So Major League Soccer did a volte-face this week on training compensation and solidarity payments. With the fervor of a convert, or of a lottery winner reconsidering the validity of the income tax, MLS has announced that of course they will comply with FIFA regulations regarding youth transfer ransom notes.
I'm deliberately conflating the two, rather than conflating the two out of complete ignorance, to save time. Training compensation is the idea that Justin Bieber's vocal coach should get a piece of future earnings. Solidarity payments are negotiating with terrorists.
The idea that young players are more likely to come from some big-hearted neighborhood club from the 1880's, as opposed to culled from the herd of a quasi-national corporation's factory farm, is quaint beyond tolerance. FIFA put in these rules to keep clubs' ongoing financial interests in players after their contracts are up. The only thing more reprehensible, at least in the post-Bosman era, would be, I don't know, charging players to attend academies as youths while staking a claim on their future professional earnings.
One of the side effects of MLS' reversal on these policies, in fact, may be to cut American pay-to-play academies off at the ankles, denying their legitimacy in the eyes of FIFA. Which I'm totally fine with, but all MLS is doing in this case is making sure the birds wetting their beaks are from their own nests.
As of this writing, the MLS Players Association is still opposing these payments, on the grounds that they inhibit future opportunities for their members. And if that isn't enough for you, well, what and who are you cheering for? As of the next writing, of course, the MLS Players Association will have bargained this away in exchange for free agency for all players with exactly nineteen years and seventeen days' service whose middle names end with "x."
As is the case with all of Major League Soccer rule changes, we can thank the Galaxy for this one. The Galaxy lost two prospects from their academy to Europe, and Dennis te Kloese, the Galaxy general manager, complained about it to Sam Stejskal.
[Te Kloese] did speak at length about the fact that the Galaxy lost both Mendez and Llanez for free. He made it clear that he feels losing talented players for nothing is a major issue, but he put the onus on clubs to create youth environments and make decisions so that they’re not in that position.
“I think it’s obviously a problem. If you look at it from another perspective, for example an ownership perspective or a club perspective, you invested a lot of resources into producing players and then they can just go somewhere without even saying thank you, I think, first, I think that’s not right,” he said. “But, second of all, I think we need to be aware of what our situations are, who the talented players are and be very active on that end. We need to provide the best opportunities so that everybody would think twice on leaving here, and actually the players that would leave here are the players that wouldn’t have an opportunity. I think that is something that is a challenge for us, and I think that is something that we need to live up to.”
Te Kloese rescued himself with his second thought, because that part was absolutely right. If you have an academy player, and can't convince that player he (or she, hopefully, someday) has a future with that club? What the hell were you doing? Sadly, MLS decided to act on his first thought.
As far as the idea that a club is owed something for "investing resources," well, that's basically the plot of Svengali and "Don't You Want Me, Baby?" And you're not really supposed to sympathize with the mentor in either case. FIFA is an organization – well, more precisely, an organization of organizations - where clubs have power and players don't. There's a reason it took a European court to get players a semblance of free agency in EU nations. If it were up to FIFA, the reserve clause would be universal and permanent.
Besides, it's amusing when a player chooses to leave a club for a better deal. Especially when the player does so exactly at age eighteen. Dealing with grownups is a different tree full of fish, huh, Dennis?
There's a non-trivial chance that MLS announced their intention to comply with these statutes literally because of Uly Llanez and Alex Mendez, and literally to get back at their youth coach and agent.
Unlike many youth coaches and young player agents, the two men involved in this case have cultivated a public profile together. Meet Brian and Gary Kleiban.
These are the views from people on the inside who many times will throw political correctness out the window. You want a “behind the scenes” education? Hopefully you can stomach it.
Brian Kleiban (Head Coach)
The target is to develop quality players for the professional game. And the models used are that of the best players and teams in the world. There is no intention of forming the next Omar Gonzalez or Connor [sic] Casey: that is failure!
But what about college? From a pure soccer perspective, we view that as the consolation prize.
Gary Kleiban (Main Author & Assistant Coach)
Although my brother’s reputation for player development and winning precedes him, coaching a couple teams a season there’s only so many players and people that can be helped directly.
I want to grow that number by spreading the formula for success.
What we say is very forward and many times controversial.
Few will love us, most will hate us. But my promise to you is brutal honesty.
Spoiler alert – the promise of brutal honesty was not kept.
The Kleibans' now-moribund blog, among other things, tracks their history with Efrain Alvarez, Alex Mendez, Uly Llanez, Ben Lederman, John Hilton, and others.
Now…before we go any further. Two things.
First. Youth soccer creeps me the hell out. Dan LeBatard's expression is "hope trafficking," and that to me sums up all of youth athletics. Preteens are hyped up as future can't miss superstars by coaches and clubs. This was unconscionable before anyone heard of Freddy Adu, but that hasn't stopped people from pumping the hype organ on every baby Jesus that falls out of the manger. It's "Toddlers in Tiaras" on cleats, and it makes my skin crawl.
And two. I have despised the Kleibans, Gary in particular, for a while. Here are a few reasons why.
As you can see, Gary Kleiban is a simpleton. And It wasn't like I was silent about Gary Kleiban, but people insisted there was a separation between Gary the carnival barker and Brian the coach. In retrospect, I should have trusted their own words, stupid as they were.
Brian Kleiban was a respected youth coach, until last week. Brian's reputation seems based on relentless self-promotion, his willingness to sit down for credulous interviewers, and the confusion between FC Barcelona (the one in Spain) and Barcelona USA (the pay-to-play academy in Los Angeles now known as Total Futbol Academy). When going back over old online articles, and now-archived websites, it's interesting to note how often the unofficial nature of Barcelona USA was ignored, and how often the club was referred to as "FC Barcelona Academy." Brian parlayed this success – kids wearing costumes beating other kids wearing costumes – to a coaching position at Chivas USA. A fake Barcelona coach working for a fake Chivas was a match made in heaven.
Gary Kleiban, meanwhile, cheerfully used his platform to bring attention to his academy's players. Gary had an unfortunate habit of touting his club players as can't miss future stars.
(John Hilton turns 18 in June. We'll see where, or if, he signs a pro contract with anyone.)
When Brian Kleiban was hired by the Galaxy, I e-mailed Peter Vagenas, then the Galaxy general manager, and asked if he had any concerns about any of this. Vagenas did not write back. I took that to mean that my personal dislike of the Kleibans was clouding my judgment, and I dropped the whole thing.
I mean, what were they going to do – insinuate themselves as agents and try to get a piece of their future earnings just in time for their professional careers? Trade in sterling reputations as controversial youth soccer gurus, in exchange for the label of hypocrites, parasites and idiots?
Was that really so bad, though? Well, yes, of course, you can't allow this sort of thing, there would be loopholes you could sail an aircraft carrier through if you allowed family members of club employees to act as agents. Since coaches are in charge of things like playing time, it's easy to see how one might be tempted to intimidate a prospect into signing with representation the coach had interest in.
But even though the way they went about it was sleazy…really, really sleazy…it was possible to make a case that the Kleibans were acting for a greater good. After all, it's a fact that Brian and Gary's "claim" on Llanez and Mendez is much better than the Galaxy. The Kleibans cultivated with their players over a period of several years.
Was it suspicious in retrospect that the Kleibans kept taking coaching jobs with increasingly older age groups to match up with the core group they had at Barcelona USA? Am I actually saying that the Kleibans planned all along to find a player or two that could hit it big, and latch onto them for their own personal gain?
Partner up with Gary Kleiban and Danny Lederman, everyone!
But hey, as long as everyone involved gets to dive into Mr. McDuck's pool, why not let the Kleibans do the side hustle?
Just the fact that they stink at figuring out what's actually best for their clients.
MLSSoccer.com’s Sam Stejskal reported Wednesday that the club had parted ways with under-19 coach Brian Kleiban. The move has been inevitable since two prized Galaxy products, U.S. U-20 national team standouts Ulysses Llanez and Alex Mendez, spurned contract offers from the senior team to sign developmental deals with German clubs. The players are represented by Kleiban’s brother.
The only question is why it didn’t happen sooner. Rumors of Kleiban’s impending ouster have been circulating for months. “He’s a good coach,” was the response I got from multiple sources when I asked, as far back as late last year, why the Galaxy hadn’t yet pulled the trigger. Now that the move has been made, here’s a little more context to the story:
Had the deals Llanez and Mendez received in Germany been comparable to the contracts signed by fellow Americans Weston McKennie or Josh Sargent, the Galaxy probably wouldn’t have had a major beef. But multiple sources told me independently that Llanez and Mendez are making peanuts with Wolfsburg and Freiburg, respectively, about 1,000 euros a month. My understanding is that’s less that the Galaxy offered them to stay. Makes you wonder what kind of advice they were getting. (Kleiban did not respond to a request for comment.)
If one truly believes that in the soccer world college is a failure, MLS is a failure, and even Mexico is not Europe, then Brian and Gary could hold the sincere belief that it is better to serve in hell than rule in heaven. What they should not do, however, is cost their clients money and opportunities.
Let's say you're a young player and you want to get noticed. The Galaxy, in recent years, have signed David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Gio and Jona Dos Santos, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Meanwhile, SC Freiburg has fans from up and down Freiburg.
It's not 1997 anymore. MLS players get scouted – ask Tyler Adams or Miguel Almiron. And taking less money to go abroad is insanity. If you are going to put yourself through self-inflicted culture shock, one of the better ways to adjust would be money. Which Gary Kleiban made sure his clients would not have.
Especially since, absent the more usual rigmarole surrounding youth transfer payments – did you know there were no vowels between the "g" and the "m" in "rigmarole?" I didn’t – the pro clubs would have gotten more of any future transfer fee for Llanez and Mendez, making them a slightly better deal than their non-American peers if they were to hit it big. Or they would have, if MLS had not suddenly decided that yes, they would in fact like to have a sip or two after all.
Brian Kleiban has not yet publicly responded to any of this, and has not responded to my request for comment, probably because my request for comment was a Tweet at him saying "lol you ****ed up." Gary Kleiban has blocked me on Twitter – and I can't in fairness blame him – but he has reacted strongly to MLS' decision to start paying training compensation. Very strongly.
While it's a relief to see him back to his usual loquacious self, Gary has not yet gotten around to admitting that he has a financial interest in this decision.
MLS should reverse its reversal, and hopefully MLSPA, or some entity that employs actual bailiffs and marshals, will compel them to do so. Llanez and Mendez, like every other player, should keep what they earn. And the Kleibans should find honest employment of some sort.
As youth sports scandals go, this one is mild – especially compared to what the Vancouver Whitecaps put their players through ten years ago.
In case anyone has wondered why Canada's women's national team has been largely disappointing over the past few cycles, wonder no longer. Institutional rot at the country's most powerful club explains a great deal.
Ciara McCormack's post was especially crucial to read and understand. It's not a pleasant read. But it is important.
It shouldn’t be the responsibility of victims and bystanders, people who want nothing more than to move on and heal, to have to shout from rooftops and be re-victimized all over again years later by a system and people, who when they had the chance, had no interest in getting to the bottom of the truth.
If the police had been called in 2008, as they should have been, and a detailed, unbiased investigation happened, where athletes were given a safe space to share the truth to people who truly sought it, then this situation would have been finished.
Players would have been given a chance to heal and move on, and any deserved consequences would have been meted out to the perpetrators if the law decided they were warranted.
These actions would have definitively protected future players.
Instead now, we have women that were faced with an unfathomable environment a decade ago, who want nothing more to heal and leave this behind them, being told by the media they need to come forward with their names if they want this story to have a voice.
A voice they were denied when this situation happened.
They are being asked to share their painful stories without a cloak of anonymity and disrupt the lives they’ve worked hard to build in the aftermath of what they experienced, if they don’t want it on their conscience that Coach Billy is still in the game working with young female players.
How the ******** is that fair or right?
This is the nightmare scenario of youth sports, that we've seen with college football and gymnastics. Until we change the culture from top to bottom – not in the moronic "promotion and relegation!" sense, but throughout our society – it's not a matter of if your club or team will suffer something horrible like this, but when. We – I'm including the United States with Canada here, if only because we have yoked our club soccer futures together – need to make sure that the exploitational mindset towards players is eradicated. Oversight and responsibility are the only options, because the alternative is a sport for an endless succession of Coach Billy.