Neymar to MLS: Commissioner Don Garber ‘insulted’ at PSG star saying he’d like the ‘three months’ vacation’


At one point, Major League Soccer was happy to get any big-name player into the league to help sell jerseys and tickets. And while some have been hits, there has been a fair share of flops too. For every David Beckham or Robbie Keane, there’s a Steven Gerrard or Jermaine Defoe. But Neymar brought the retirement league tag front and center again by saying that he wants to finish his career in MLS.

“I don’t know if I’ll play in Brazil again,” the 30-year-old said on the Fenomenos podcast. “I have some doubts about that. I’d love to play in the U.S., actually. I’d love to play there at least for a season. First of all, their season is shorter, so I’d get three months’ vacation.”

We’re unsure of what vacation Neymar may be referring to because MLS has extensive travel requirements and teams such as New York City had a grand total of six weeks off between winning the MLS Cup and beginning their preseason. Regardless, retiring in MLS isn’t the light that the league would like to be seen in which is why commissioner Don Garber called it out in his state of the league address ahead of this weekend’s regular-season opener.

“Anybody could sign Messi today and pay him what they want to pay him as a designated player, should Lionel decide that he wants to play in Major League Soccer,” Garber said. “And that’s the same for Neymar or for any other player. What’s been happening, and this has been a stated focus for the league, is we want our story to be about young players who are coming here at the earliest stages in their career or in the prime of their careers and making our league their league of choice.” 

Garber continued speaking about changes in the profile of players purchased by MLS teams: “You’ve seen a dramatic shift from where we were to where we are today. If you look at [Thiago] Almada, you look at [Alan] Velasco, you look at [Christian] Torres, these are young players that we were competing for against the top international clubs and they decided to come to Major League Soccer. [Xherdan] Shaqiri is 30. You’ve got players that are coming at 30 and, personally, I don’t think 30 is old when you’re a Major League Soccer player. When we look at bringing in players at 30 and younger, I’m proud of that.” 

And to an extent, he’s right as the under 22 initiative and young designated player rules have changed both the buying and selling power around the league, and teams have gotten younger. But Garber doubled down on his statement:

“We don’t need to bring in a big-name player at the end of their career because they’ve decided they’d like to retire in MLS. I think there have been no shortage of players towards the end of their career that have been great MLS players, and David Beckham is one of the great examples of that. I can’t imagine what Major League Soccer would be without players like that.”

This isn’t to say that MLS wouldn’t welcome Neymar with open arms because they would. But as a commissioner of the league, Garber has to steer the discussion to focus on the youth in the league and the selling power that it is gaining. Even looking at older players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Nani who have left the league, they’re still rolling on in Serie A these days, which you can watch on Paramount+.

“Interestingly, when Zlatan left Major League Soccer, nobody said that he went to go retire in Italy,” Garber said. “Frankly, I was insulted by that, because if Zlatan came to us at the same age he went back to Milan, it would have been [perceived as] a retirement move on his part. He worked his tail off in MLS and he’s working his tail off in Serie A. I’m not quite sure why we’re viewed differently, but that is what it is.”

So was MLS a retirement league in those cases? Not particularly which is why each move for an older star needs to be judged on it’s own merit. Neymar just didn’t pick the right words so the commissioner had to go on the defensive.

“If they’re not here to come and play and be a great contributor to their club and to our league and to respect the league and its fans, then we don’t want them in Major League Soccer,” Garber said.





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