It’s been nearly three years since Los Angeles Football Club was announced as an MLS expansion team, and there’s only a matter of months to go before an actual full first-team squad is constructed.
Fans have been waiting on pins and needles regarding the announcement of a head coach and one, maybe more, big-name player signings, and while the team is still on track — training camp doesn’t start until January, after all — it feels like some of these keystone moves should be right around the corner, any day now.
In recent weeks, transfer rumors linking LAFC to players have increased in number, but two players who seemed like feasible options, in Andres Guardado and Keisuke Honda, have signed elsewhere for new clubs.
Interesting timing, then, as LAFC president Tom Penn spoke to England-based journalist Simon Peach last week and had some very interesting quotes about player signings.
First, Penn acknowledges the timing may or may not prove beneficial for LAFC in 2018, which also happens to be a World Cup year.
“All players at all levels want to come Los Angeles and we feel like we've built a stadium worthy of any player in the world,” Penn was quoted in Peach’s report.
“The question is the correct timing and so we're going to need stars through the cycle of our existence, but we want to win and we want to have an exciting style of play as soon as possible.”
Yep, that all makes sense. Given the ambition of LAFC, they will want to set the bar high with the players they try to sign.
“I think we're interested in any player, any time,” Penn said
“It could be Messi, Ronaldo, you name it. We feel like that player is going to have interest in Los Angeles.
“All these players are under contract, many of these players want to come at different phases of their career and we'll just see what is the right fit and when it's the right fit.”
Well, yeah, ok. Penn goes on to joke about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his “bad knee,” and doesn’t exactly link LAFC explicitly to the Swede, seeing as fellow MLS side LA Galaxy had been in the lead of signing him as of last week.
Taken in context, these quotes seem reasonable enough, except...these quotes are the kind of things that get taken out of context (and were). I could have easily written a headline of “LAFC pursuing Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo” and it wouldn’t have been wrong, exactly.
But the bigger thing here, even with Penn reasonably explaining that Designated Players aren’t something a team signs once and then forgets about, that they are a roster mechanism that must be regularly refreshed, is that he set the bar at Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Is that realistic?
Just last week, I wrote a commentary about the reality of MLS roster rules and the status of MLS in the global game meaning that LAFC isn’t going to have 30 sexy players on the squad next year. If everything goes right, they could have a good squad, but there are bound to be players added that will leave the fanbase less enthused than they were expecting.
Now, Penn is saying literally any player on the planet is a target for LAFC. In other sports, it seems like a snap in comparison. In MLS, even the best big-name players have been deemed too old to play at the best level in Europe (David Villa) or had coaches who did not believe in them in Europe (Sebastian Giovinco).
And while I’ve been hoping for Cristiano Ronaldo to join LAFC since the beginning, I know that’s a tall order and was always likely to be pushed out past 2018 if it ever happens at all. Really, Chicharito has been the highest-profile player to be tangibly connected to LAFC in the transfer market and he’s still a step down from the truly world class group of players right now, and the last report was that Chicharito wanted too much money for LAFC’s tastes. Obviously different players have different price points, but would LAFC be down with Ronaldo or Messi’s salary demands?
All of this is to say that it’s good to be ambitious, but will that ambition wash with the reality? I don’t want to denigrate any player — if he arrives and is good, no matter his name recognition, past track record, or age, then the team did a good job picking him up — but if you’re saying publicly that you’re targeting A+ talent, can you deliver on that? Will reality match the lofty ambitions? As actual, real news starts to come down in the weeks and months ahead, we’ll find out.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!