Orlando City winger Nani has said that he expects to see Cristiano Ronaldo in MLS. The Juventus star would represent an entirely different stratosphere from previous stars in the league.
Major League Soccer has always wanted to sign the biggest names. From its very conception, signing older players who could attract fans, even if they were well past their primes, was a key approach of many of the teams in the league — and the league itself encouraged such a recruitment approach.
More recently, the DP rule, which was crafted upon David Beckham’s arrival at the Los Angeles Galaxy, is designed such that teams can break their salary caps to sign the high-profile stars that help put the league on the global soccer map, something that its own quality and competitiveness cannot currently do.
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Even in the new, high-investment make-up of the league in which teams have turned to younger players who they can then sell on for a greater mark-up, acting in a more business-like and modern manner, there has still been a place for the big-name European star. Orlando City signed Nani last offseason, Carlos Vela might be younger but he is an ex-European player, while Javier Hernandez replaced Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the Galaxy, Alejandro Pozuelo and Pablo Piatti both arrived in Toronto from Europe, and there have been consistent links with several of Europe’s leading stars like Edinson Cavani and Antoine Griezmann.
However, while all of these are major names who attract local fans and demand global at least some global attention, all, past and present, pale in comparison to the second-best player in world football of the last decade. Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo could one day arrive in MLS.
The suggestion was made by Nani, his former Manchester United and Portuguese teammate, who made the American switch last winter. Speaking to ESPN, Nani revealed that Ronaldo said he expects to one day ‘end up in America’:
“A couple of years ago, he told me that he will probably end up in America. It’s not 100% but probably. There is a chance.”
Whether Ronaldo does indeed end up MLS, no one really knows at this stage. He is still performing at a rather high level at Juventus and he likely has intentions of competing for titles and European trophies for a while yet. But if and when he does arrive in the league, he enters a different stratosphere from any player that has ever stepped foot before him, including Beckham or Hernandez.
Ronaldo is a multi-Ballon D’Or winner, a European champion, an instantly recognisable character and player. He carries an aura and presence that few other people in the world do, nevermind just sportspeople or footballers. Ronaldo stands head and shoulders, sometimes quite literally, clear of every other player in the league.
Normally, teams are criticised for signing ageing European stars in a league that has evolved over time and moved pass such a recruitment approach. However, Ronaldo is an utter exception. He is other-worldly, and that makes a difference.