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TFC Is Just a Small Part of Canada's Rich Soccer History

Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and their new President Tim Leiweke are trying to rewrite Canadian soccer history in their own image. But TFC isn't the start of the world's most popular game in Canada. And neither is major league soccer. Far from it. They're only a small part of it.

Author Les Jones has recently published a book in "coffee table size" that combines historical and quirky facts that puts the history of the game in this country into context with a pictorial assembly that befits a photographer of his caliber.

It's called "Soccer: Canada's National Sport."

It was written before MLSE went wild and started throwing a lot of money around to try and create a championship winning team for the upcoming season. They'd better try something because they've never even made the playoffs in their entire seven year existence in the MLS.

So here's a postscript and analysis that I'm sure would have had a prominent place in the book.

Are Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment telling little porkies to the public about spending $100 million on four players for the upcoming season? You know, porky pies. That's English cockney rhyming slang for "lies." Just taking a little liberty based on MLSE's recent publicity campaign about signing Tottenham's Jermaine Defoe.

You know the one, "It's a bloody big deal" shot in the UK on the streets of London with people spitting up their drinks on hearing the news of Defoe's signing by TFC. The red flags are always raised when virtually every major daily and media outlet in the country report that $100 million figure as gospel and verse without doing the math.

At least I didn't see it and believe me, I looked.

English international Jermaine Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur, American Michael Bradley from Roma in Italy's Serie A, and two Brazilians, Gilberto and goalkeeper Julio Cesar for $100 million? In fact Cesar is actually only "on loan" from Queen's Park Rangers, who were relegated from the English Premier League last season and are now in the Championship, England's second tier of professional soccer.

So I decided to do the math and we'll start by explaining what a "transfer fee" is.

In soccer, you don't trade players, you buy them from another club. The idea is that you buy the rights to employ that player. A player's compensation, or salary, is completely separate from the transfer fee and negotiable once the player switches teams. In North American sports, by contrast, you trade contracts.

So in the rest of the world when you claim to have spent $100 million, it's on the transfer fee alone. The current world record is the 100 million Euros ($152 million CDN) Spain's Real Madrid paid to Tottenham Hotspur for Gareth Bale. Cristiano Ronaldo cost the same club 94 million Euros ($143 million CDN) when he was transferred from Manchester United.

That's a lot of jamon.

But in Major League Soccer, instead of operating as an association of independently owned teams, the MLS is a single entity where each team is owned and controlled by the league's investors. That especially includes transfer fees from abroad, league trading of players and salaries. One could argue therefore, that according to MLS rules, the $100 million figure also includes salaries.

So let's continue with the math.

According to England's Mirror Sport, Tottenham was paid a six million pound ($11 million CDN) transfer fee and Defoe will get a whopping increase on his stipend at Spurs, earning about 90,000 pounds ($167,000 CDN) per week on a four year contract in Toronto.

In total that would make Defoe's cost $45.7 million.

The American publication Pro Soccer Talk reported that TFC paid Roma a $7-$10 transfer fee for Michael Bradley. He will earn $6.5 million per year on either a five or six year deal.

So let's take the maximum figures of a $10 million transfer fee and six years at $6.5 per year.

That brings the total cost of Michael Bradley to $49 million. Total for the two players is $94.7 million. Add Gilberto and Julio Cesar's salaries and you get pretty close to that $100 million figure the media was all too eager to report.

The braintrust at MLSE did a good job at selling it. Hey, at least I got my calculator out and checked. Jermaine Defoe is a good player, an English International, with 153 goals in 429 games in England for West Ham, Bournemouth, Spurs and Portsmouth, and 19 goals in 55 appearances for England.

He still figures in England manager Roy Hodgson's plans for Brazil. But he's 31, an age where most outfield players are past their prime. Bradley is younger, a midfielder, has a good work rate, and he's an American, as the majority of players in the MLS are.

Is he worth that kind of money? I have my doubts but we'll soon find out.

Gilberto is an unknown entity and Julio Cesar is a very good goalkeeper, but if he's so good why did a second tier English team like QPR hand him over "on loan"? He'll probably be backup to Diego Alves of Valencia in Brazil's team come June.

Just to refresh your memory, the MLS was formed after the 1994 World Cup in the USA to develop American players. And the league has, to be fair, developed some good ones. Many of whom will be playing for the USA in this summer's World Cup.

The league hasn't been as good at creating Canadian stars other than, say, Dwayne De Rosario.

The USA is ranked 13th in the world, Canada is ranked 113th, and look a long way away from qualifying for any future World Cups. But it at least looks like long starving soccer fans will have a championship to look forward to.

The first one since the Toronto Metros-Croatia won the North American Soccer League (NASL) Championship back in 1976. Back when I was still playing. That's in Les Jones book too. TFC have a strong fan base, and the signing of these players has been a message that finally MLSE is taking soccer seriously.

Now there's the question of renovating their stadium. And to what ends? Part of the argument is that the popularity of the team means they need more capacity. But its also no secret that MLSE covet buying the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

They can argue their case for expanding BMO Field to include the Argos in creating a multi-purpose facility. When the Canadian Soccer Association bid for the right to host the 2007 FIFA Under 20 World Cup, the federal and provincial governments agreed to provide a combined $35 million to fund a new stadium in Toronto for the tournament if the bid was successful.

It was built on city land and called the National Soccer Stadium.

The city of Toronto owns it but it has a management contract with MLSE, who chipped in about $15 million but got that back by selling the naming rights to The Bank Of Montreal and it became BMO Field just in time for TFC's first season in 2007.

MLS commissioner Don Garber has been adamant that expansion teams must have plans for a soccer-specific stadium in place to be granted a franchise. TFC did, but now plans have changed. President Leiweke, in an interview with Toronto Sports radio show Prime Time Sports, and published on the TFC fan website known as "Waking the Red" said:

"We want to try to upgrade some of the concourse, upgrade the premium areas, upgrade the locker room areas. When this stadium was built I think we underestimated the support and the amazing growth that we would see with soccer. So if you look at where Major League Soccer is today and you go to places like Kansas City, New York, Portland, and Vancouver and you see those new stadiums what you begin to realize is BMO quickly became outdated and so we need to upgrade the experience, we need to upgrade the environment."

What he's really saying is we need a place for the Argos to play once we buy them so we have to make the place bigger to accommodate a CFL sized field and that will completely change the place and the soccer experience. And it will all be part of the soccer history so eloquently mapped out in Les Jones' book.

TFC should buy copies from Les and hand them out at the games as a mandatory history lesson on the game of soccer in Canada.

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