The Really Not So Super League

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Everybody has a million-and-one-ways to improve MLS. Many of these proposals can be reduced to the film Field of Dreams as envisioned by Scrooge McDuck: if you spend money on wages and transfers, more and better players will come. Well no shit. This past winter, MLS’ financial reticence was magnified by the number of deals done between European clubs and the Chinese Super League.

Allegedly thanks to state support via a new and overly generous TV deal, the CSL is awash in cash and clubs spent tens of millions to sign kinda-sorta-decent players like Ramires and Jackson Martinez and even Alex Teixeira. But is everything as it seems?

FIFA rules are pretty clear: if a player is not paid wages for three straight months, then he or she can break their contract and move elsewhere.What does that have to do with the Chinese Super League? Well, for the last five years, plenty of players have left Europe for the Chinese Super League and alleged riches. None of them were world-class players, but a few were pretty good: Lucas Barrios, Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, among them.

What happened after these pretty good players arrived? They probably didn’t get paid. And they left after about a year or less.

Yes, I am aware that Lucas Barrios, who signed for Guanhzou Evergrande, left the club because of an alleged attitude problem and inability to adapt to life in China. He never made any allegations of unpaid wages. Robinho also served out a six-month contract with the same club and opted not to stick around. Again, no claims of unpaid wages. Still, two decent players, who featured at the most recent Copa America, left almost soon as they arrived.

Only a few years ago, though, two ex-Chelsea stars, Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, protested the nonpayment of wages by their Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua. Nicolas eventually returned to the EPL, while Drogba left and signed for MLS. Yes, that’s right, the North American league with a salary cap, single entity, and no pro/rel. The league has this odd reputation: it pays players in full and on time. Always.

If MLS is threatened by the Chinese Super League, then why did Didier Drogba leave China after six months, but recently decided to play a second year for Montreal instead of coaching at Chelsea? Expect many of the latest stars to arrive in China to leave by 2017. They’re chasing riches, but the paychecks may never materialize.

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