Zinedine Zidane's admission that he is keen for a return to top-level soccer could have been a serious declaration of intent or merely the idle musings of a bored retiree.
Either way, Major League Soccer needs to find out and quickly.
Sources close to the French midfield maestro have indicated that if Zidane were to come back to soccer as a player – as opposed to a coaching, ambassadorial or administrative role – then a move to North America would be his No. 1 option.
Friends of the former FIFA World Footballer of the Year say that New York would be his preferred destination, a development the Red Bulls organization would be foolish not to pursue.
If Zidane is undecided, then his resolve needs to be tested by a swift, firm, lucrative and definitive offer – and a genuine, impassioned sales pitch. The rest is up to him.
There will be some who question why Zidane would want to come to MLS, but there are plenty of reasons that would make perfect sense.
For one, he is not naturally suited to a non-playing role. He is a paradox in that he does not particularly enjoy standing in the spotlight yet adores being the star performer on his personal stage – a soccer field.
Furthermore, it is believed that the way in which he ended his glittering career, by being sent off against Italy in the World Cup final, has begun to gnaw away at him more significantly over the past few months. It is easy to understand why the 35-year-old would want a different memory to mark the final moment of his footballing life.
Yet if he does come back to soccer, a contract with a club in Italy, Germany or Spain would be highly unlikely. Joining a smaller French club is an outside possibility, but far more likely is Zidane wanting to tackle an entirely new challenge.
Coming to the United States would allow him to be a part of further developing the game in this country, while New York would allow a level of relative anonymity compared to what he is used to in Europe.
If MLS is serious about increasing the overall standard of its product, then the league has to at least give itself a shot at landing Zidane. To have him weaving his magic on the league's fields would help increase the sophistication and appreciation of American audiences, not to mention the positive influence he could have on his fellow players.
Yes, of course, Zidane is past his best. Inevitably, 18 months out of the game will have robbed him of some pace. Yet it was always wonderful touches of skill, rather than speed, that formed the cornerstone of Zidane's game, and skills like his are never forgotten.
Superb as it would have been for MLS to have snared a player like Zidane at the height of his powers, surely it is better to get him now than not at all.
Remember, this is a guy who was one of the top five players in the world, and were it not for his moment of madness in head-butting Marco Materazzi at the World Cup, he would probably have added another FIFA individual honor to his collection.
From the point of view of other MLS clubs, it would be a positive situation. The moneymen love it when Beckham comes to town and sparks a surge in attendances, and Zidane would have a similar, if not quite as extreme, impact.
What is more, Zidane would draw out more of the purists – the true soccer lovers who currently prefer to watch overseas leagues on television – who would be unable to resist the chance to see a master of his trade at work.
There would be few in MLS who would be sorry to see him arrive. People in the game understand that the negative way in which he signed off with France cannot even begin to erase the memories of his outstanding performances over more than a decade, highlighted by the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships.
Certainly, there would be no guarantees of capturing him if New York or any other MLS team made a formal approach to Zidane's representatives. But in this instance, there would be no disgrace in failure, and even if there was, the potential upside would make it worth the risk.
MLS has some momentum right now and signing Zidane would be another massive boost. The league has shown it is not afraid to back up good intentions and positive words with serious action. Now let's see whether, a year after snaring David Beckham, it can pull off another spectacular coup.
- Zinedine Zidane
- Major League Soccer