Thursday, May 10, 2012

The line for Alessandro Nesta forms on the right

I don't always drink beer, but when I do...
Alessandro Nesta is too old for MLS.

At 36, he's just old enough to be hobbled by age and run through by years of playing in three major running cup competitions a year. Milan squeezed just about every droplet of talent from the Roman, who will be 37 by the time he finishes his first full MLS preseason. Assuming he even lasts that long. But he's been touched by genius, enough so that a needy enough MLS club will latch onto his name, his global cache and the steamily romantic fact that he wants us, and use the opportunity to throw some shekels at the Italian. So it has gone in the league since time immemorial.

Perhaps I value the league too much to be saying this, but I don't like it. MLS no longer needs to stoop its head below these low-set door lintels. Leaping when every washed up European international comes calling isn't the best policy, though I recognize his allure. It's not his current form that MLS suitors will see breaking up tackles in their mind's eye, but rather the CL Nesta of the early 2000's. And even in his wisened age, he very well could be a reliable backstop for another year or so. Maybe. He could also hoover up a king's wage, pull a hamstring in his second practice and never play. Both are feasible options.

The eschatological question I pose is not whether Nesta should be pursued by MLS. If the league dictates he has value, then he has value. That's how global markets work. It's also how sports operate, from the free market EPL to the socialist NFL. Rather, my bigger question is what MLS reaps from this harvest. Nesta is a light false step away from a career threatening injury, which will hang ominously over his neck like a guillotine for the rest of his truncated career. Plus, the system is practically encouraging a team like New York or LA to sign somebody like Nesta rather than developing young, exciting players. What incentive would the Red Bulls have to not go for it? In the absence of any depth at all, which was caused by its own dependence on the league's salary cap vis-a-vis the DP rule, these teams will continue to bang their heads into the wall. It's admirable that RSL has been able to flourish under the current cap rules where New York has failed. That doesn't mean they make a ton of sense. Indeed, I'd argue the league is set up in favor of enterprising mid-market teams rather then big money clubs, which inevitably fight for the expensive scraps from Europe's retirees.

These dynamics have been in play in New York since Rafa Marquez touched down. The politics of the matter (i.e. $$$$) tied Backe's hands to such a degree that even when it was painfully obvious that Marquez's form was nowhere near worthy of a start, on he played. Which stunted youth development, and now look where New York's back line is.

Nesta is even older and descended from his high water mark long ago. He will command a salary that will only interest the league's typical takers, and in truth, the thin-as-paper Red Bulls have to be considered frontrunners. But at what cost? The league once again runs clumsily into its position as a nanny state, allowing all clubs to break these salary cap constraints for DPs, all the while only winking at the rich few with the ability to use these exemption rules consistently enough to make them worthwhile.

Now that the league is beginning to break out of its shell, these are exciting conversations to entertain. I have never been one to admonish MLS for taking on aged designated players. Especially early in the process of digging out a trench to allow your endeavor to survive, you do what needs to be done. If Nesta wants MLS, MLS will have him. I have no doubts about that. But I do see the folly in it, and I pine for the days when the league has enough clout to use its development systems and its depth to say that somebody like Nesta can go to Qatar or China or Saudi Arabia. Because MLS doesn't have any particular need for a 36-year-old defender who was on the downslope of his career four years ago.

But as I said, these are theoretical issues that will not interest a team with a leaky back line. Plugging a water leak with a gob of soggy cotton seems better than nothing.

- Will Parchman


J.D. Springer said...

At least Nesta is not as big an a-hole as Marquez, but then who is? Still, your points about the flawed system are well taken.

Jay said...

I'm of two minds to scenarios like this.

On one hand: yes, there are many better things that an MLS team can spend Nesta-level money on than Nesta himself. He's not going to draw new fans to the games, and he's not going to sell an Henry- or Beckham-quantity of jerseys. His playing days are very nearly gone, and his skill has diminished. It says bad things about the league that we're still being touted as a retirement option.

That said, damn would I love to see Nesta get burned on the field. Out run, out dribbled, made to look the fool by some bright young MLS talent. Remember how much we loved LA looking like crap in Beckham's first season? We want to show that we're capable of beating up on Europe's leading lights -- at least at some point in their careers.

But the bigger issue is the footballing brain lodged in that creaky old body. Bringing in Henry and Beckham and Blanco is also about what they can teach the other players on their teams. Juninho has become a damn fine midfielder, and I guarantee that some tutoring from Beckham has helped with that. Hell, if LA wasn't trading all of their young talent to Chivas I imagine we'd be seeing more emerging talent. What could Tristan Bowen have learned from Robbie Keane? How far will Michael Stephens go? In a fashion, hiring these old fuddy duddies is like hiring a player-coach -- and I'd love to see a European import make that sort of move officially, recognizing that they have a lot to teach and seeing the opportunities they have in MLS to do that.

dikranovich said...

jay, maybe you should stick with verse, because your prose is prose.

Jay said...

I'm tired of even asking what the hell you're talking about. F^%* off.

dikranovich said...

ahh, thats much better!!!! but if you really wanted to talk soccer, i think that would be fun too.

dikranovich said...

jay, i guess the larger point is that raul retired from real madrid and went to another champions league side, just in germany. rauls crickity old legs still do pretty well in a top league. honestly, it sounds like you are short changing yourself and you dont even know it.

why would nesta want to come here if all fans want is to see him get burnt by some young talent. oh, that and maybe he can pass along some of his knowledge along the way. thank you very much senior nesta, now go out there on the field and look like a jackass.

maybe if nesta knows he is being used like this he will be a little less forthcoming about dishing the goods to all these young players.

i dont know, maybe the best thing would just be to wish nesta well and hope and pray that your team in MLS is lucky enough to aquire such world talent.

i did think that when dmb burned japp stam in champions league play, that it meant usa was ready to move up, but in all honesty, stam was an older player not on the same level of his earlier days.

jay, please dont come back with some george clinton reference, unless of course it includes a video.

Jay said...

No, the larger point is that you could have actually articulated that point to begin with rather than making a brick-wall statement about prose. My beef with you is that you appear more interested in yanking people's chains rather than engaging in actual conversation.

That isn't a game I'm playing with you anymore. Good luck drawing others into your ego trip. I'm done.

dikranovich said...

whatever jay!!! im usually the one having a discussion with the big man and you come in with some quips. so if you are done with the quips maybe we can talk soccer.

why would nesta want to come to MLS under your guidlines? please explain.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you've seen Alessandro Nesta play at all in the past year. Even those youtube highlight clips of his tackles on Messi might suffice. I have seen nearly every game he has played this season, and while he has definitely not been perfect in all of them, he has been astounding for a man of his age. Since he came back from his most recent injury before the Champions League knock out matches against Barcelona, he has been by far Milan's best defender. Every Milan fan is very sorry to see him go - not out of sentimentality, as with Seedorf, Inzaghi, etc., but because he is still one of the team's best players and Milan will surely concede more goals without him. I find myself despairing at Milan's chances if we are drawn against Barcelona again next year as he seems to be the only one able to stop Messi. And I definitely think Nesta had one more year left in him in Europe, whatever he may say. His one major flaw has always been that he gets injured too much, but when he plays, even against fast attackers, even against Messi, he is still one of the world's best defenders. I hope you enjoy him if he joins the MLS. I certainly will.

Also, there have been rumors (he has refused to confirm anything as he has not signed a contract yet but the rumors were right about everything else) that he will be taking a normal MLS salary and not one of the ones reserved for big name players. I'm not as familiar with the MLS as I should be (that will hopefully change soon) so sorry if my terminology/league knowledge is lacking.

I don't mean to come across as rude or patronizing, and your concerns about league structure seem quite valid, but I don't think you can dismiss this player as being finished. He is far from it.

dikranovich said...

jay, i do think mt. souvious's comments were directed at you