Selling Soccer and Stalled Italian Journeys

Not so fast Ricardo . . .

It seems I may have jumped the gun on Ricardo Clark’s impending transfer to Livorno.   No Short Corners is reporting that he has the offer but it isn’t a done deal.   If you haven’t my read my “Forza America” yet, please do so with this liberal dditions of “ifs” . . .

Supporter’s Club (Brought To You By Soccer Soap Box)

OK, I’m not about to be sponsoring any supporter’s clubs . . . but the idea promoted here that companies could be bypassing sports sponsorships to instead directly align to/sponsor major fan groups is very interesting.    Those groups are influential and cut out the middle-men when wanting to directly reach your end customers.   There are significant risks of course, since such fan groups will undoubtedly be interested in the funding and perks, but will have little tolerance of the rules that might be tied to them.  Of course, no sport seems to have more vocal and organized fan groups than soccer.  The article refers to one of the primary US National Team supporter groups the “American Outlaws” and their ever growing presence on the US Soccer scene.

Selling (MLS) Stuff

Sponsoring fan groups is all well and good . . . but I doubt the official soccer merchandising will ever slow.   This New York Times blog (thanks to the very interesting FootieBusiness) talks about merchandising efforts by the league, including the mini-takeover of the “World’s Largest Toy Store” in NYC.   A few notes of interest . . . the top three teams in terms of sponsorship Seattle Sounders, Los Angeles Galaxy, Toronto F.C. – Seattle and Toronto off of their amazing local fan support, and L.A. clearly because of Beckham.    The Red Bulls are 6th in merchandising, but have generally been terrible on the field . . . a statement to the potential that remains out of reach in that market.

While MLS makes it clear that they have trouble accurately tracking player-specific merchandise, it comes as no surprise that David Beckham, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Landon Donovan, Freddie Ljungberg, and Juan Pablo Angel would lead the way.   That most of them are “Designated Players” is not a coincidence . . . and makes the ideas recently posted over at the Daily Soccer Fix to increase the rule’s use all the more critical.

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Forza America – Gooch and Rico Head to Italy

Italy is not a normal destination for US soccer players.   However two Americans are moving over to Serie A in Italy albeit in two very different scenarios.   Oguchi Onyewu has a 3 year contract with Serie A powerhouse A.C. Milan, while Ricardo Clark appears to be set for a move to recently promoted Livorno – (props to Ives for seemingly be quickest to find this gem.)  Livorno were also after Landon Donovan, but don’t appear willing to pay what would be needed for him.

Grant Wahl posted a great write up about everything that Gooch is now exposed to at A.C. Milan.   Gooch is used to European soccer as he was a key part of Standard Liège who has been on top of the Belgian league for the last two years.   My being used to MLS and its bare-bones approach, the idea of Oguchi being “dressed to kill in team-issued Dolce & Gabbana” is somewhat hard to fathom.   A.C. Milan’s history is so deep and well catalogued it seems pointless to try to replicate it here.   So I’ll let A.C. Milan tell its own story.

Livorno is a smaller club, one that has bounced between Serie A and Serie B in the last few years.   But they too are not without a deep history and tradition . . . even if that tradition includes some infamous moments and themes.   John Foot’s incredibly detailed “Winning at All Costs – A Scandalous History of Italian Soccer” does a great job of cataloging some of this history  including the 1967 fan uprising that trashed much of the stadium and had referees trapped in their locker room until late in the evening.   Livorno is also known for having the most left-wing fans in the world and as recently as 2002 had unfurled a banner in honor of Stalin.

So what do these two moves mean in terms of their soccer and their position with the US team?   Ironically, there are many more similarities than differences.

Where they are coming from: Onyewu has been extremely successful in a second tier European league, and Clark is a leading midfielder in MLS.   Frankly, both are going to see a big step up.

Style:  Both players are extremely athletic . . . Onyewu as a monster of a man, Clark who covers acres of space like an angry gazelle.   (No, I don’t know what would make a gazelle angry by the way.)   If both of them make sure to keep and pass the ball as well as they break up plays, there is a chance for success.

US National Team:   Both players would be on the plane if it was leaving for the World Cup today.    Presuming it will be much harder for Onyewu to crack A.C. Milan’s starting lineup than it will be for Ricardo to do so at Livorno, Onyewu will need to make sure he stays fresh.   This will be interesting since both positions do have capable replacements on the US team meaning that both of these players need to stay sharp.

Temperament:  This will be an interesting part of the equation.   Both players have had foul/card issues on the biggest stages (Onyewu giving away a critical penalty against Ghana in the World Cup, Clark getting red-carded at the Confederations Cup and infamously over-reacting and kicking Carlos Ruiz.)   The Italian players will be expert at the art of fouling, diving and winding players up – how these two cope might be as important as anything else.

It appears that Ricardo Clark won’t move until January, but the experiment is already started with Onyewu’s playing with A.C. Milan in the US based “World Football Challenge” and the Germany based “Audi Cup.”   Despite many caveats about familiarity and new surroundings, he needs to do better than what we saw at the World Football Challenge.    (And though I didn’t see the game, he was on the field for some of Bayern Munich’s four goals against A.C. Milan this evening.)

Overall, the addition of some new American blood into Italy’s Serie A is a great statement about American players – and maybe what a discount they are on the world market.

Hopefully we aren’t talking about their moves back down the European ladder in one of the next transfer windows.