KIEV, UKRAINE - JUNE 15: Olof Mellberg of Sweden speaks to the media during the post match press conference. He might as well have been foreshadowing his emotional reaction to contract negotiations with TFC and MLS
You know it when you hear it. An explanation that just doesn’t make sense. It may be an employee’s sudden return to health on the Tuesday after a long weekend or in the case of Toronto FC, the explanation as to why the deal for Swedish International Defender Olof Mellberg fell through.
If I am to believe a source close to the negotiations, I've got the answer. After hearing it, unlike that employee taking an extended holiday, I actually do feel sick. Sometimes not knowing is better than knowing.
The official storyline is that Toronto and Mellberg were in negotiations. However, as Kurtis Larson of the Sun reported "the deal fell apart as a result of the league's salary cap, a complicated system that played a role in breaking down negotiations between two sides."
The Agent for Mellberg, Anders Wallsten was quoted by Larson as saying "There was great interest, all I will say is that it wasn't because of the player that a deal didn't go through. You'll have to talk to the league and the club."
For his part, Commissioner Don Garber went on national TV during the MLS All Star game and indicated that the league didn't nix the deal. He indicated that it "economically didn't make sense for (Toronto). It was a decision they felt wasn't in their best interest."
From Toronto's perspective, when questioned by Nigel Reed on The Soccer Show, Director of Soccer Operations & Head Coach Paul Mariner offered "no comment" when asked about why the deal never went through. TFC's Director of Team and Player Operations Earl Cochrane did provide a carefully crafted statement which acknowledged interest from player and club but "in the end, his contract requirements didn't work for the MLS salary structure and therefore us. We accepted that and moved on."
Like the employee calling in sick, something didn't add up. I get that the MLS salary structure is complicated. But what didn't sit right with me was that the league pays the salaries up to the max. Amounts above that are paid by the team and the player only carries a maximum cap hit of $335k. In fact, mid-season, this cap hit is pro-rated to be half that amount. It's not that complicated after all. If the team wants to overpay a player, it's their money. As long as it fits, what's the issue?
Toronto also had plenty of cap room having shed the salaries of Joao Plata, Julian de Guzman, Nick Soolsma and Miguel Aceval. They also had a designated player space open as a result of the de Guzman trade.
According to a source close to the negotiations, the deal was in fact done with the player, agent and club agreeing to terms which would have seen Mellberg come in as the club's 3rd Designated Player. A handsomely rewarded one at that.
However, according to my source, the league did in fact nix the deal and they allegedly did it for two reasons.
First, they felt it was too much money to spend on a Defender. In fact, of the thirty-one current Designated Players (DP) in the MLS today only one,Rafeal Marquez of the New York Red Bulls, is a Defender. In fact, of the fifty-three DPs that have played in this league past and present, Marquez is the only Defender. This source feels as though the league just doesn't think that Defenders are a priority for the highly paid DP spot. The numbers seem to back that view up and it appears as clear as day as to the league's intent and interest area when it comes to signing DP contracts.
Why do they have appear to have a problem spending money on Defenders? That leads us to the second, and perhaps most disturbing suggestion as to why the league is alleged to have nixed the deal. Apparently, MLS felt that Mellberg (and Defenders in general) wouldn't help sell tickets in markets around the league. If that is true, why would the league allow the Marquez deal and not Mellberg?
Well, the arrival of Marquez followed on the heels of Thierry Henry's transfer (and the opening of Red Bull Arena. The deal itself has been rumoured to have some peculiar nuances. Jordan Beard in an interesting piece, reported that 'the Marquez transfer fee, "pegged at more than €6 million" was lowered to $0 for the Red Bulls'. While we can speculate as to what debt ridden FC Barcelona was looking for in the deal, certainly, we can acknowledge that the arrival of both players helped generate interest in New York and ideally some spin off for the new stadium. Both of which help the league immensely. This is consistent with my source's view that the league wants designated players that it can use to boost its revenues.
Marquez is a well known Mexican International who most recently played for one of the most popular teams in the world, FC Barcelona. Might spark a ticket sale or two. A relatively unknown, but good, Swedish International that most recently played for Olympiacos? Unless the name is Elin Nordegren, not so much.
How does that make you feel Toronto? You support a team with more of your hard earned money than virtually any other fan in the league. Yet allegedly, your club cannot sign a player with its own money, that will make your team better if that player won't help sell tickets in Columbus or other markets.
Though MLS is a single entity league and each club profits from the health of the whole, at what point do the club's interests super-cede the interests of the league? I get that expense control is an issue that the MLS needs to ensure it stays on top of. Bad deals set bad precedents. Got it. That said, is this about football or not? Do teams not have some freedom to control their own rosters with their own funds? Are we running some version of professional wrestling when it comes to roster building or a competition amongst teams that have an equal chance to develop their squads and ultimately win?
We can debate whether Mellberg would have been the right signing but what shouldn't be up for debate is whether the team has the ability to sign anyone that it feels will make it better. Especially considering it would be using its own funds.
Apparently, it appears that this type of player may never be allowed to play for us unless the league changes its alleged stance.
In looking at how much time, energy and money that I have spent over the last few years in supporting this team, well, based on what I've been told I feel like calling in sick
You can follow me on twitter @Gardnerfanfuel.