But Gullitt who earned his reputation as a player in the Netherlands and Eurpoean leagues is clearly not used to the U.S. and particular MLS systems of dealing with a restrictive salary cap and a reserve system that is somewhat new.:
I’m sure that when people think of LA Galaxy, the picture that comes to mind is not of our staff making phone calls to friends on Friday to see if they can play in a reserve game on Sunday, but, strange as it may seem, this is the reality,” reveals Gullit, sitting in the sun near the VIP area of an empty stadium. “Two weeks ago we had a game at home [against San Jose] and I had two of my office staff from the commercial department playing, two people whose job is to sit in the office all day doing their work. We needed bodies and we didn’t have bodies, so we asked them to play, they wanted to play and they just played. There are 26 players on our roster, five were out injured. This left us with 21 players, but there is a rule [in Major League Soccer (MLS)] that prevents reserve team players from playing for more than 120 minutes within the space of 48 hours. If they have played the day before in the first team for 90 minutes [reserve games are usually scheduled for the following day] you can do the maths.Now first of all, the LA Galaxy have not been smart with their payroll.
“In the first reserve game of the season at Colorado I had a few players who could play for only 70 minutes and another who only could play for half an hour. So what did we do? We started with 10 men because we had to. You can say that it’s only a reserve game, but you can’t operate like this because the reserve game is important. Why? Because of the development of my injured players and players who have to practise their rhythm because they haven’t played for a long time.
“If I have a reserve game and come up two men short, what happens? We have to call people from their job, maybe a carpenter, and they just come to play with our reserve team. If we play in Toronto, we have to call people in Toronto because no one will travel on their own all that way. Of course, we laugh about it a little bit, but in the end it’s not a laughing matter and it’s not good. We need to have a full squad that trains together. I haven’t been able to build up a reserve team because I’m only two months here and it’s not possible, so this is an example of the things I am trying to adapt to. I’m not trying to change it yet, I’m trying to adapt to it, but in the end I’ll say, ‘You need to do things in a certain way because otherwise it’s not serious’. Really, it’s ridiculous.”
It is also symptomatic of the way in which the Galaxy hierarchy has chosen to build a team around its two high-profile stars, Beckham and Landon Donovan, the United States captain, whose annual salaries are $6.5m and $900,000 respectively. Their “designated player” status means that only a fraction of Galaxy’s $2.18m annual wage bill goes directly into their pockets, but it is disproportionate in comparison with the way in which other MLS teams conduct their affairs.
The annual wage bill of their city rivals, Chivas USA, is distributed more evenly, so there is greater depth in their squad. Gullit is discovering, too, that the shallow pool of young, available American talent is squeezing his options. Last weekend he was compelled to introduce in the second half against Houston Dynamo a player, Joe Franchino, whom he had watched only on videotape.
But there is a massive difference between European and the rest of the world and the MLS. Eurpoean clubs have been around for decades and the bigger clubs in the top leagues have had decades to build a reserve system, youth academies and other mechanisms for recruiting players and having a reserve squad that can be populated without having to ask for office staff to play. (By the same token, what a perk it must be to play with the reserve squad in addition to being say the equipment manager).
There are now MLS clubs (New York for example) that now have academies and there are rumors of more to come, with Real Madrid putting up money for an academy at Real Salt Lake. As the system develops, I think Gullit will be happier, just maybe not soon.
On the other hand, it is obvious that the MLS salary cap is too low. I read somewhere that season ticket purchases for all clubs is up a significant percentage over last season (and over 10,000 at both Seattle and Philadelphia before they start playing is a good sign for those clubs). That means that more money is starting to flow and paid attendence is likely increasing for all clubs this year. Next year with the MLS collective bargaining agreement ends, MLS is going to have to dramatically increase the salary cap--a doubling would be nice followed by significant increase for each year of the CBA, like 10-15 percent each year.
I have some ideas as well for making the teams at the bottom of hte MLS tables to have something at stake since we have no relegation.