Putting Out the Ronaldinho Fire

Friday, November 12, 2010 | View Comments
AC Milan's Ronaldinho balances a ball as he warms up before the match against Genoa at San Siro stadium in Milan, September 25, 2010. REUTERS/Imagesport ( ITALY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Editor's Note:  This is a guest post from Matthew Higgins, an American journalist working in Beijing. He blogs at Have Notebook Will Travel.

by Matthew Higgins

Ronaldinho is going to the Galaxy? Damn, and just when we thought the “aging superstar threatens to take his talents to America if he doesn't get a new contract” meme was finally played out.

Internet rumors and transfer gossip aren’t worth the photons it takes to transmit them to our eyeballs, but what say we have some fun with this one anyway?

Here's the actual story. Google Translate is no help – trust me.

And here are some the supposed English-language versions (NBC Sports, Total Football Madness).

Before the word “superteam” crosses anyone’s lips, let’s start with the usual caveats.

1. There is a huge difference between “making contact” and “striking an agreement,” and you smart cookies don’t need reminding which one is easier to pull off. Roberto De Assis, Ronaldinho’s brother and agent, meeting with Galaxy officials might be as simple as having lunch or an unofficial, “if my brother wanted to leave Milan, would he be someone who would interest you?” get-together.

2. Even if this story has legs, which sponsors are going to plonk down enough cash to support an annual net salary of 7 million euros a year – which my friends at www.xe.com tell me is about $9.5 million – for four years? The Galaxy already has David Beckham ($6 million in guaranteed compensation in 2010) and Landon Donovan ($2.13 million) on the books. Even with Clint Mathis, Eddie Lewis and Chris Klein retiring, that’s only about $320,000 in relief. Also bear in mind that the likes of Omar Gonzales, Edson Buddle and Donovan Ricketts are in the market for a salary bump after successful seasons, MLS Cup title or no.

3. If Ronaldinho does sign with Los Angeles, who goes out? I know rules in MLS, especially ones involving salary caps or the Galaxy, are always flexible, but how would AEG and Bruce Arena make room in the budget? The easy answer is to sell Landon Donovan, but that brings up more questions – does Donovan want to leave? Who wants to buy him, and what can they offer? It’s not as though the January window is a great time for deals in the first place. Why would a European club pay over the odds if it knows the arrival of Ronaldinho and his cap-busting salary is imminent? Plus, wasn’t this supposed to be the offseason when Donovan actually got some rest after playing almost non-stop for the past two years?

4. Think about Arena and the way he does things. His teams are at their best when their shape is solid and they defend well as a unit, even if going forward is ultimately a challenge. How would a defense-optional player like Ronaldinho fit into the Arena ethos? Even if Dema Kovalenko gets deployed as Little Ronnie’s personal ball-winner – the Makelele to Ronaldinho’s Zidane, if you will – how much chasing about is a World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Ballon d’Or, etc.-winning, former World Player of the Year on the downside of his career willing to do in front of hundreds of fans on a sultry summer night in Dallas? Also, how do Ronaldinho, Beckham, Donovan and Buddle fit together in an attacking unit? Donovan and Buddle obviously have a good understanding, but where does that leave Ronaldinho if Arena insists on two up top?

5. This gripe is last because it’s purely personal. Odds are that you, like any right-thinking MLS fan, are tired of haters, Europoseurs and those damned, snarky Brits babbling on about MLS being a “retirement home” or throwing up yet another tired reference to the NASL. This is just more fodder for those people. Is signing ageing stars still the way forward for a league now in its 15th year? Leagues of a similar age in Japan, South Korea and Australia have largely weaned themselves off of drawing eyeballs with big names (one cokehead Scouser excepted) – is MLS really that different? Is our sports culture so star-dependent that soccer can only stay relevant by every three or four years making signings that even SportsCenter will acknowledge? A cynic might say yes, but that hardly seems like a viable, sustainable plan for the long term.

As you can see, Ronaldinho coming to MLS has no fire and, at the moment, little in the way of smoke. Just in case, though, it might be wise to buy stock in In-n-Out Burger and California Pizza Kitchen. In these tough economic times, every little bit helps.
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