Portrait of US player Maurice Edu taken

Philadelphia wants to pay Maurice Edu seven figures; MLS is not so sure

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A $1.2 million salary in U.S. sports makes you a middle class athlete, at best. In Major League Soccer, however, it’s a big deal. When the players union made its biannual release of wage data last September, only nine players were making seven figures. Major League Soccer millionaires are still relatively rare, especially compared to the other big four sports.

That’s the context for today’s report from ESPNFC, the outlet reporting that Major League Soccer is pushing back against Philadelphia’s desire to make Stoke City’s Maurice Edu the league’s next millionaire. According to Jeff Carlisle’s sources, the Union want to give Edu in the neighborhood of $1.2 and $1.4 million dollars per year, a number that would likely put him in the league’s top 12 earners at the start of the season.

Last September, the millionaire’s list was made up of Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan, Marco Di Vaio, Obafemi Martins, Danny Koevermans, and Kenny Miller. Even when you take Koevermans out (not returning to Toronto) and add Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, and Omar Gonzalez to the list, MLS’s Millionaires Club is still rarefied air. Edu’s salary would slot in right above Miller’s who made around $1.1 million last season for Vancouver.

But why should MLS care? It’s probably best to let them explain (if the move ever happens), but if you’re a league that wants to keep bringing U.S. talent back to North American teams, overpaying early in the game could lead to a lot of lost money down the road. Not everybody can argue they deserve Bradley or Dempsey money, but Maurice Edu is a borderline national-teamer, a distinction that’s shared by a number of Jose Torres, Brek Shea, and Sacha Kljestan-esque talents. If the Edu contract means the price to bring those players home climbs into the millions, it may not be an example MLS wants to set.

There has to be a happy medium. MLS wants to present itself as a better option than most mid-tier destinations in Europe, but they can’t be so stingy that mid-table clubs in Greece, Turkey, Belgium or Holland can offer better deals. While a sub-million dollar contract is unlikely to convince a player to turn his back on his chances with bigger clubs, MLS doesn’t want players leaving North America for just any European opportunity. Unless you’re going to one of the top 20 or 25 clubs in Europe, MLS should be able to offer talented North American players a viable alternative, the thinking goes.

Unfortunately, the stalemate leaves a series of questions, all of which hint at the continuing evolution of MLS’s rules (“evolution” being a euphemism, for some). If MLS is unwilling to sanction a $1.2 million salary for Edu, what is the right number? Is MLS’s front office really the right entity to be making those decisions, and if so, could those decisions end up keeping some U.S. internationals away from the league?

source: AP
Clint Dempsey’s move back to MLS bypassed allocation. Maurice Edu’s will not. (Photo: AP.)

That all comes down league preference. Unfortunately, the million-plus figure being linked with Edu also points to a more definable league conflict. When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, we were told some players go through allocation, others come straight to teams, and the Designated Player process was one of the mechanisms for making that distinction. Michael Bradley didn’t come back through allocation. He was a DP signed by Toronto.

Whether he makes $750,000, $1 million, or $1.2 million, Edu will likely be a Designated Player. So what is Philadelphia doing trading up in the allocation order? Shouldn’t they be able to sign Edu and bypass allocation by virtue of the Designated Player rule?

Apparently not. Some speculation says this comes down to the league’s role in facilitating the move (Dempsey’s transfer fee was covered by the league; it’s assumed Bradley’s was also subsidized). Perhaps Edu was merely tagged for allocation before Philadelphia started position themselves to acquire him. While there are explanations, there aren’t without inconsistencies – conflicts that only seem to be addressed after the moves are made.

When Clint Dempsey came back to Major League Soccer, I bought what we were told. Designated Player not going through allocation? Okay. I see why people are upset, but it’s plausible. Sure, it feeds the conspiracy theorists, but tinfoil gonna tinfoil, right?

Admittedly, in light of what we’re hearing about Edu, I feel a little naive. A player is going through allocation, even though he’s a Designated Player. Is it plausible? Sure, if we add the “did MLS help” standard, but the more post hoc justification we get, the more it seems that each scenario is judged by a complete different standard. Some outcomes just happen to look like others.

If that’s the case, I’ve got no problem with it. Welcome to life in an 18-year-old league. New situations arise, the league makes decisions, and life goes on. It’s less an issue of transparency than a league coming to grips with its new identity, one that’s trying to spur a period of rapid maturation.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens to Edu, but at this point — whether he comes back to MLS; whether he’s a Designated Player; whether he goes through allocation — it’s another opportunity for our 18-year-old league to mature.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

Manchester United back atop money table

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02:  Marcos Rojo of Manchester United slides in as Sergio Aguero of Manchester City and Wayne Rooney of Manchester United battle for the ball as during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Manchester United can spend because Manchester United prints money.

Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but the Red Devils earned more than $632 million this year. That’s better than second-place Barcelona and third-place Real Madrid by $60-plus million.

It’s United’s first year atop the list since 2005. Here’s the full report.

[ FA CUP: Liverpool moves on ]

The UEFA Champions League heavy list sees eight Premier League sides: United (1), Man City (5), Arsenal (7), Chelsea (8), Liverpool (9), Tottenham Hotspur (12), West Ham United (18), Leicester City (20).

Serie A is second with four clubs, while La Liga and Bundesliga have three clubs on the list. Ligue 1 (Paris Saint-Germain) and the Russian Premier League (Zenit Saint Petersburg) complete the group of 20.

The Associated Press’ stalwart reporter Rob Harris has this handy chart:

Liverpool moves on: “Job done. Let’s go home”

Liverpool's Lucas Leiva, center, celebrates scoring against Plymouth Argyle during the English FA Cup, third round replay match at Home Park, Plymouth, England, Wednesday Jan. 18, 2017. (Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)
Andrew Matthews/PA via AP
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Even given two youth-heavy lineups, Liverpool won’t forget Plymouth Argyle any time soon.

The Reds were held 0-0 two weeks ago as Plymouth forced a home replay in the third round of the FA Cup, and Liverpool only managed a single goal on Wednesday in advancing to face Wolverhampton.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Jurgen Klopp admitted he was dreading extra time. The Reds nearly saw it when the League Two side hit a second-half post, but Lucas Leiva‘s first goal in seven years held up over 90 minutes.

Well, his first match goal in seven years.

“It’s that long? I scored last week in training,” Lucas said after the game.

Here’s what Klopp said, via the BBC:

“In the second half it was good, but then it became a bit static. We had a penalty, and 2-0, 3-0, 4-0 would have been OK, but 1-0 I’m fine with that. I was not too concerned for going through, but I thought ‘Oh my God another 30 minutes’, but it is all good, no extra-time, job done, let’s go home. As nice as it is here, we leave as early as possible, so all good.”

On a rare goal for Lucas Leiva, Klopp adds: “Every week in training we play old versus young and he is a top scorer for old, which is unbelievable.”

One thing to note: Liverpool has only scored multiple goals in one of its last six matches. Sure, two were young lineups, but they were also against League Two competitions (and one was a clean sheet).

Look for the Reds to break out soon, perhaps Saturday morning when Swansea City visits Anfield.