Pele: Lack of World Cup should not detract Messi’s greatness


There was a time in soccer history where World Cup performances defined a player, but with the growth of the club game and the gratuitous access we have to games around the world, the quadrennial tournament is now only a small part of a player’s renown. Though some persist in believing the game’s biggest stage define a player’s legacy, that attitude’s a relic of a time where there were no other options.

Thankfully, Pele doesn’t persist with that notion. According to Spanish outlet Sport, the Brazilian icon, who won three World Cups from 1958 to 1970, sees no reason to left Argentina’s close calls tarnish Lionel Messi’s legacy.

While conceding “[m]aybe [Messi] was not very good” in Brazil 2014’s final, Pele noted “it does not show he is a bad player,” preferring to keep World Cups in perspective:

“Both Argentina and Brazil have had several players who could have won the World Cup and did not.

“Messi is undoubtedly a great player and we cannot take away from him his credit because he did not win the championship.”

When the best players only played each other once every four years, there was more (if still flawed) information to glean from World Cups. Now the competition is as much about tradition and spectacle as it is defining the best of anything. Elite players meet constantly in the club world, while our ability to watch any prominent national team play leaves no mystery, only competition, come the World Cup.

To define Messi by one tournament would be worse than dismissing Steve Gerrard for not winning the Premier League, though he’s won the European Cup. And who would do that? Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won every domestic league he’s ever touched, but superficial assessments of his career harp on his lack Champions League glory. How is that a reasonable standard?

Dwelling on team results when assessing an individual is an easy enough fallacy to disprove. Unfortunately, the fallacy is also very easy to evoke. Sometimes, convenience wins out.

Pele’s saying the obvious. Then again, we’re blogging it. Regardless, this is a conversation that’s more flash than substance. Messi doesn’t need a World Cup to maintain his place in any Best of All-Time discussion. He just needs to keep on being Lionel Messi.

WATCH: Roberto Martinez emphasizes importance of win against West Brom

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Thanks to Europa League, Everton is staring at seven games in 22 days, a challenge manager Roberto Martinez called an “incredible” and “exciting” experience for the club. First, however, the Toffees have to deal with West Bromwich Albion, with Saturday’s trip to The Hawthorns looming large in the face of the season’s winless start.

“On Saturday, we’ve got a really important game for both teams, because we both started in a similar manner …” Martinez said, with both teams carrying two points into Saturday’s kickoff. “The wishes that we have toward [West Brom manager] Alan [Irvine] and the thoughts that we have toward Alan will have to start on Sunday.”

Irvine, who played with the Toffees from 1981 to 1984, moved to West Brom this summer after three years on Everton’s technical staff. On Saturday, he’ll be looking for his first victory with the Baggies, one that would extend Everton’s winless run to four.

Highlights of Martinez’s Thursday media session are above.

Russia considers buying national team players, entering team into domestic league ahead of 2018 World Cup


Imagine, in preparation for the next World Cup, U.S. Soccer buying Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, and the rest of the national team’s contracts and entering a team in Major League Soccer.  The national team players would train together and, against other MLS competition, play together, with the camp to end all camps aiming to set a new standard at Russia 2018.

It’s hard to imagine Jurgen Klinsmann doing anything like that, but in Russia, the idea’s being floated. Coming off a disappointing 2014 World Cup, the Russian federation is considering an idea that would see national team talent bought by the federation in the summer of 2017. The ensuing team would then be entered into the 2017-18 Russian Premier League.

Russian Football Union general secretary Anatoliy Vorobyev, from Russian agency Itar-Tass (via The Guardian, linked above):

“It is clear that we can only compete on the highest world level through teamwork,” he said. “In this situation, it is necessary to look for possible competitive advantage. One of them, perhaps, the most important thing would be to create a core team – ‘Russia 2018’ …

“The team would be formed from “leased” players who play regularly for Russia and represent the leading clubs. There would be two transfer windows.

“The club could take back a player sent to ‘Russia 2018’ for the winter off-season. It would also be possible to arrange for the club to get its player back for the spring campaign of the Champions League.”

CSKA and Zenit would probably be hit hardest by this move, but given the amount of pressure Russia will be under in 2018, it will be difficult to resist any preparation deemed necessary. If the Russian Football Union (or, somebody above them) wants ‘Russia 2018’ to happen, clubs may not be the biggest obstacle.

Of course, other nations have taken similar approaches, the United States among them. Prior to USA 1994, a number of U.S. players were under contract to the federation, a practice that continued in the years before Major League Soccer.

The main difference between the U.S. in 1993 and present day Russia? Russia has a league, a very good one. But the national team is also coming off a World Cup that embarrassed officials.

You know what they say about desperate times? Apparently, they lead to national teams playing in domestic leagues. Possibly.

Van Gaal: Welbeck did not meet Manchester United’s standards


The sale of striker Danny Welbeck to Arsenal raised eyebrows of a few Manchester United legends (most notably, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville), but according to the Red Devils’ manager, the decision to sell a player who’d been part of the club since he was nine years old came down to something obvious: Welbeck’s not as good as Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, or Radamel Falcao.

That was Louis van Gaal’s explanation when he spoke to the media on Thursday, saying both Welbeck and Real Madrid loanee Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez had their chance to win a place in the squad. Ultimately, neither could meet the standards of a loaded United attack.

From The Guardian:

“I have given all the players a chance to convince me of their qualities,” Van Gaal said. “Yes, Danny Welbeck was here from when he was nine. He has played, after [his 2010-11 loan at] Sunderland, three seasons at Manchester United but he doesn’t have the record of [Robin] Van Persie or [Wayne] Rooney and that is the standard. That is why we let him go – because of Falcao but also the youngsters who can fit in.”

That Welbeck would have struggled for playing time, nobody questions. The implicit concern (beyond selling to Arsenal) is expensive attackers from outside  being prioritized over a useful player on the books. And doesn’t the Manchester native’s 14-year history with the club count for anything?

More from van Gaal:

“We spoke with Danny Welbeck and also Chicharito before there was the chance we could get Falcao. We have to be fair about that because, for example, I see in that part [of the pitch] we have a lot of youth that can fit in. That is the policy and that is why I am here – to do that transformation, in this new process.”

Let’s assume van Gaal’s right in his assessment, and young players can fit in. Even if Welbeck is better than them now, he’s still waiting for van Persie and Falcao to fade out before getting more playing time. And once that happens, United’s younger players may be ready to take that time from Welbeck.

If that’s the case, Welbeck’s place at the club comes down to loyalty, and while that’s an admirable trait, there’s a point where that becomes harmful. With Welbeck just entering his prime and Arsenal willing to pay top dollar, neither side would have been served by forgoing the sale.

In the face of other needs, should United have made Welbeck expendable in the first place? Well, that’s a different discussion. Given how the summer unfolded, Welbeck’s move made sense, for all involved.

Don Garber signs five-year contract extension with Major League Soccer


Don Garber’s reign as commissioner of Major League Soccer will reach the 20-year mark if he fulfills his new contract with the league. According to, the 56-year-old executive, who has already served 15 years at MLS’s helm, has signed a new five-year contract, one that would keep him with the league through at least its 2018 season.

Garber joined Major League Soccer in 1999, with his initial years defined by a struggle that left the league close to folding shortly into his job. Now, 12 years after the league contracted to 10 teams, a stabilized league is embarking on a expansion project that will take it to 24 franchises by 2020, with the league’s 20th and 21st teams (New York City FC, Orlando City SC) beginning play next season.

Garber is considered to be one of the major factors in the league’s growth. From’s report:

“It’s the first five-year deal I’ve signed in 15 years. Every other deal was a three-year deal,” said Garber …“I had always been of the mind that you sign three-year deals so you can give everybody the flexibility to determine what you want to do. The league was younger and less mature. Now we’re teeing up a long-term commitment to each other.”

By the time his new deal is up, Garber will see Atlanta’s expansion team join the league, with David Beckham’s project in Miami also working to begin play in the future. With one more expansion destination to be decided, Garber could see the number of teams in Major League Soccer double from the time he took over 15 years ago.

The bigger goal, however, is one Garber outlined last year. Over the next eight years, he wants MLS to be among the best leagues in the world. With his new deal, Garber will play a major part in trying to reach that goal.