This weekend it was announced by Umbro that former New York City FC midfielder Mix Diskerud had signed a long-term contract with English giants Manchester City FC. However, reports also surfaced that Diskerud would not train with the senior team and Manchester City will look to sell him. This is a move that could have a significant impact on Major League Soccer.
MLS is a single-entity league with central ownership of all player contracts. When a player is sold, the league takes a significant portion of the money received. Diskerud being released meant that neither NYCFC, nor the league, received any transfer fee. Now with Manchester City, the owners of New York City FC, which operates both clubs, will receive the entirety of the sale, eliminating the portion that MLS would normally keep.
Diskerud is clearly not capable of playing at the level that would warrant a contract with the team likely to win the Premier League this season, so City obviously didn’t sign him for his services. Whether or not this was the plan when he was released from New York City FC is unknown but it’s a dangerous precedent as it paves the way for other teams to make similar moves to circumvent the rules.
In addition to the City Football Group, which owns Manchester City, New York City FC, and Melbourne City of Australia’s A-League, the Colorado Rapids and Arsenal share an owner in Stan Kroenke and Red Bull owns a stable of clubs that includes the New York Red Bulls. This plan by CFG could convince the other two to make similar moves to avoid seeing a portion of the transfer fee go to the league.
The most obvious problem with this is that it allows these investors to obtain more money than others in the league by selling a player based on his production with the MLS side. Unfortunately for the league, there’s not much it can do to stop these clubs from doing this. So what could the consequences be?
Each investor, commonly called owners, that operates each MLS club is actually investing in the league, which owns the clubs. The league office is responsible for keeping each of these investors happy, which is why it makes some of the compromising decisions it does. If these teams from New York and Colorado are able to sell players in this manner, and keep the entire transfer fee, the remaining owners will not be happy.
As I said, there’s not much MLS can do to stop these teams. It can’t stop the player from signing with any team they want in another country if said player is out of contract, and it can’t tell a club in another country what to do. But that doesn’t mean it won’t have an impact.
The most drastic result could be a dramatic change in how the league operates. While unlikely, the other owners could force the league to relinquish player contracts to each club so they too could receive the entirety of the transfer fee. The club’s ownership would likely then transfer to the investors and the league’s single-entity structure, which is tenuous as is, would fall apart.
If the league does attempt to put a stop to this type of behavior, it’ll likely make up a new rule, which it likes to do. It will probably be along the lines of teams serving some sort of roster penalty for a transfer of this nature.
The most likely outcome is that the league will do nothing. CFG, Red Bull, and Kroenke are three of the wealthiest owners in the league and can generally do pretty much whatever they want. The league is unlikely to battle these influential owners as it sees their investment as vital. That, unfortunately, could see these teams get more in return for players than teams with owners who only own one soccer club.
It’s still unknown what impact this move will have on MLS, and whether Red Bull and Kroenke will follow suit. Or, for that matter, whether players would sign such a contract. But this type of transfer has the potential to have a significant impact on the league, however unlikely. For now, CFG has found a new and interesting way to receive a full transfer fee for a player, which MLS will not be happy about. Soon, we should see how it reacts.