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Butler: MLS no longer world soccer's distant, poor cousin

Noel Butler
5/3/2013 4:59:35 PM
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Just ahead of last season's MLS Cup when David Beckham whispered into Tim Leiweke's ear that he would not return in 2013, the league has been in need of a game changer.

If credible reports which surfaced this week and straddle both sides of the Atlantic are to be believed, that game changer doesn't arrive in the guise of Kaka and Lampard.

Instead, something of a far longer shelf life and significance and one which will attach at the hip forever more the birthplace of modern football with world football's future and its most strategically important marketplace.

One that would not only allow MLS to push on from a reliance on Becks but in the fullness of time would clearly indicate the world's seventh most important soccer market had not come close to the plateau directly caused by the Beckham effect.

Moreover, it will be proof positive MLS's ultimate summit includes some of the most rarified football oxygen one normally associates with the likes of a Ronaldo swapping Sir Alex for the Santiago Barnebeau.

According to some, we're just weeks away from official confirmation that the 2012 Barclays Premiership Champions, a club founded in a pub back in 1880 are committed to invest upwards of half a billion dollars to the MLS cause.

Manchester City owner Sheik Mansour appears most willing to not only meet the mandated demand of a $100m expansion fee but get this -  is fully committed to supply upwards of $400m to meet the capital investment cost of constructing a stadium that will be located a home run away from Yankee Stadium.

This is not so much a movement of the goal posts but more a case of changing the entire future landscape of North American soccer.

However before you get any ideas of Roberto Mancini turning up to the 2016 MLS Draft or the 2012 BPL Champions not protecting the likes of Sergio Aguero or Yaya Toure and well before we lay witness to Ricky Hatton's Vegas like scenes of travelling legions of Man City fans resurfacing in places like Colorado and Salt Lake, this is far from a done deal.

As talks and negotiations reach a pivotal phase the two main players have poured the very cold water of silence on the hottest thing that could ever happen to Major League Soccer. Neither MLS President Mark Abbott nor MCFC CEO Ferran Soriano was available for comment yesterday.

A spokesperson for Manchester City informing TSN.ca the club does not respond or comment on speculation surrounding their ownership group.

Executive VP Dan Courtemanche whilst willing to reinforce MLS's desire for a second New York based team confirmed the vitally essential aspect of ownership was not even in place.

Courtemanche explained via email to TSN.ca earlier today. "Major League Soccer is committed to securing a 20th team for the League that would be located in New York City. While we are making progress on the New York expansion team, we have not finalized the ownership agreement."

When pressed to reveal who the league was in discussions with or to even confirm Manchester City's involvement, Courtemanche deadpanned, "Our discussions with potential ownership groups remain private."
As an aside to this, last December, Bloomberg reported that once granted the franchise Manchester City was willing to offer minority stakes to local investors. Additionally, David Beckham had been approached regarding a role with the new franchise.

Putting meat on those particular potatoes, Beckham is the proud owner of a piece of MLS headed notepaper that grants him an ownership stake in a yet to be determined MLS club.

All we do know is what Beckham himself revealed exactly a year ago. In that he had previously met and held discussions with Impact founding partner Joey Saputo.

Doesn't quite add up the Manchester United legend would jump ship to their vastly wealthier noisy neighbour. But as we are well aware stranger things have happened away from the football pitch.

What cannot be over-stated is that at play here is much more than MLS having a league that comprises the exact same number of clubs we have in the likes of Italy, Spain and England.

This involves political and sporting influence which will have touch points within the halls and corridors of the most powerful.

Not only will MLS and MCFC need New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's signature - let's throw in the ferocious and growing local grass roots opposition which has sprung up and is diametrically opposed to 'giving away' very scarce and highly valuable park space in Queens.

A park that already has as a tenant the sparkling new home of the USTA and is the venue of 1 of world sport's premium annual events. 

Ladies and Gentlemen we have entered into the myriad and complicated world of a PR war which could confine the long run shenanigans associated with FIFA to the school playground.

Just on Wednesday the UK Independent noted vehement opposition for the stadium from a local Queens based grassroots organisation, Make the Road New York. Who maintain 'the park is the city's lungs' whilst questioning why their land should be 'given away to an oil tycoon'.

A local councillor has questioned the UAE's Human Rights record and touched on the most sensitive issue of how they still to this day view gays and lesbians as criminals and where in some cases their so called crimes can be punishable by death.

The sands of time may also run out on a MLS and MCFC marriage. Mayor Bloomberg a supporter of the project is in the final months of his term.

However the always optimistic leaning MLS are betting all approvals and permissions required will be granted to ensure New York City FC is in place for a 2016 Kick-Off.

Long before that comes the official announcement.

The smart money currently is on some time later this month. Not any random day mind you. It will come on European football's equivalent of a royal marriage. This year set for London on May 25th

Just as Wembley Stadium opens its doors to welcome the cream of European football don't be shocked if UEFA dignitaries appear a little distracted.

Their attention may well be focused on another stadium thousands of miles away and one that has only ever staged previously a pair of football matches.

When on the very same day Bayern and Borussia battle it out for 2013 European supremacy Yankee Stadium will play host to world football's jet set as the 2012 BPL Champions and the 2012 European Champions take to the very plush Yankees lawn.

All be it with certain conditions attached, come the announcement in one New York minute MLS's axis will be launched into a new orbit.

One that nobody could have imagined possible, when less than 20 years ago a brash young lawyer who goes by the name of Mark Abbott was hobbling together MLS's constitution.

Whilst with his cap doffed, Abbot travelled the width and breadth of the US and Canada pleading for investors.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca

@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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