Thursday, February 08, 2007

Red Bulls Update -- Zidane in the Mix? The New York Daily News caught Zinedine Zidane at the New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. Zidane gave a "no comment" to questions about whether he is talking to the Red Bulls about coming out of retirement to join the club. Zidane, obviously would be a far more valuable addition than the Ecuadorean striker, Augustin Delgado. Bringing in Zidane could rival the Beckham signing in attention, as Zidane has become world-famous for his unmatched football skills, and equally notorious for the head-butting incident in the World Cup final.

Is there reason to take this seriously? Sky Sports News just covered the story on their nightly sports news program. Zidane has rebuffed previous offers, including one from the Chicago Fire, but this story seems like there might be something to it. Zidane has been linked to the Red Bulls before, going back to the Youri Djorkaeff sightings at the World Cup, but this time it seems as if it is more than idle speculation.

I guess the question is whether the Red Bulls do have room under the salary cap. Should the team sign another designated player, the exemption means that only about $360,000 of that player's salary would count against the cap. It may be that the Red Bulls do not have enough cap room to use the exemption.

The entire situation suggests that the MLS needs to revisit the salary cap amount. I imagine the league probably didn't anticipate that a team such as the Red Bulls would trade for an extra designated player exemption. It does seem incomprehensible that the Red Bulls would have made a deal to acquire an extra cap exemption, if the team didn't have the room under the cap to make use of the extra slot. That degree of miscalculation would be inexcusable. If the opportunity to bring in Zidane exists, the MLS should remove any obstacles.

Still, the Beckham signing should cause the league to reconsider the entire economics and salary structure of the MLS. The league has jiggered the schedule to make sure each team will be visited by the L.A. Galaxy, after Beckham has joined the team. MLS team revenues can be expected to climb -- and bringing in Zidane would amplify the Beckham effect considerably. As those revenues climb, it should be possible to add more expensive foreign players, or offer top Americans more money to entice them to remain here.

The ultimate goal should be to raise the level of play in the league. As the skill level goes up, and games become more exciting, crowds will continue to grow. In essence, there is a tipping point at which increased spending will be rewarded by ever-increasing popularity and growing revenue. For that point to be reached, the league will have to lay the necessary groundwork. Bringing in Beckham and Zidane would move the league much closer to this goal. The moment will be lost, however, if the teams are prevented from spending what it will take to raise the talent bar across the league.

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