Sepp to MLS: 'You Stink'

In an interview with Al Jazeera over the weekend, FIFA Grand Poobah for Life Sepp Blatter took an astonishing whack our our own beloved Major League Soccer and expressed disappointment over the fact that, despite "18 years" of trying, MLS has not displaced the NFL or NBA in the hearts and minds of American sports fans.

While comparing the progress of soccer in the US with what's happening in China, Blatter told the reporter "In China definitely we have no problem for the future of football..." but

"The problem in the United States is a little bit different. Don't forget, soccer, as they call football there, is the most popular game in the youth...

"But there is no very strong professional league, they have just the MLS but they have not professional leagues which are recognized by the American society.

"It is a question of time, I thought...when we had the World Cup in 1994, but it is now 18 years it should have been done now. But they are still struggling."

Now we all know that Blatter is the next best thing to a complete imbecile, and it's usually a bad idea to take anything he says seriously, but this is remarkable stuff, even for him.

Leaving aside the fact that having the head of world football basically calling MLS a failure is not likely to help the league much credibility-wise - either here or abroad - it's also pretty much untrue, making it both stupid AND potentially harmful.

Since parsing Blatter for truth is a waste of life I'll only mention in passing that soccer ('as we call football here') is actually third in youth participation in the US after basketball and baseball (and would be fourth except that a substantial number of parents refuse to let their sons play American style football until they're in their teens).

I'm also not going to waste your time running down the list of stuff like attendance, number of teams, number of stadiums, TV contracts, sponsors, team valuation and all of the rest of the evidence which disproves his contention.

Neither would I suggest that MLS is a massive top-tier world class football league, and I know of no one who would suggest otherwise. It's a work in progress, make no mistake.

And I will only mention in passing the fact that the league started up in 1996, so it's really been 16 years, not 18; the fact is that in 1994 there was only the roughest outline of a plan for a league in place. It didn't have a name, an office, a logo or employees, let alone teams, players, locations, stadiums or owners.

Furthermore, if he had the first clue back then he would have known what the attendance numbers were for the previous professional soccer league in the US, which is surely relevant given the fact that everyone wants to assure me that MLS is practically the same damned league and if I say otherwise I need to be soundly beaten.

(Unlike Sepp, you can have actual information rather than fever dreams on this topic by paying a visit to the indispensable Kenn Tomasch who, when he's not saying mean things about me has one of the most useful websites in the soccersphere.)

It's worth noting that in 1994, when Blatter was envisioning the glorious future of soccer in the US, the NASL had been gone for barely ten years. And since this is the year when MLS finally matched the NASL's 16 year lifespan, we're not comparing apples and bowling balls here.

Perhaps Sepp would like to examine the gradual building process which leagues like the NBA - a stone cold loser in the 1950's which was in a whole lot of trouble as recently as the 1980's when Magic and Larry made it relevant - took to achieve their present position.

Or the NFL, for another example, which sucked baseball's tailpipe for decades until the 1960's when Pete Rozelle invented printing money.

"Struggling" doesn't begin to cover where those leagues - or pretty much any professional league you can name - went through to get where they are today, and that includes the big fat football-playing piles of revenue which we know and love in Europe today.

Of course we all know Sepp's solution to the problem, which is "conforming to the international calendar" which as far as I can see would do exactly jack squat about making soccer more popular in the US. What it would do is make it easier for FIFA's federations to suck up the players who they do nothing to develop and use them to make big fat piles of money for Sepp's cronies to steal, but the effect on MLS revenues would be marginal at best and could actually hurt (Don Garber certainly thinks so, and, well, he's kind of knowledgeable in the area), but that's an argument for another day.

What I do know for a fact is that if Sepp's not going to help - and to be fair, it was Sepp who orchestrated the coup which gutted Werner Fricker like a boated carp and handed the USSF over to Alan Rothenberg, without whom it's difficult to imagine much of any of what has happened since ever happening - by making lovely public noises about how pleased he is to see MLS growing and prospering and really taking hold in North America and how much he looks forward to its continued growth and progress and how excited he is about the future and blah, blah, blah then he ought to just shut the hell up.