Gareth Bale on LAFC shows how U.S. is attracting European stars

So, let me get this straight: LAFC helping Gareth Bale bring down the United States?

Once the world’s most expensive footballer, Bale has signed a cheap deal with LAFC because the team can guarantee the Welsh attacker the minutes he needs to prepare for the World Cup.

Wales’ opponents in the group stage opener on 21 November: the USA

“I asked him to sit that game out,” said LAFC general manager John Thorrington, laughing.

Thorrington recalled teasing Bale about the USA-Wales showdown by telling him: ‘You’re going to peak after that. We’re going to set up your periodization so you’re not quite ready for this game.”

Aside from the possible ramifications for the US national team, the one-year deal with the colorful Bale has absolutely no disadvantages for LAFC.

Bale, who turns 33 next month, will be paid $1.3 million – or about what he made in two weeks from his previous team Real Madrid of Spain.

He’s also not one of the team’s three designated players, at least until the team makes use of the option to extend his contract by 18 months.

The modest deposit ensures Bale won’t sink LAFC like Giovani dos Santos did with the Galaxy, for example, or like Xherdan Shaqiri can do the Chicago Fire.

The structure of the contract speaks to Bale’s commitment to Wales’ first World Cup appearance in 64 years. Thorrington said he heard from Bale’s agency “minutes” after the country qualified for the tournament. Major League Soccer plays in the summer, unlike most leagues around the world for which this period is their off-season.

But the deal also shows how the US is viewed by Europe-based stars. Whatever problems this country has, football players worth millions want to come here. They’re partying here. This is where they spend their off-season. And more than a few of them are playing here now, including some who still have miles in their legs.

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

Lorenzo Insigne warms up ahead of a game between Leicester City and Napoli in England in September.

Lorenzo Insigne warms up ahead of a game between Leicester City and Napoli in England in September.

(Rui Vieira / Associated Press)

Lorenzo Insigne, who is 31 and still one of Italy’s best forwards, 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 stigmas associated with MLS have gradually receded to the point where it would no longer be a surprise if Lionel Messi ended his career in the league.

Messi remains a world-class player but he’s 35 now and has just had a nightmare season with Paris Saint-Germain in France’s Ligue 1. Why shouldn’t he move to MLS after the World Cup? He already has an off-season residency in Miami.

LAFC are the latest beneficiaries of MLS’s improved status as next month they are set to add not only Bale but also former Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, who won a European Championship with Italy last year.

Except that Thorrington has been buying into the European market in a cost-effective manner reminiscent of Andrew Friedman’s Dodgers or Les Sneads Rams before the close.

As with Bale, Chiellini, 37, will not 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 celebrates during a UEFA Nations League match between Wales and the Netherlands June 14

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

(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)

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

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

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

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

“That doesn’t change 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 Brian Rodriguez, a 22-year-old attacker from Uruguay.

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

If anything, Thorrington argued that the influence of Bale and Chiellini could accelerate the development of the team’s young players.

Again, there is no downside.

The worst-case scenario is LAFC learning the reasons behind Bale’s move to Real Madrid from the bench were more serious than previously thought, he’s nowhere near the player the Spanish giants paid a then-record $106.5m for in 2013 to have.

But, hey, at least the US knows the main threat from their first World Cup opponent has been washed away. Gareth Bale on LAFC shows how U.S. is attracting European stars

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