-types brought into the league while players like Omar Gonzalez and Brek Shea are given greater incentive to stay home.
Nothing about the Galaxy buying Kaká would preclude that investment. Thus, the choice becomes simple: Would you like to have a league with Kaká? Or one without Kaká?