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GRAHAME L. JONES ON SOCCER

MLS' black-and-white world could use a splash of color

The league needs to raise its profile, and a week's worth of media coverage of the English Premier League offers a blueprint.

November 06, 2010|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer

Memo to MLS Commissioner Don Garber: Tell the big-money boys who keep your league afloat to quit building stadiums and start buying tabloids.

Rumors and gossip, accusations and revelations, outspoken quotes and in-your-face photography, controversies galore and coaches and players unafraid of speaking their minds, that's what soccer in the U.S. desperately needs.

The league has spent 15 seasons trying to plough a straight furrow through an indifferent field. It's time for something new, something radical.

A little less caution and a lot more expression might go a long way, especially if the English tabloids and the English Premier League provide the blueprint.

This past week has shown countless examples of what North American fans are missing and why so many people turn a blind eye to all things MLS.

The tabloids are comic-book journalism, to be sure, but they do keep the pot bubbling nicely. Just look at the last seven days.

On Sunday, News of the World featured a color cartoon of David Beckham banging the drum for England's 2018 World Cup bid, along with some chatter about his appearance on " The Ellen DeGeneres Show." "Funny or not," wrote the columnist, "it was another phase of Beckham's Americanization. In L.A., he is becoming part of the celebrity furniture."

The Mail on Sunday calculated just what Wayne Rooney's new contract means, pointing out that Manchester United needs 7,407 fans coming through its turnstiles each game at an average ticket price of $44 simply to meet Rooney's weekly wage of more than $320,000.

On Monday, the Sun found Tottenham Hotspur Coach Harry Redknapp still livid about the referee who disregarded a clear handball by Portuguese winger Nani, allowing Manchester United to score in a win over Spurs. "It was one of the worst decisions of all time. It gets worse every time I see it," Redknapp fumed.

In the Daily Mail, former England World Cup referee Graham Poll said "it was one of the most bizarre and opinion-dividing goals in Premier League history," adding that referee Mark Clattenburg "was right by the letter of the law, but his decision lacked credibility and left a scar on this match."

On Tuesday, Redknapp said he would refuse to do post-match interviews if punished for his comments. "I wouldn't take it lying down," he said. "If I cannot come on TV and answer a question in a truthful manner then we [coaches] shouldn't be dragged out. Are we supposed to tell it as it was or tell it as it wasn't or just say, 'I didn't see it?' "

Not to be outdone, Manchester United Coach Alex Ferguson took a hard dig at the World Cup, insisting that the European Champions League is a better tournament. "It's proved that it's the best competition in the world," he told the Daily Express. "It can produce some unbelievable games. Have you seen the last six World Cups? You'd be better off going to the dentist."

Meanwhile, former Liverpool coach Rafael Benitez, now coaching Inter Milan, delivered a blistering attack on his successor, Roy Hodgson, accusing Hodgson of stupidity. "Every single press conference is worse than the last one," Benitez told the Daily Mirror. "He's talking about things he doesn't know. Some people can't see a priest on a mountain of sugar." Don't ask. No one knows what Benitez meant.

On Wednesday, every tabloid lauded Tottenham's speedy Welsh winger Gareth Bale for tearing apart European champion Inter Milan for a second time. But there was room for Arsenal Coach Arsene Wenger to proclaim that Theo Walcott is ready to assume the goal-scoring mantle of Thierry Henry, now doing little or nothing for the New York Red Bulls of MLS.

Bale was still the story Thursday. According to the newspapers, he is now worth $50 million to $75 million on the transfer market. "I don't drink and I don't go to nightclubs — that's why I'm so quick," he told the Sun.

Friday saw Manchester City Coach Roberto Mancini reportedly facing mutiny from his players and the ax from City's owners while Liverpool's new American owner, John Henry of the Boston Red Sox, promised an infusion of funds after a come-from-behind Europa League victory over Napoli. Also, the coaches of the Netherlands and Russia told Arsenal's Wenger to stop complaining about his players being called up for national team games. "Wenger is always moaning about something," Russia Coach Dick Advocaat said.

On Saturday, Wenger had something to really moan about. The Sun broke a front-page story alleging that the married, 61-year-old coach was having an affair with a "leggy" 39-year-old former waitress. Color photographs of the pair accompanied the story. Wenger said he would not comment on the matter. Meanwhile, $320,000-a-week Rooney was "banished" to the Nike campus in Beaverton, Ore., according to the tabloids to, as the Express put it, "sort his head out."

This week, the stories will continue, much to the envy of MLS.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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