Jul 16, 2008

(Mainstream) U.S. soccer writers are fools, Exhibit A

Idiocy can certainly be tolerated on message boards, blogs or college campuses. Indeed, on some level we expect nonsense to emanate from all three areas. That's kind of what they're there for, right? So when somebody on the BigSoccer sewing circle argues with conviction about the New York Red Bulls' needing to go after Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabio Capello, Ronaldinho, Buffon or Drogba, we can kind of laugh it off the same way we would an 18-year old arguing the virtues of Marxism.

Unfortunately, when it comes to soccer coverage in the U.S., the writers employed to cover the sport really, truly are that clueless.

Take Jonah Freedman, an SI.com producer and writer. On the eve of Claudio Reyna's announced retirement, Freedman posited that Red Bull now needs to put on the full court press for a guy like Thierry Henry, whom he describes as "a real possibility," Andriy Shevchenko, Ronaldo or Jared Borgetti. Well, okay, this is admittedly not that bad, seeing as each of the aforementioned is over the age of 30 and at least some have contracts that will be expiring soon. (Though Henry a real possibility? That's a bit far-fetched, to say the least). But what Freedman's article said after that is what has made him the object of our ridicule:

"The Bulls missed the boat. Or more specifically, they missed the Titanic. Until Tuesday, an even bigger option was out there: Ronaldinho. There is perhaps no bigger name in the world that was legitimately available to MLS. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year finally ended his drawn-out transfer saga, agreeing to a $30 million transfer from Barcelona to AC Milan. [...]
Where were the Red Bulls during the Ronaldinho saga? Milan and Manchester City spent the past month driving up the Brazilian's price tag. If, as it has been reported, the Bulls knew Reyna's retirement was an eventual outcome, why didn't they throw everything they had at convincing Ronaldinho to make an earth-shattering move to the U.S., perhaps bigger than even Beckham's?"

Why not? Gee, you think the $30 million price tag might have had something to do with it? What makes Freedman think Red Bull or MLS can compete with an offer of that size? Thirty mill? Are MLS franchises even worth that much? When has MLS ever paid even a tenth of that sum to acquire a player? (Not for Beckham, that's for sure. He came on a free transfer). And can we really put Ronaldinho's star power on Beckham's level? The latter, for all his flaws, has charisma to spare. He always says the right thing and is the perfect family-friendly pitch man for a U.S. audience. The former looks like Jar Jar Binks for chrissakes and has not really demonstrated much outside the pitch besides a propensity to party. Does he even speak English?

All that aside, why would Ronaldinho, who at 28 is still very much in the prime of his career (a few spare tires notwithstanding) and a fixture on the Brazilian national team, choose to go to MLS? Does Freedman realize this would preclude Ronaldinho from playing for the selecao, probably ever again? Is he aware that the individuals MLS brings on as designated players are without exception past their prime and (with only one exception, Beckham, whose national team is obviously desperate) retired from international competition? Does he have any clue how inferior MLS still is to top European competition? That even under the very best of circumstances MLS teams will not be able to compete with their European counterparts, either on the field or financially for a very, very long time, if ever? In short, what basis does Freedman have for believing Ronaldinho is "legitimately available to MLS"?

None, of course. Because he's obviously clueless about soccer in general and MLS in particular. While this does not really distinguish him from most of the U.S. populace, it does no favors to those who are working so hard to advance the sport in this country. The real issue, then, is not so much that Freedman is hopelessly in the dark about soccer, but that Sports Illustrated doesn't seem to care that he is. Then again, why should they? Soccer fans only make up a tiny fraction of their readership. Running the occasional un-researched, un-fact-checked, unedited soccer piece is more than enough to pay the sport lip service. Which begs the question why they would have a "producer" write the story in the first place. Just have the intern do it next time!

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