The 2014 World Cup is mere hours away -- how many members of Team USA can you name?
That silence you heard is being used by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann as motivation for his team of underdogs. The Americans are inexperienced and overmatched, but most of all, incognito in a sport that boasts the biggest celebrity athletes on the planet. In a tournament of Messi and Neymar, we’ve got Dempsey and Altidore.
Klinsmann is appealing to his group’s relative lack of star power to motivate them ahead of Monday’s opening match against old foe Ghana. “This is now the stage for our players to prove they are ready for the next level or next two levels in their careers,” he said. “There is no better showcase than a World Cup so whoever steps on the field this is an opportunity to embrace it, give it a smile and give it a go.”
In appealing to his team’s desire for fame and fortune, Klinsmann is sending the same message he wished to send by leaving the most famous American soccer player off the World Cup roster: Earn it. The relationship between Klinsmann and Landon Donovan was and is contentious, with the coach questioning Donovan’s motivation and commitment, implying that his celebrity allowed him to rest on his laurels. Klinsmann made waves when he compared giving Donovan a roster spot to awarding Kobe Bryant his $48.5 million contract extension -- a concession made to an aging star based on past success and current celebrity that acts to the detriment of the team’s present and future.
Klinsmann hopes his young players can parlay strong World Cup performances into opportunities to play overseas, where the big talent and bigger money are concentrated: “Our wish, our goal, is to get as many players as possible playing in the Champions League because on the club level that is the crème de la crème, it is where you want to be, to have that confidence and experience of playing among the best players in the world."
The U.S. being one of the only countries in the world in which soccer isn’t immensely popular gives rise to a sort of reverse American Dream, whereby homegrown talent must seek opportunities abroad if they want to be taken seriously. The incentives are impossible to ignore: We think of the U.S. as the nexus of big-money sports, but on Forbes’s recently released list of the highest-paid athletes in the world, six of the top 20 are soccer players. (It goes without saying that none of them are American.) Cristiano Ronaldo is the second-richestof them all, raking in $28 million in endorsements on top of his insane $52 million salary. Lionel Messi comes in fourth, with $64.7 million in total earnings ($41.7 million salary, $23 million sponsorship).
Overall, international soccer stars’ fortune derives more from their talent than their fame. Ronaldo and Messi’s endorsement deals are lucrative, but on par with Bryant’s $31 million in total endorsements and pale in comparison to LeBron James’ $53 million. The money that puts them over the top comes from huge contracts whose figures would make even American sports fans blush. Miguel Cabrera just signed a record contract extension with the Detroit Tigers that amounts to a ten-year, $292 million total contract. Last year, Real Madrid signed Ronaldo to a contract worth $206 million over five years. The English Premier League boasts the fourth-highest salaries of all the sports leagues in the world, with an average annual pay of $3.5 million. Italian soccer league Serie A places seventh ($2 million), while Spain’s La Liga is ninth ($1.8 million). MLS is at the bottom of the pack, with an average salary of $200,000.
Starting today, the biggest stars in the world will gather in Brazil with the hopes of returning home champions. The Americans might not be on the same level, but perhaps being surrounded by such high-priced talent can motivate them to strive for the ultimate payout.
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