Two words: David Villa. If you know who he is, you already know what’s about to be said here. If you don’t, that means you might not follow international football, and that maybe you’re unaware that he’s coming from some of the best competition in the world to play soccer with the MLS. That’s right, he’s going to play soccer in the United States.
While Villa, a 32-year-old striker who has had a long and illustrious career in the sport already, is following in the footsteps of David Beckham, the incredibly popular soccer luminary who made the switch from in 2007, hopping from La Liga to MLS — Villa’s three year deal with New York F.C. seems less to do with bringing in a soccer superstar for the publicity than it does, actually, you know, winning games. We can’t help but wonder, though, at MLS’s developing role as, essentially, a retirement home for soccer stars. Especially with the rumors that Frank Lampard, the 35-year-old midfielder who recently left Chelsea, might be coming over as well.
It feels a little bit like the mirror image of the NBA, where players who can’t crack a rotation stateside head to China, Europe, or elsewhere in order to continue to make a living. So, with that in mind, here are six international soccer players we’d love to see playing in America, especially when they’re still able to compete at the highest level of the sport. For the record, we’d probably leave out Mario Balotelli, but we’d be willing to give his statue a pretty lucrative gig.
OK, so, who is Neymar, and why should we care? First and foremost, he’s a one-name, two-syllable guy, and he’s also a ‘Junior,’ if you’re looking for a way to stretch his name into the Iambic pentameter that American announcers love so much. At 22, this forward already plays in La Liga, the highest level of Spanish soccer, for Barcelona, a football club that’s worth more than the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins combined. That’s reflected in his salary, for sure — he makes 8.8 million Euros, or $12 million, a year — and that’s considered a relative bargain, given the suspicion surrounding his landing in Barca.
And, before you think of this as a pipe dream, remember the beauty of the transfer and the loan. A transfer, which is a negotiation process between two clubs, allows for a team to negotiate an asking price for a player. A loan, though, is exactly how it sounds: A team borrows a player for a year, while paying his wages, before sending him back to his home club. Typically that’s done between leagues, and it’s how David Villa wound up on New York F.C., but playing for Melbourne City before the MLS season.
While we’re mining the soccer stock for wunderkind Brazilian wingers, we can’t just stop at Neymar, we’ve got to go to his single-named countryman and national teammate, Oscar. While Oscar has seen less buzz than his international teammate (Neymar’s been called the best player out there by a whole litany of former professionals and other sports observers), his playmaking acumen and his dribbling skills demand some serious attention. If only there was a popular, user-driven video upload site we could link to that showed off Oscar’s ability.
4. Yaya Toure
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Full disclosure: Even though we said that we were trying to avoid the presently popular trend of bringing in players who are looking at the ends of their careers, we’re going to make exceptions for these next two players. Not that we’re saying that Toure and Ibrahimovic, who play internationally for the Ivory Coast and Sweden, respectively, are going to run off into the sunset anytime soon, but they’re about a decade older than either Neymar or Oscar, and up-and-coming youth they are not.
For Ibrahimovic and Toure, two of the most exciting players of the last decade whose day jobs are spent with Manchester City (Toure) and Paris Saint-Germain (Ibrahimovic), a trip to MLS would be tremendous — Toure, in particular, has spent his international career as, more or less, the singular hope for his team and his country. You could throw him on a team like the Portland Timbers and provide a reasonable facsimile of a hero’s welcome to him. That would be pretty awesome.
As for Ibrahimovic, well, we found this video of his twenty-five best career goals. Can anyone honestly say they wouldn’t pay the pittance that constitutes an MLS ticket, especially compared to the ‘big’ sports, to see a guy who can do this:
2. Cristian Ronaldo
If only for the sociological implications, this would be, possibly, the best thing ever, of all time, without exception. Real Madrid’s Cristian Ronaldo (not to be confused with the older Ronaldo) is to soccer players what Calvin ‘Megatron’ Johnson is to wide receivers, only he’s got a serious fashion bent that would provide an amusing swath of dissonance with a countrywide sports fanbase that’s still not quite sure what to make of Russell Westbrook’s outerwear choices. Beyond that, though, there’s the fact that Cristian Ronaldo is good. Really good. Astonishingly good. So good, in fact, that he’s often cited as one of the two best players in the world. A designation he shares with his cohort on this page, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
1. Lionel Messi
Messi is significantly quieter in his on and off pitch activities than Ronaldo. He’s also good. Really good. Astonishingly — well, you get the idea. Even if you’ve never watched a game of soccer in your life, these two players are clearly a cut above everyone else currently playing today. The phrase ‘operating on another level’ is a cliche, but that’s essentially where we’re at when we talk about Messi and Ronaldo. Check them out, and be amazed: