Former England striker Wayne Rooney has called on Major League Soccer's owners to tear up the rulebook in favour of restructuring how transfers work and lifting the salary cap, as he feels those higher up the football food chain are taking advantage of a flawed system.
Rooney, who had an 18-month spell at D.C. United before returning to England with Derby County, has seen first-hand how MLS' trade system works and was shocked by how easy it is for teams to swap out their players.
The ex-Manchester United man feels that Americans having to uproot their personal lives in order to chase down a career will have a negative mental effect – even before taking in to consideration the enormous gulf in earning power compared to European leagues.
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“I didn't realise it before, but obviously when I got [to D.C.] I seen it,” Rooney told Perfect Soccer's Ask A Pro Show podcast. “My first week, we had a player who, when he finished training, he got told he was getting transferred onto somewhere else.
“I was like, 'Why? What's going on here? Where is he going? What's going on?' So, it's difficult. I spoke to Steve [Birnbaum, D.C. team-mate] a lot. I was like, 'Can he do that? Is it that easy to do? Is it that easy to actually move someone on?'
“There's no thought behind it in terms of this player might have a family, children, a life here. They might have told, 'You know what? Move on.'
“I know it works that way in basketball and in the NFL, but those players get paid millions and millions of pounds. So, they can afford to actually do that, but MLS players can't.
“They probably get a small percentage of money which won't even cover the bills, won't even cover what they have to live on. It's wrong for that to happen.
“I think MLS needs to really look at that because, from seeing it, a lot of them owners are taking advantage of the league [structure], which is affecting American players. The American players are just the same as the South Americans, the English, the Spanish. The American players work just as hard, if not harder, and get taken advantage of.”
Few outside of the US will know much of the inner workings of MLS outside of the fact that big names such as David Beckham have graced the league in the twilight of their careers, but while ageing stars can boost ticket and jersey sales, Rooney believes that no league with aspirations of getting to the levels of the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A will reach its goal while a salary cap is in place.
“There is so much potential there, there is so much of a market,” Rooney added. “I said it when I left D.C., MLS have to take on the rules that Europe and the rest of soccer are taking.
“Although they might not want to, and I know the rest of U.S. sports don't do that, but if they don't, then they will never get there [level with European leagues].
“They get players like me and Zlatan, but I can't give them Wayne Rooney from 10 years ago, Zlatan can't give himself from 10 years ago. We can give you ourselves from now, we can go there and earn a decent amount of money and give the fans some entertainment, but we can't give you our full potential. If MLS want players to reach their full potential, then they have to take the salary cap off.”