Mexican international Giovani dos Santos, joined FC Barcelona’s academy of La Masia at the age of eleven, and played for Barcelona’s Juvenil A category. Four years later, he made the first team and scored 4 goals in 37 appearances, playing alongside global superstars Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Henry and Messi. After a year, he left for Tottenham Hotspur, which loaned him to Ipswich Town in England, Galatasaray in Turkey, and Racing Santander in Spain, where he would decide to stay for a few more years, playing for Mallorca (2012-2013) and Villarreal (2013-2015), his previous club.
Last I checked, Gio dos Santos can still play in Europe.
— US Soccer Feed (@ussoccerfeed) July 30, 2015
Gio dos Santos. Started in Barcelona and now plays for LA Galaxy. Still not so sure what he’s doing with his career.
— Victor Garcia (@_VICTORY_11) July 28, 2015
Dos Santos, who started his career and developed his skills in one of Europe’s best youth academies and rose to prominence as one of the top players of the 2005 U17 World Championship won by El Tri, was always a very exciting prospect. He did not break into Barcelona’s first team and had to move around Europe before settling in at mid-level La Liga teams, but nobody would doubt that he had plenty of opportunities to keep playing in Europe at a high level. Hence, a lot of people are criticizing him because he decided to play for the LA Galaxy of the Major League Soccer, but this move shows Giovani sees the value of being a big fish in a small(er) pond.
From a marketing standpoint, this is a very smart move not only from Gio, but the league’s most decorated club, the LA Galaxy.
LA Galaxy is one of the 10 MLS’ originals (now there are 20 and 2 underway), and Gio is not the first Mexican international they sign. Mexican Goalkeeper Jorge Campos played for the Galaxy from 1996 to 1997, and was also the first foreign player to join the Major League Soccer. Other Mexican players signed by the LA Galaxy were Carlos Hermosillo (1998-1999) and Luis Hernandez (2000-2002).
Unfortunately, this previous Mexican talent didn’t live up to the expectations, and did not cultivate big success (keep in mind that they were past their better years), but now…now its Gio’s turn. Dos Santos is 26 years old, and has already won 1 Supercopa de España, 1 FIFA U17 World Championship, 3 CONCACAF Gold Cups (last one this past July), 1 Olympic Gold Medal, and a couple of individual awards.
The MLS needs Gio dos Santos. Major League Soccer has had some impressive Mexican talent with star power, like Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Chicago Fire) and Rafa Marquez (New York Red Bulls), so the league and its team now the value of having a big name to draw the Hispanic crowds. However, it’s been a long time since US Hispanics have had a familiar face to look up to in the MLS, at least one of the caliber of Giovani.
The club’s president, Chris Klein, said at the press conference held earlier this week that “L.A. is a very diverse city,” and that “adding Giovani is only an addition to that, and I think the opportunity is big. We’ve been on a course for a long time to establish ourselves with the fans who live in L.A.”.
Now, let’s look at this move from dos Santos’ perspective. He has star power in California. Currently, there are more than 9 million Latinos in the five counties that surround Los Angeles, and most of them of Mexican ancestry. Gio even said in the same press conference that “there are a lot of Mexicans [here] in Los Angeles which played an important part in my decision to come here”. If he plays well on and off the field, he will probably land spokesmanship deals that he would not been able to obtain in Europe. For the LA Galaxy, this move will boost attendance, increase the number of fans, and most importantly, pave the way for more Latino soccer superstars to join the league, hence, grow faster into becoming one of the world’s greatest leagues.
The move is also interesting because Gio is only 26 years old, and could have stayed playing in a competitive league like La Liga in a good team like Villarreal, where he was an important piece. It’s often said that the league is not attractive enough for young top talent because of questions about its competitive level, but moves like bringing dos Santos before he is past his best years can only help pave the way for it to be considered a viable solution that can prove more enjoyable and financially rewarding that a mid-level tier European team. Global soccer stars are recognizing that in following years the MLS will be one of the biggest leagues in the world, and bringing them younger instead of on their last years (think Pirlo at 36 or Drogba at 37 years old) can help the “retirement league” stigma.
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) August 6, 2015
Overall, this is already a great move in many ways, but if dos Santos adapts to the League and becomes the star he is expected to be, he could have an even bigger long-term impact for MLS. If Giovani dos Santos’ performs on the field (and behaves off the field) and enjoys the move, this could help convince other top Mexican players like Andrés Guardado, Chicharito, Guillermo Ochoa, Carlos Vela and many others to pursue the MLS path, giving the US Hispanics more reasons to watch and support Major League Soccer — and what a strong league it will become with the 50+ million Hispanics supporting it.