The Mysterious Case of BarcaMiami

A few weeks back, in this very space, I allowed as to how it seemed to me that having a big foreign club like Barcelona become a member of MLS carried with it more problems than it was worth.

Virtually alone in the sea of "...and having Barcelona in MLS will of course give the league a tremendous boost" happy talk from every soccer writer in the country (not one of whom ever bothered to explain exactly what it was that having someone's farm club in our purportedly "Major" league did besides stamp "MINOR LEAGUE" across our collective forehead; everyone seemed to feel that these wonderful benefits were so self-evident, so glaringly obvious, that it wasn't necessary to spell them out) I pointed out that, among other things, a foreign outfit with no real vested interest in the long term success of MLS could pack up and leave any time a Board of Directors 5000 miles away decided they were tired of the thing.

For expressing this particular viewpoint I was roundly and furiously castigated by a goodly number of prospective Miami fans who explained to me, sometimes using words that I'll wager they never use in front of their Mothers, that such a thing was impossible.

Yet here we are on Day Two AB (after BarcaMiami) and it looks a lot like Barcelona didn't even wait for the deal to go a little sour before bailing out; they bailed out before it ever even began.

What's even more interesting is that, as their recent non-partner Marcelo Claure is now explaining, Barca wasn't planning on being an equal partner or even a minority investor. Rather, they intended all along to be a NON investor, limiting their involvement to "technical expertise, players, coaches and professional services".

Claure was supposed to come up with the 40 mil all by himself.

So Barca claiming that they didn't want to spend the money right now is a pretty hollow excuse. If all they had over here was some people, then whenever they felt the thing wasn't working out all it would have cost them to get out was a handful of plane tickets. Surely they would have had other places to stick the two or three coaches involved, and the players would have been under contract to MLS, not them. Shoot, they could even skip out on their office space rent; let's see some landlord try to collect on a broken lease suit in Spain.

The stadium lease? It was being offered rent free. Don't even have to pack up a U Haul at 3AM and drive out of the lot with your lights off to beat that one. Just stop by and drop off the key. If anyone was going to be in trouble on any of this it was going to be Claure.

Which brings us to an interview spotted by Soccerlens yesterday. It's a fascinating after-the-fact explanation offered by the guy who - incredibly, since it was going to be his money - seems to have been the last to know what was going on.

His main thesis? IT'S ALL DAVID BECKHAM'S FAULT. (We should have guessed, right?).

“The economic picture changes if David Beckham does not return to MLS” he announced, seemingly ignoring the fact that apparently Beckham WILL return to MLS.

But even if he didn't, was he really leveraging $40 million on one player? A player who wasn't ever going to play for him? A player who might not ever even appear in his building and if he did it would be maybe once or twice? Did he think that David Beckham was going to play in MLS - or anywhere else - for the next twenty years?

It's baffling.

“We wanted to form an Ibero-American team, with players from Bolivia, Spain, Columbia, Venezuela, etc.,” Claure said yesterday.

“To succeed in Miami, you need to form a team including Latino players, reflected in the fans, and obviously the team should have a Spanish touch with players from Spain and, of course, players from the USA. ”

So he's saying that he and Barca intended to market a team to Latinos in Florida but they cn't do that now because an aging English midfielder is leaving Los Angeles? And now that said British middie isn't going to be around much, Latino fans in Miami won't buy tickets to see BarcaUSA?

"Hey Ramon, what say we go check out BarcaMiami playing the Fire this Saturday?"

"Nah, no thanks; since David Beckham won't be playing for the galaxy in Denver today I'm just not interested in soccer in Miami"

Am I missing something?

(And even the normally sober Soccerlens can't resist adding "Barca is poised to bring international style and dimension to U.S. soccer". That's a wonderful sounding phrase, like, say, "The audacity of hope". But it's equally impossible to actually explain what it means.)

Claure continues to submit entires in the Non Sequiter Derby with this puzzzling statement:

“MLS needs to analyze what would be the benefit to Barcelona of Spain in the league,”

I'm not all that sure that the "benefit to Barcelona" is what Don Garber is paid to concern himself with, Marcelo.

“The project, in general, was seen as something positive, but by analyzing in detail, the situation changes. In this case the league, because Beckham represents economic figures, should consider what it can mean to have an institution like Barca to MLS – there is a big difference with a player.”

Now I'm certain this loses something in the translation - maybe a LOT - but again, he seems to be saying that David Beckham playing in Milan makes soccer unappealing to Latinos in Miami.

What's even more interesting is that last week when Barcelona started hinting that their dedication to this project was somewhat less than total, Claure told reporters that there was really no problem, that it would all be ironed out.

Interestingly, Commissioner Garber, in a creative piece of expense account leveraging that most corporate employees know very well, "happened" to be vacationing in Spain and ended up - shockingly - holding meeting with the Barca board while Claure sat around Miami telling everyone that there was no problem.

Then he flew to Barcelona on Tuesday to "make sure everything is going as planned" and 24 hours later Barca pulls the plug.

At this point, Miami reporters are CLUELESSLY CLAIMING THAT IT'S ALL MLS' FAULT, that it was Garber who pulled the plug because of the iffiness of the Miami market or - in an alternative theory helpfully provided in the same piece - that because we're in TTET that Barca wanted a discount off the $40 million and MLS refused, thus proving what a dope Garber is.

There's not a shred of evidence for any of this, but why let a lack of facts get in the way of taking your anti-Miami paranoia out for a stroll around the block?

So we have Barcelona saying that the problem was TTET, Claure saying it was Beckham, Garber claiming that Barcelona's "commitment to MLS is as strong as ever" (thanks for that, Don) and the rest of us trying to parse out the truth.

My personal opinion - for however much that's worth - is that Barcelona discovered that they couldn't do any of the stuff they wanted to do:

They couldn't simply ship in players, all players have to be owned by MLS. I don't think they ever believed that this was going to apply to them.

They couldn't sell Barcelona gear becuase MLS is an All-adidas league and there was no chance of Nike giving them a pass.

They couldn't run around establishing academies and signing the kids to contracts without USSF and MLS. The rules don't let MLS teams establish youth academies anywhere but their home territory, and they only let you sign one kid every couple of years.

I honestly believe that they either - incredible as it may sound - didn't really understand the rules or they thought MLS was so enamored of the idea of having them around that the rules wouldn't apply to them.

So when the board sat down and had to make a final commitment, and they realized that MLS had all these funky rules, they couldn't see how anything they did here would make them a single dollar. Their US operations weren't going to be any more profitable than Dallas' or RSL's, and that's not what they were coming for.

Which brings us back to my original thesis: bringing in organizations with ulterior motives - like, for example, pimping MLS so they can tap into the US market on the cheap - is a lousy idea.

As for Claure, I never understood why he felt he needed Barcelona in order to swing this deal, but he thought he did and now he's scrambling for an excuse - Beckham? please - to cover his retreat.

And of course Miami is blaming MLS and Don Garber for it all. Just like they're doing in Montreal.

Like I said about Joey Saputo, nothing about Claure reminds you of Lamar Hunt, a man with vision and guts who wanted to build teams and leagues, not just go with the safe bets.

I'm truly sorry for Miami, and even sorrier about the fact that the entire Southeast US will continue to be without an MLS presence for the foreseeable future, but this was always a bad deal and the ease with which it sell apart at the seams only proves the point.