Gareth Bale's LAFC signing shows how MLS wins over European stars

Gareth Bale’s LAFC signing shows how MLS wins over European stars

Gareth Bale shoots during a World Cup qualifier between Wales and Austria in March. Real Madrid star Bale has agreed a deal with LAFC. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

So, let me get this straight: LAFC help Gareth Bale beat USA?

Once the world’s most expensive football player, Bale has signed a cut-price deal with LAFC as the team can guarantee the Welsh forward the minutes needed to prepare for the World Cup.

Wales’ opponents in their opening group stage match on 21 November: USA

“I asked that he withdraw that game,” LAFC general manager John Thorrington said with a laugh.

Thorrington recalled joking with Bale about the United States-Wales showdown, telling him: “You’re going to peak after. We will set up your periodization so that you are not quite ready for this game.

Except for the potential consequences for the US national team, Bale’s one-year deal has absolutely no downsides for LAFC.

Bale, who turns 33 next month, will receive $1.3million – roughly what he earned in two weeks with his previous side Real Madrid of Spain.

He also won’t count as one of the team’s three designated players, at least not until the team exercises the option to extend his contract for 18 months.

The modest down payment ensures Bale won’t sink LAFC like, say, Giovani dos Santos did the Galaxy or how Xherdan Shaqiri can the Chicago Fire.

The contract structure demonstrates Bale’s commitment to Wales’ first World Cup appearance in 64 years. Thorrington said he heard ‘minutes’ from Bale’s agency after the country qualified for the tournament. Major League Soccer plays matches in the summer, unlike most leagues around the world, for which the period is their offseason.

But the deal also reveals how the United States is perceived by stars based in Europe. Whatever the problems in this country, millionaire footballers want to come here. They party here. They spend their offseasons here. And more than a couple of them are now playing here, including some who still have mileage in their legs.

The aforementioned Shaqiri, who played for Bayern Munich and Liverpool, is 30 years old. He should represent Switzerland at the World Cup.

Lorenzo Insigne warming up before a match between Leicester City and Napoli in England in September.

Lorenzo Insigne warming up before a match between Leicester City and Napoli in England in September. (Rui Vieira/Associated Press)

Lorenzo Insigne, 31 and still one of Italy’s top strikers, will join Toronto FC next month. Former Argentina international Gonzalo Higuain was 32 when he joined Inter Miami.

With each of these high-profile transfers, the stigma associated with MLS has gradually diminished to the point where it would come as no surprise if Lionel Messi ended his career in the league.

Messi remains a world-class player but is now 35 and has just had a nightmarish season with Paris Saint-Germain of the French Ligue 1. Why wouldn’t he move to MLS after the World Cup? He already has an off-season residence in Miami.

LAFC is the latest beneficiary of enhanced MLS status as it will not only add Bale next month but also former Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, who last year won a European Championship with Italy .

Except Thorrington has been shopping the European market in a cost-effective method reminiscent of Andrew Friedman’s Dodgers or Les Snead’s Rams before trade deadlines.

As is the case with Bale, the 37-year-old Chiellini won’t be a Designated Player. Bale and Chiellini will be to LAFC what Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller were to the Rams last year.

Gareth Bale cheers during a UEFA Nations League match between Wales and the Netherlands on June 14

Gareth Bale cheers during a UEFA Nations League match between Wales and the Netherlands on June 14 (Peter Dejong/Associated Press)

With LAFC in first place, Thorrington said he was more concerned with finding players who could fill out the existing roster rather than naming players who could raise the team’s public profile.

“I admit that after the news broke yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the situation,” Thorrington said. “But that wasn’t my goal and that wasn’t our club’s goal and honestly I don’t think that’s Gareth’s goal.”

Thorrington said Bale is expected to play as a centre-forward or on a wing opposite Carlos Vela.

The acquisitions of Bale and Chiellini remain consistent with LAFC’s broader philosophy of devoting a significant portion of its financial resources to young players, particularly from Latin America, who can then be turned around for a profit.

“It doesn’t take anything away from that,” Thorrington said.

One of the team’s Designated Player spots belongs to longtime franchise cornerstone Vela, who just agreed to an extension through the 2024 season. The other is 22-year forward Brian Rodriguez. years old from Uruguay.

The third DP slot previously belonged to Diego Rossi, who has since moved to Fenerbahce in Turkey. Rossi was 19 when he signed with LAFC. Deals with Bale and Chiellini wouldn’t stop the team from handing that position to the next Rossi.

On the contrary, Thorrington argued that the influence of Bale and Chiellini could speed up the development of the team’s young players.

Again, there are no downsides here.

The worst case scenario is that LAFC learns that the reasons for Bale’s bench at Real Madrid were more serious than he imagined, that he is nowhere close to the player for whom the Spanish giants paid a record $106.5 million in 2013.

But, hey, at least the United States will know that the main threat of their first World Cup opponent is dismissed.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.