Gerrard’s Transfer to the LA Galaxy
Liverpool Legend, Steven Gerrard, announced that he will move to the MLS franchise LA Galaxy at the end of the Premier League season. While a huge deal for both Liverpool and LA Galaxy, a move to Major League soccer from Europe is not without its idiosyncrasies. Because of this, Gerrard’s marquee move creates a great opportunity to review the mechanics on high-profile moves in and out of North America’s top-flight soccer league.
According to FIFA rules, players must register with a club to compete in FIFA-recognized competitions . At the upper level, these registrations are logged via FIFA’s computerized TMS system. FIFA requires the use of the TMS for all international transfers of professional players.
A player can only register to a single club at one time. Even for loaned players, said players can only register with the team they intend to represent on the pitch. Additionally, registration can only happen (with limited exception) occur during a designated registration period generally referred to as the “transfer window.”
This scenario is generally straightforward. Club A signs an agreement with Club B to transfer Player C’s registration during the designated transfer window. Or, as the Case is with Gerrard, Player A’s contract with Club B expires, and player A signs and registers with Club C.
However there are two difficulties regarding players competing in leagues outside of MLS moving to MLS franchises. First, the fact that the MLS season and therefore registration periods (transfer windwos) are different than most professional soccer seasons throughout the world. Second, because of MLS’s single entity structure and roster rules, what types of designated categories the player fits determines where the Player will go, and how much say the player will have regarding which MLS franchise the player is moved to.
Under most circumstances, a player can only change club registrations during designated registration periods. Most major professional soccer leagues follow an August to June season. Most leagues have two registration periods during those seasons, generally, one running through July and August and a second, mid-season, in January. However, the MLS season begins in March and runs through October. Therefore its registration period runs between mid-February and mid-March, and then again, mid-season, in July.
This poses an obvious complication for Gerrard, and any player moving between the MLS and foreign leagues. Specifically, deciding on the best time period to register with the player’s new american soccer franchise.
So long as a transfer is within the registration period for one of leagues involved, the registration can be changed. Gerrard’s Liverpool contract will expire in July, the end of his Premier League Season. He will then presumably (more on that later) register with the Galaxy with no transfer fee (or as it is better known in International soccer parlance, move in a “Bozeman” transfer) as he will be a free agent.
After the July transfer, Garrard will have played a full Season of EPL, Capital One Cup, FA CUP, and UEFA matches with Liverpool, since last August, after playing in the World Cup in the summer before that Season. The World Cup is also sandwiched between the end of the 2013/14 season and the beginning of the current 2014/2015 season. Additionally, by July, Major League Soccer will be midway through their season. With Gerrard playing so much football and moving stateside so late in the MLS season, Fans may not see Gerrard competing on American soil until either the MLS playoffs (if the Galaxy qualify), or possibly may have to wait until the start of the Major League Soccer 2016 season. There is even a potential for Major League Soccer to loan Steven Gerrard back to Liverpool for the first half of Premier League 2015-16 season and join at the beginning of the 2016 MLS season.
A quick note: If the Player is moving to the MLS (like in Gerrard’s case), the player and the foreign club (if the player is still within the contract term with the foreign club) must negotiate with Major League Soccer, not one of the individual franchises. Luckily, “Designated Players” (like Gerrard) have more bargaining power with what franchise they move to, as they are more desirable to the League.
Designated Player, MLS CBA and MLS Roster Rules
Additionally, Major League Soccer has detailed roster rules, which all franchises must comply. These rules put various players into different categories, which have different effects on how players are brought to clubs and how their compensation is calculated towards the league’s salary cap.
Steven Gerrard will transfer as a Designated Player. Per the collective bargaining agreement between the MLS player’s association and Major League Soccer, each squad has a specific number of Designated Players whose individual salaries will not exceed $387,500.00 in the capped roster budget. In 2014 that number was three, although there have been rumors that the 2015 MLS CBA may increase that number. Therefore, Gerrard’s alleged $6M per year salary will only count towards $387,500.00 of the LA galaxy’s salary budget for cap purposes.
Likewise, unlike allocation players, Super Draft players, and lottery players, Gerrard’s Designated Player status allowed him some control over deciding where he wants to move within the league. Allocation slots and team selection order (for USMNT players coming into the MLS) depend on prior team performance and player transfer success. Super draft selections depend on player desirability and club performance the season before. Lottery selections follow the same process as Super Draft selections but occur when a player has signed with Major League Soccer after the Draft has occurred.
For Designated Players, a franchise must merely desire to sign a player, have an available Designated Player slot open and have the player desire to sign with the Franchise. Seeing as the LA Galaxy has an open Designated Player slot after the retirement of Landon Donovon, and seeing as in an interview Gerrard stated, “they [The LA Galaxy/MLS] basically told me what I wanted to hear,” it seems those requirements have been met.
One note: the MLS CBA gives Major League Soccer the ability to move players as they see fit. Specifically the MLS CBA states that “a Player may be required, without his consent, to relocate to any Team in the League as directed by MLS.” This means, if for some reason, major chances come in the league, or the league feels the need to move Gerrard to a different franchise/media market within the league, it can do so without Gerrard’s consent. Whether that is legal pursuant to FIFA rules, FIFA DRC jurisprudence, or CAS jurisprudence is another story. While it is permissible within the rules, it would be an absolute PR nightmare for the MLS if Gerrard, or any player in that position protested, so it seems an unlikely event.
 The only full version of an MLS CBA available to the public expired on January 1, 2010. The following CBA effective until January 1, 2015 was never published, although a memo outlining changes was distributed. That memo made no mention of this section (15.1), so it is fair to assume it is still a valid provision. However, a new CBA is being negotiated at the moment, so this discussion may become completely moot depending on what comes from those negotiations.