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LAFC and the Next Wave of MLS Designated Players

LAFC and the Next Wave of MLS Designated Players

Los Angeles Football Club – aptly nicknamed LAFC – has its sights set on making a splash in MLS, much like the Los Angeles Galaxy did years ago. The league as a whole is making steps toward capturing internationally relevant talent and bringing them to the states despite the league’s lower revenue and payroll through roster construction gymnastics like the Designated Player Rule and Targeted Allocation Money.

The Designated Player Rule was created in order for the Galaxy to sign David Beckham, still likely the biggest player to ever come to MLS. That could all change in two years if LAFC has their way. Soccer rumors are more unreliable than reports we usually deal with in US sports. In the same day, a player will be reported to be requesting a transfer, agreeing to terms on a mega deal, and wanting to retire with his current club. And no one knows which – if any – has credibility.

One such report recently has LAFC obsessed with Cristiano Ronaldo and very interested in Wayne Rooney.

People around nascent LAFC franchise say MLS outfit’s “obsessed” with signing Ronaldo, eventually to pair with Rooney

— Ed Malyon (@eaamalyon) August 12, 2015

First, LAFC will be linked to many an aging and even in-their-prime soccer superstar over the next couple years. They’ll likely debut after their stadium is completed for the 2018 MLS season1 but they and MLS will be looking to drive interest in the club. Reports of negotiations with players like Chicharito, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, Rooney, and any other stars that would even be remotely within reach will not slow anytime soon. How much would it take to build a team with Ronaldo and Rooney at the helm in 2018?

Well, less than it will now for one thing. LAFC would greatly prefer to sign these players on free transfers after their contracts run out at Real Madrid and Manchester United. The transfer fee for these two players, even in 2018 and past their primes, will likely be the highest that MLS has ever paid.

Ronaldo will be 33 when his contract conveniently runs out in 2018, albeit the 2018 European season, meaning that he couldn’t come to MLS on a free transfer until sometime in the middle of the 2018 MLS season, see Pirlo, Gerrard, Lampard. The world’s best or second-best player currently makes about $19 million per year (17 million euros). Assuming a decrease in salary that comes along with a decrease in output over the next two or three seasons, Ronaldo would still likely shatter the highest paid DP record in three years.

Right now the highest paid players are Kaka in Orlando City and Sebastian Giovinco in Toronto at just over $7.1 million each.2 The payroll for each team will rise by 2018 – the current TV deal, which is the modern determination of league health, is a decent one at $720 million in total, but runs through 2022, so there won’t be a TV money shot in the arm in 2018.3

Ronaldo will require a deal well north of $10-$12 million per year, something that seems achievable based on current player payments and the jump in viewership and attendance associated with a name like Ronaldo coming over. We saw the effects with David Beckham after all. That experiment could have gone better, as explained in The Beckham Experiment by Grant Wahl, but it was financially successful.

Rooney on the other hand will be “just” 32 and still under contract with Manchester United until the end of 2019, meaning LAFC would have to wait or shell out a transfer fee for a player that was once among the best strikers in the Premier League. Rooney will likely be more than good enough to contribute to a near top-level team in Europe at 32.

Rooney will request, and need, a salary similar to Ronaldo’s hypothetical $10-$12 million and doesn’t carry as much of a boost in name recognition as Ronaldo does, though that says more about Ronaldo than Rooney. The kicker with Rooney is that he’ll require a transfer fee if he comes over for LAFC’s inaugural season. Toronto has one of the highest payrolls in 2015 at just over $22 million compared to the $3.3 million salary cap. These two players alone will account for most of the highest payroll in MLS in 2015, which means LAFC will need to have great financial backing and revenue streams to sustain such a deal. It wouldn’t matter for building the roster because of the Designated Player Rule, but it is still a large percentage of seemingly available money.

Add that to a transfer fee that will likely be around $25-$30 million if he is playing well and MLS gets a good deal. Bastian Schweinsteiger transferred to Manchester United from Bayern Munich for 20.25 million euros this year while still playing well. Premiums are paid for goalscorers and this is three years from now, upping the likely fee. If Rooney ages poorly, like former teammate Robin van Persie, a fee around $7-10 million would be possible, but then it would be fair to ask if LAFC would want an expensive reclamation project. The current highest reported transfer fees are around $10 million. Rooney would likely break a record that will be set in the next three years.

In the end, it’s certainly plausible, though highly unlikely for a litany of reasons. Both are top players and very likely won’t want to come to MLS at 32-33 despite any lip service they may pay to the contrary. It will be expensive and we won’t know what the financial climate of MLS will be in 2018. Finally, they may be competing with top European clubs and for world renowned silverware.

It’s fun. It’s interesting. It probably won’t happen. But the rules allow it. The money is likely attainable, though on the high-end. And … well, it just might work out.

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