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A skeptics' rules for the transfer Silly Season

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Frank Lampard to MLS? Sure. So long as he's willing to accept a massive pay cut. He knows about that, right?
Frank Lampard to MLS? Sure. So long as he's willing to accept a massive pay cut. He knows about that, right?

I may not have been the first journalist to coin the term "Silly Season" as it relates to soccer’s global transfer market. But I’d like to think I help add it to the current domestic soccer lexicon, making liberal use of the term as far back as five years ago.

Either way, here we are. The secondary transfer window is about to open in January (the "primary" window falls in the summer). And, as always, one of the first pages in the global agents’ playbook is to dangle MLS as an option, confident that a strategically set brush fire will metastasize into a full-blown transfer rumor wildfire, spread by the blustery winds of the internet, unimpeded by overwhelmed journalists who simply cannot tame every one of these rumors.

That’s why I have always said the same thing about transfer speculation: tap me on the shoulder when someone signs on the dotted line. Then I’ll begin any needed analysis, weighing the ins, outs, connections, consequences, repercussions, etc.

Lately, we’ve heard Nikolas Anelka, Alessandro Del Piero, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and others, all engaged in some degree of MLS consideration. (If you’re into this stuff, the best way to keep up is through MLSSoccer.com’sRumor Central. The guys who put it together are smart enough to add some context, and they can eliminate the most absurd of the claims, at least.)

Me? I’ll stay rigidly rooted in my skeptical stance. For those uncommitted to such a doctrine of distrust, you might consider the following two points before you buy into the next ill wind of transfer conjecture. Does the player involved … :

A) … Understand that not every big shot who steps off the European field can dock his soccer yacht in New York or Los Angeles? Truly, what percentage of player transfer rumors from Europe are linked to the Galaxy or Red Bulls? I’m putting it at 60 or 70 percent. Well, here’s the deal: there are six Designated Player slots total for those two clubs. And at the moment, I see only one or two that might be available. You do the math.

B) … Understand that they cannot command the wages currently being gathered in Europe? I keep saying that all these guys say they want to play in the United States … until they figure out what that pay check will actually look like. Everyone sees the salaries commanded by David Beckham, Thierry Henry and perhaps a couple of others. But they seem to forget that they aren’t David Beckham or Thierry Henry. Heck, most aren’t even "a couple of others."

Take Lampard, for example. He actually might be and "other," someone with enough marketing umph and playing ability to command a top MLS wage.

The Chelsea man, who is 33 years old and no longer an automatic first-team selection at Stamford Bridge, and therefore the subject of abundant transfer guesswork, will earn about $11 million is salary this year. He won’t make anything close to that in MLS. The Galaxy would surely pay Lampard well – but that’s "well" relative to Major League Soccer’s frugal salary structure. Consider that Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane made a combined salary of about $12 million last year. And most of that was for Beckham, global soccer’s most iconic, most highly marketable figure of the last decade.

Lampard would probably fetch close to Keane-type wages, about $3 million. Now, that’s not bad money, especially since so many people in our land are one missed paycheck from hunting neighborhood squirrel make the nightly soup. On the other hand, $3 million is not quite $11 million, now is it? Even I can see that.

So Lampard and others like him must make tough decisions. They can take a huge pay cut and play here. Or they can take a hefty pay cut and play elsewhere in their homeland. (Lampard, for instance, would surely be welcomed tomorrow at 14 or 15 EPL sides.) Or, they can use the Anelka route and take their turn in the Asian money grab.

Point is, they may change their tune about playing in MLS; the lottery tickets aren’t being cashed in here.

And they have to understand that playing in MLS might mean kicking it in Denver or Dallas or D.C. Nothing wrong with any of those places – but they aren’t New York or Los Angeles.