The great Rivaldo, World Cup and Champions League winner, European and World Player of the Year, has just signed for Sao Paolo…and he’s 38!!
It brought to mind the two most prominent retirement communities in the world, both conveniently located in the Western Hemisphere. Both Major League Soccer and Brazil have become a haven for the aging talents of European football who wish to continue playing on some level – a level that caters more to their diminishing abilities. Enter America and Brazil, which can provide such an enclave for these players, although the latter has far more history and success than the 17-year-old MLS. So how do they compare?
Looking at Major League Soccer first, their “designated player” status limits the amount of superstars who can join the various clubs, although an increased quota has enabled many more to reach our shores. At the moment there are 14 such players, 9 of whom make an annual salary of over $1 million. The league average was $138,169 in 2010, a drop of 6.6%. Of the 14, only 4 are under 30 and 3 are over 35. Average age = 31. For many, like Beckham, Henry, Marquez, Angel, Nkufo, and Mista, this is the end of the road.
Over in Brazil, a similar pattern has emerged in recent years as one generation nears its conclusion. The Brazilian Campeonato operates like every other league with no limits on wages or transfer fees. Nor on age, which makes the Brazilian retirement community far more dependent on social security than its counterpart up north. Fat Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Deco, and Belletti are but a few who have all moved home to finish their careers. They boast an average age of 34 years old, yet command average yearly salaries of $6.1 million. In fact, 2009 saw a return of 707 Brazilian players to their home soil, more than double the number in 2006.
The question is, which retirement community benefits its domestic league more? And which one is simply a place to rot? In Brazil, revenue of the 20 top-tier teams rose 12% to $1.13 billion in 2009 on more television rights income, a result of the clubs’ ability to sell their product with a big name player. MLS only began selling TV rights for profit in 2007, and will receive a much smaller sum than the above. However, total attendance in 2010 was the highest since 2007 and third highest in league history. 5 of the top 8 clubs in 2010 attendance contained a designated player. Clearly, the old farts have made a difference.
In terms of scale, it’s unfair to compare the two leagues. And while some complain that MLS is nothing more than a place for superstars to put their feet up and relax, you cannot ignore the significant impact it has made. Like it or not, these guys still fill the stadiums whether in Toronto or Sao Paolo or Salt Lake City or Rio. They just need walkers and wheelchairs to get there.