There have been a lot of quotes coming out of Shanghai ahead of the Laureus Awards, albeit unrelated to the Laureus Awards. Eric Cantona already told a press conference that Javier Pastore is the best player in the world and that Spain didn’t win the 2010 World Cup. And now, former Barcelona captain and Spain international Carles Puyol has said the magic Major League Soccer rumor words:
“To live in [the USA] is an experience which appeals to me.”
After a 15-year wildly successful run with Barcelona, Puyol retired from playing, accepting a position working as an assistant alongside then-Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta. Six months later, Zubizarreta was fired for masterminding transfers that others found to be rather unimpressive. Puyol, the loyal soldier until the end, resigned alongside his boss.
So here we are, not even a year after Puyol’s retirement, three months after the former defender’s resignation from his old club, listening to familiar refrains about the tantalizing prospect of AMERICA from a former European hero inhaling his last soccer breaths. That, alone, shouldn’t be a shock, because although the age range and pedigree of European players uttering the magic MLS words has expanded, the sentiment shared remains the same. Here’s Roma’s Daniele De Rossi on MLS:
“I want to live in America, and I hope I’ll be able to do that.”
America is popular. But what about soccer in America? These magic words raise interesting questions: Do these players just want to live in the U.S. and see MLS as a means an end? Probably. And if so, is that really a bad thing? Nope, not really..
Why someone comes to MLS — whether it’s because they’re old, young, love Miller Lite or want to see parts of the U.S that no one in the U.S. really has an interest in seeing — doesn’t matter. Sure, those things may inform the extent that a player may take playing in MLS seriously, but ultimately, all the matters is whether that player can be a serious contributor on the field.
Whether Puyol could be a serious contributor on the field is a question worth asking, and probably the primary concern of any team considering sliding a contract over to the ex-Barcelona captain. He hasn’t played in a meaningful game in forever and has been battling to stay fit ever since he had knee surgery in 2012. But that hasn’t stopped the rumors.
Rumors were floating around about the Colorado Rapids flirting with Puyol. That rumor was subsequently squashed by a ”source” denying reports of a significant Rapids offer to Puyol. But this is weird MLS, where no one ever really knows what’s happening, where the league can expand from 4 to 300 teams over the course of a month, so who knows what’s true?
But here’s a truth: Puyol didn’t reach greatness with Spain and Barcelona by succumbing to nameless sources. So it should come as no surprise that Puyol is already chasing his American dream. He has already relocated to New York. That’s really close to MLS — much closer to MLS than Barcelona. And even if these are just rumors, any proximity to a player like Puyol is a good thing for the league. It’s a positive for the league when Puyol talks about living in America, even if he’s just talking about living, because that conversation resonates globally. It’s better for MLS to be in conversations than not. Even the tired conversations about MLS as a retirement league aren’t all bad because there are other leagues where players can make a last stands. That MLS is consistently an option for big names shouldn’t be hysterically dismissed. There’s value in consistently being in the conversation.
The larger conversation here, however, doesn’t even have anything to do with Puyol. Puyol to MLS is just the latest chapter in MLS-European dream relations: MLS players dream of Europe, and European players dream of America. The only difference is that MLS players dream of playing soccer in Europe while European players seem to only dream about living in the land of Cold Stone Creameries and super-sized diabetes.
There are plenty of metrics to track the rise of MLS. There’s attendance, TV contracts, infrastructure, and talent shipped overseas. But there are also dreams. One day, European players will talk of dreaming about playing in MLS, and playing soccer will be the focus of the dream. That will be a historic day in MLS-European soccer relations. We will all fire up the grills, crack open a horrible-tasting lite beer, shoot fireworks indiscriminately into the air, and reminisce about a time when European players wanted to flock to the United States, just to get a hot deal at TGI Friday’s and experience terrible retail service because no one knows who the hell they are.
But until that day, let’s keep talking about Puyol to MLS rumors. If you’re American, you should consider it your patriotic duty.