Steven Gerrard's Champions League analyst gig continues bad trend for MLS

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Steven Gerrard's Champions League analyst gig continues bad trend for MLS
Steven Gerrard's Champions League analyst gig continues bad trend for MLS

Steven Gerrard has a new job. He was recently hired by English broadcaster BT Sport as a studio analyst for its UEFA Champions League coverage. That means he's in London for a few days every other week.

Gerrard recently started another job as well. As a midfielder in Major League Soccer, a position he was very qualified to do, with a long and impressive resume. The words "Liverpool legend" get thrown around a lot for his longevity and haul of prizes on Merseyside.

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But after a dazzling debut, in which he pushed his new team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, to a 5-2 win over the San Jose Earthquakes with a goal and an assist, his performance in the job has been forgettable. He has recorded two assists in his next eight games but has looked a step behind the play and shoddy in his famed passing.

And for all Gerrard's talk about his enduring hunger, his interest in the outcome of games has looked modest out on the field – especially for a player once laurelled for his ferocious will to win. The expensive and star-powered Galaxy, meanwhile, have failed to win any of their last three MLS games, losing twice.

Whether causational to Gerrard's pedestrian form or not, his agreement to go on regular 11,000-mile roundtrips from Southern California to London was surprising. And surely not helpful in an aging midfielder's attempt to find his feet in the first foreign league he has ever played in. Even English tabloid the Mirror raised an eyebrow when the news of Gerrard's new gig was announced. Its headline emphasized the strange arrangement: "Steven Gerrard's Champions League punditry for BT Sport to begin DURING the MLS season."

But then again, it's not that surprising. Because for all the success of the Designated Player era in Major League Soccer, which has induced fairly stunning growth as expensive imports brought cachet and credibility to the young stateside league, the wandering eye of the newly arrived Premier League star has been a common theme.

It isn't – or wasn't – just Gerrard. It began with the very first of these megastars who came over.

David Beckham joined AC Milan on loan after his first full MLS season in 2008, supposedly just for the offseason. But then his stay in Italy was extended through the middle of the summer, meaning he missed half the Galaxy's regular season. The following offseason, he went back, only to injure himself to the point where he would play just seven regular season games for the Galaxy in 2010. He finally locked in for his final two seasons in Los Angeles, but not until his England career was effectively over.

Most Premier League stars seem to have treated their well-compensated employment by MLS as something of a part-time deal. Even the Galaxy's Robbie Keane and the New York Red Bulls' Thierry Henry, whose on-field production surely made them the greatest DPs to ever be imported and whose efforts stateside are beyond reproach, went on brief loans to Aston Villa and Arsenal, respectively.

Likewise, the Red Bulls' Tim Cahill refused to cut back on the amount of travel he did to represent Australia in various Asian competitions. Before finally appearing for New York City FC a full year after he had signed – or, semantically, didn't actually physically sign a contract – Frank Lampard decided to hang around mother club Manchester City for another half a season.

All of those situations were different, but in one way they were also the same: In their MLS teams, the former Premier League stars found permissive employers.

Gerrard returned to the Galaxy in time for the Galaxy's 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last Saturday. (AP Photo)
Gerrard returned to the Galaxy in time for the Galaxy's 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last Saturday. (AP Photo)

Except perhaps in the case of Jermain Defoe. He started out red hot with Toronto FC, seemed to lose interest, was rumored to want a loan back to England and was finally sold to Sunderland last winter, with his Canadian club realizing he wasn't fully on board anymore.

Typically, however, these aging stars are indulged. The optics aren't good. It looks like their clubs don't really control them, in spite of their hefty salaries. This, in turn, makes MLS look second tier, the very image it's trying to shed by bringing in all of these big names.

Gerrard's side gig as a pundit will be "managed carefully and with full co-operation of the Galaxy," per the Mirror. And, if true, that's just where the problem lay. Is total focus too much to ask from a man paid $6.3 million to play soccer for the Galaxy this year? Would it really be unreasonable for the Galaxy to demand that he pass on offers to moonlight? No and no. But a precedent was set – by the Galaxy and then by other clubs – when Beckham arrived, and it's apparently hard to walk back from that.

The league, however, is no longer desperate for these types of players to join. They remain nice boosts, perhaps justifying their salary through added exposure and ticket sales. But game-changers they are not. Not anymore. So why not exert the increased leverage and decide, as a league, to no longer tolerate these offseason excursions, or midseason distractions?

In Gerrard's case, agreements concerning his embryonic career in TV punditry were probably made during negotiations. But did the Galaxy really have to indulge him? Surely, there weren't that many teams looking to sign a 35-year-old who could offer what the Galaxy could – that kind of money, the SoCal lifestyle, an established and competitive team, and relative anonymity in a major metropolis. Yet they gave him what he wanted – whether back then or later on – and now he's there but not entirely there.

Until MLS teams stand up to their biggest stars, they shouldn't be surprised if they aren't treated as priorities.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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