On Wednesday Eric Cantona was announced as Director of Soccer for the New York Cosmos and joins a tradition of supposed missionaries for football in the US. Following in the footsteps of Pelé, Beckenbauer and, more recently, Beckham, Cantona brings charisma and a certain, well, I don’t know what, to the project he describes as “a mix between football and art”. Currently the Cosmos exist more in the artistic realm than football, having recently acquired two youth academies on either side of the country to begin producing talent. Their stated goal is to win the 20th MLS franchise, which could happen as early as 2013.
The Cosmos appear set on achieving that goal as publicly as possible, which comes as no surprise given their history of luring the best and brightest of the soccer world, during their ephemeral existence thirty years ago. However, the landscape of football in America is quite different now. Gone are the days of signing a semi-retired soccer demi-God for $4.5m. That’s nearly twice as much as the salary cap for your whole team today.
The MLS has learnt the lesson of the NASL, which shot to fame off the back of signing Pelé, but was bled dry and disbanded less than ten years after he first appeared. It was organized chaos – the league expanded and contracted on an annual basis, as chancers became owners hoping to tap into the next major US sport. Now in these austere times, expansion is closely monitored and does not come cheap. Teams need a stadium deal and say, some players, both of which currently elude the Cosmos.
All that said, there is something enticing about the return of the Cosmos. While some MLS teams are eagerly renaming and rebranding away from their history (Sporting Kansas City), there is a genuine style and panache to the Cosmos legacy on the field, as well as the excitement created off it. The next step for the Cosmos may not be signing Lionel Messi just yet, but the ambition to create a modern-day Cosmos galácticos could truly invigorate football in America. Hopefully, this time they won’t destroy the league in doing so.