The League of Ireland could learn from MLS’ success

Early yesterday afternoon, it was announced that former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland midfielder, Liam Miller is to sign for League of Ireland club Cork City.

Miller’s arrival to the SSE Airtricity League will see him go head to head with fellow former Ireland midfielders, Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail who both arrived in the league following spells in England last season.

 

The headlines produced by the arrival of Fahey in particular and his subsequent move from St.Pat’s to arch rivals Shamrock Rovers gave the League of Ireland the unrivalled media coverage it is so often starved of and already social media has reacted positively to Miller’s acquisition.

One such tweet posted by a man involved heavily with Cork City’s Munster rivals, Limerick FC got me thinking.

This tweet published by Kieran O’Brien (@sportinglimk) suggested the possibility of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) implementing an ‘overseas’ player recruitment allocation system, similar to the one known as the ”Beckham rule” in Major League Soccer (MLS), for former Irish internationals who may like to end their career domestically in Ireland.

The “Beckham rule” or designated player rule, to give it its official title, was first implemented by MLS stateside to allow their clubs to compete for marquee international players in the transfer market, without breaking the leagues strict wage cap guidelines.

To achieve this, MLS would allow individual club owners to take over the responsibility of the designated players salary in order to keep the rest of the squads wages within the salary cap.

Now. while League of Ireland clubs may not have the luxury of multimillionaire owners, you have to remember the sort of player Irish clubs would be trying to attract would not be on the same scale as the Kakas and Jermain Defoes of this world.

Instead it would be players such as Damien Duff and Richard Dunne who are maybe looking to bring their families home after a long career in England and perhaps get a route into coaching at the same time.

 

That’s where @sportinglimk suggested that the FAI could step in and help out the league clubs by allocating funds to help clubs signing such players. Now, why would the FAI do such a thing is probably what you are asking?

The short and simple answer to that is if the FAI want to help the league’s image grow then this would be one of the ways to do it, as MLS has shown with the arrival of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Kaka and others bringing levels of media coverage previously unimaginable to America.

While some may argue, and rightly so, that money for facilities and stadium upgrades would be more appropriate there is a clear system that could be implemented by the FAI if willing.

In MLS, allocation money is given to clubs under the following circumstances:

(A) Qualification for the CONCACAF Champions League
(B) To a team that finishes outside the play-off places
(C) New teams entering the league

While there are other situations that entitle a club to allocation money, these are the three main reasons and the three that you could clearly apply to the League of Ireland.

Let’s look at the three above situations and how it could be applied to Airtricity League clubs:

(A) Going by last season’s league standings, Dundalk, Cork City, St.Pat’s and Shamrock Rovers would receive allocation money for qualifying for Europe.

This money would allow them to attract former Irish internationals ‘home’ where they would represent the League of Ireland in Europe.

(B) While there are no play-offs in the top flight of Irish football it would be very simply to have smaller amounts of player allocation money available based on a clubs league table position.

It would ensure that all 12 competing League of Ireland have an opportunity to sign allocated players and keep the league on a level playing field.

 

Already I can hear you saying, “but the clubs at the top will still have more allocation money and will sign all the allocated players”.

Remember, however, that each club will only be allowed to sign one allocated player and if the need was felt by the FAI, they could install an allocation roster just like in MLS which shows which club is next in line to sign an allocated player.

However, this roster seems to becoming less and less relevant in the states as if rigidly enforced it would mean players joining the league would have to join the team on top of that roster and that could potentially put off dozens of players who may have a certain preference in terms of which club they join.

Finally (C) would potentially solve the huge issue the FAI currently have on their hands in not being able to attract new teams to the League of Ireland as allocation money would give new clubs a chance to gain new following within the football community off the back of the PR a big name signing would bring.

This of course is all fantasy at the moment with financial issues at the FAI meaning they are unlikely to invest extra funds into the domestic game, while problems such as a shortage of teams in the First Division and poor facilities need to be sorted out long before any such systems can even be dreamed about let alone discussed.

When you look at the success the MLS is enjoying at present though, despite the fierce competition the game faces in the states from the dominant sports of NFL, baseball and basketball among others, similar to the rivalry we face from the GAA, it would be foolish to not look at the MLS and their progress over the last eight years for inspiration.

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Kieran Burke

While a fan and follower of football from all over the globe, Kieran Burke specialises in all things League of Ireland with opinionated pieces, big name interviews and match previews/reports his bread and butter. Check out his new website www.betweenthestripesblog.wordpress.com

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