Sepp Blatter made some news last week with some intemperate remarks.
Oh come on, don't act so shocked -- by which I mean could you please act a little shocked?
The man who has said dumb things about racism, homophobia and the English struck again. On the latter, he's not necessarily always totally wrong, but almost universally intemperate. (I slung that in just to get an argument going really.)
This time his target was Major League Soccer and his remarks seemed a little gratuitous in the context of his interview.
Speaking to Marwan Bishara on Al Jazeera, he was talking about the growth of soccer in China and the USA as part of a discussion about the sport's worldwide growth.
He started by praising the Chinese:
In China, definitely. We have no problems for the future of football. It's only a question of organization. And in China, you know, the organizational system, it is not so easy.
"No problems for the future of football in China?"
I guess it's easy to plan the rise of the game centrally when the authorities control the media, transport, commerce and can suffocate any opposition using any repressive measures they so choose.
Need land for a stadium? Just take it from the people who live there and send them elsewhere by force. That's not a problem in China.
Sadly we already know from the deliveries of World Cup Finals to Russia and Qatar that Blatter has effectively divorced football from the advancement of human rights. Rather than be a force for good, he simply wants FIFA to be a force.
That rant can keep for another Huffington Post blog, which I promise is coming.
Regarding soccer's strides in the United States, the FIFA President continued:
The problem in the United States is a little bit different. But don't forget that soccer -- as they call football there -- is the most popular game in the youth. It's not American football or baseball; it is soccer. But there is no very strong professional league. They have just the MLS. But they have not these professional leagues that are recognized by the American society.
MLS was not amused.
Commissioner Don Garber invited Sepp Blatter to come and see for himself.
However, much as I am normally a stout defender of MLS, I'm not taking this latest blast personally. Let's see if we can at least find some merit in Blatter's remarks.
There are two outstanding quotes there that deserve scrutiny.
Firstly he claims there is no 'strong professional league.' I would challenge this assertion whether you deem his remarks to mean outside of MLS or MLS itself.
We have 19 teams, each to varying degrees financially viable. Due to the salary cap, each has its payroll well within its income. A new club seems to build and finance its own stadium every year or so. Those stadia are being filled. Attendance figures are rising. NBC have come calling.
We have had five different winners of the MLS Cup in the last six years, and unlike Mr. Blatter's biggest leagues, our regular season table at least seems open for the cool and the uncool to win; with many apologies to Frank Yallop who is incredibly cool in a personal capacity.
Outside Major League Soccer, some of those smaller markets seem to have decent enough sides when US Open Cup comes around.
Unlike Mr. Blatter, I've been at a few PDL games and would say that the standard is not far off third and fourth divisions in some of Europe's smaller countries.
As anecdotal and by no means conclusive proof, I make Mr David Gray my "Exhibit A."
Having played for the Kitsap Pumas in the PDL, he surfaced in the Scottish Third Division at Montrose where he actually played, and scored, in a league match against Glasgow Rangers just a few weeks ago.
I asked Gray to measure the relative strengths of the lower tiers:
The PDL turned out to be a far better standard than I thought it would before I arrived. It's not far off what I am seeing in the Scottish Third Division to be honest. There's definitely a decent, and more importantly I think, improving standard in the USA outside MLS," he observed.
If Blatter thinks all those factors are not indicative of a strong league and merit a verbal blast to that effect, then I cannot imagine what words he would use to describe the tiresome monotony of Scottish football with its guessable outcomes and insolvent teams; the racism-rife terraces in Russia with clubs owned by those of questionable means and resources, and the bribery plagued Italian league whose results can be even more predictable than 'guessable' and who have a racism problem that forces players to walk off the pitch.
By almost any criteria one might care to measure the strength of a league, MLS is strong and vibrant.
If you have a definition of those words higher than my definitions, that is fair enough, but then you'll have to admit that there are very few 'strong and vibrant leagues' anywhere outside England, Germany, France and Spain.
I'm sorry Sepp, but you get five cuckoo clocks on the Chuescheissemeter for that one. (Props to any Supporters Group who get that into a chant this year.)
However, I don't want to necessarily align myself to the knee jerk reaction of any outside criticism of MLS, often practiced by the most loyal defenders of our league although I have to admit I do admire them for their tenacity.
Blatter's second thought that we do not have 'professional leagues that are recognized by the American society' merits mature and serene reflection.
If it does not, then it is going to get an inappropriate amount of serenity and maturity in Part 2 of this article, where I also hope to look at some of your thoughts on Blatter's words should you be kind enough to post comments.
PS I had a great article drafted in late December at the increasing gap between top and bottom in the EPL and why it was not good for English football. Thanks to Harry Redknapp, Shaun Wright -- Phillips and Adel Taraabt, it will not now be appearing. Well done QPR.
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