As you've seen by now, Gareth Bale has made his way to MLS and has signed with LAFC. The interesting part of that move is that Inter Miami seemingly decided not to pursue Bale, even though they had previously expressed interest and elected to put Bale on their "discovery list" (which gave them rights to either sign Bale or to sell the rights to sign him to the team that wanted too). Miami ended up selling the rights to sign Bale to LAFC for a reported $50k in General Allocation Money (GAM).
The club seemingly electing not to pursue Bale brings an interesting question to mind when it comes to 29-year old former Manchester United man Jesse Lingard, and his reported willingness to come to MLS. Would Miami pursue Lingard if they didn't pursue Bale?
Everything going around with Lingard, who is a free agent at the moment, is just reports and rumors at this point. One major report is that Lingard is willing to come to MLS, but would only be interested in playing somewhere such as Los Angeles or Florida. Another recent report linked Lingard to DC United, who just hired English football legend Wayne Rooney as their manager. While it's not even a given that Lingard would come to MLS, just the possibility of a 29-year-old of his talents looking at the league should bring a lot of interesting questions as to where he would land.
While Lingard has been around professional soccer in England for a decade, this is not the case of some 36-year-old looking to come to MLS. This isn't a "retirement league" signing. Lingard will still be 29 through the remainder of this MLS season. Lingard is a really good player, who still should have a lot of quality soccer ahead of him. That's something that makes Lingard different than Bale. Lingard is three years younger. That could be enough for Miami to elect to make a run.
Lingard has the potential to be a big time player in MLS in my opinion. Lingard has 29 career Premier League goals, plus 11 more in the English Championship (while on loan from United). 40 career goals split between the two highest leagues in England is impressive for a player potentially making his way to MLS (still on the good side of 30).
Lingard most recently played for Manchester United in the Premier League. He scored two goals this past season across 16 matches for United. He has also recently gotten action for the England National team. In his national team career, he has appeared in 32 matches for England (from 2016-2021), and has scored six goals. He would also be the only player who has appeared in a match for England in the last 12 months who plays in MLS if he does come to the league.
For reference on how talented he is, Lingard is currently worth $19.8m according to Transfermarkt. That would make him tied for the 2nd most valuable player in MLS (trailing only Lorenzo Insigne and tied with Thiago Almada).
As previously mentioned, Lingard is currently a free agent. So, any move for him would be a free transfer. On one hand, this should make things a lot easier for a MLS team because they wouldn't need to pay a large transfer fee to Manchester United to get him. However, his wages would presumably be some of the highest in MLS which would likely push him into Designated Player (DP) territory. For reference, on his latest contract with Manchester United, Lingard was reportedly making $4.6m per season according to Spotrac. That exact salary would make him the fourth highest player in MLS, trailing on Xherdan Shaqiri ($7.35m), Chicharito ($6m), and Miami's Gonzalo Higuain ($5.1m).
Lingard will likely have to be a DP based on his age, stature, and what he earned in Europe. While not having to pay a transfer fee would make it possible to keep him under a DP, I would guess that he will almost assuredly make DP money. Especially with him leaving Europe to come to MLS.
A major factor to deal with is that Miami doesn't have an open DP slot at the moment. Miami just recently acquired Alejandro Pozuelo to fill their third DP slot, which in my opinion dampens the likelihood that they will go after Lingard. Now, in order to bring Lingard in as a DP, they will either have to move Higuain, or make the loan of Rodolfo Pizarro (to Monterrey) permanent. I believe a move of Pizarro would be more likely since he isn't with the club currently, but Miami would likely have to move on from at least one of those two ASAP to sign Lingard which in general is unlikely. Miami might want to move on from one of those two, but it might not be realistic.
Miami would have to move either Higuain or Pizarro, but I'm not sure how feasible that is at the moment. Higuain has been in and out of the lineup for Miami, plus he's 34. So moving him on short notice will be difficult. Pizarro hasn't gotten consistent playing time for Monterrey either. He has one goal across 12 appearances since heading out on loan. While it's not impossible for Miami to move either player in time to bring in Lingard, I think it would very difficult.
Another factor is that even if Miami finds a way to move on from Pizarro (or Higuain), would they be willing to have three of the five highest paid players in the league? The recently acquired Pozuelo is currently the fourth highest paid player in the league at $3.8m (could potentially be fifth if Lingard makes more). As previously mentioned, Higuain is the 3rd highest paid player in the league. Would Miami be willing to be paying the third, fourth, and fifth highest players in the league (with a combined $13.5m going to three players)? Miami already has the highest combined wage number of their three DPs with Pizarro counting, but adding in Lingard would likely make the number even higher with Lingard instead of Pizarro.
Now it's time for an "elephant in the room"...Miami also needs to make sure that they don't do anything to hamper their signing ability in 2023. Especially with the reports connecting Miami to Lionel Messi. This is a two-fold concern. On one hand, It's been long documented the issues that Miami has had with the rules in their short time in MLS. I highly doubt that Miami would do anything to attempt to skirt around the rules for a second time in a short period of time, but with so much at stake by potentially adding Messi soon, I think Miami has to be careful. Even just questions arising could be cause for concern.
You also don't want to end up in a position where you get stuck with a DP when you potentially want to add Messi, and you then either have to cut the DP loose at a loss or can't get full value for him. Miami already likely has to create a DP slot this offseason by moving on from Pizarro, but if they move on from Pizarro now to add Lingard, then you'll have to open another spot once again soon if the Messi opportunity presents itself. Plus, there's always the question of, what if someone big wants to come WITH Messi? I'm not saying Miami would be able to land Neymar or Antoine Griezmann at the same time they land Messi. But there is a chance that a big player could want to come to MLS to play with Messi. Right now, Miami is likely in a spot where they could create two DP slots if needed (by moving Pizarro and Higuain), but if they bring in Lingard now then it could be more difficult to create two spots if needed.
Miami also seems to have changed their approach from their early big money signings. When asked about why the club didn't pursue Bale, Phil Neville said, "We didn't want too. Simple as that...we have a certain vision for this football club". He also went on to add, "We're not playing FIFA22 anymore". Essentially, he is saying that the club has a new vision when it comes to acquiring new talent. No longer is the club just spending loads of money on big names from Europe. Miami is seemingly trying to be smarter in how they build their roster at the moment.
While this doesn't guarantee that Miami won't go after Lingard, it seems that the club is being more thoughtful when it comes to making additions. We saw that shift when it came to acquiring Pozuelo. Miami did make a big splash addition, but it was for a player with MLS experience and a track record of MLS success (a former league MVP). Pozuelo was a safer addition than others because we have already seen him be successful in MLS.
At this point, we also haven't gotten a long look at exactly how Pozuelo will fit with the club and how much change that will make. Miami has also seen other players such as Leo Campana emerge up top. It might be too soon to go after making another huge addition to the squad, when you haven't really gotten a full grasp on how the new changes will affect the team.
There's no denying that Miami could use some help offensively (they've scored just 19 goals through 19 matches this season). I'm not going to pretend that Lingard wouldn't help Miami, because I legitimately think he would. However, I'm just not sure how realistic it is.
I believe that Lingard would be an incredible addition to a MLS club (if he comes to the league), but it might just not be the best time for Miami to make a run at him. It will be interesting to see how the whole situation pans out.
Here is my opinion: Lingard is a great player and would be one of the biggest MLS signings ever. He would be a great addition talent-wise. However, I'm just now sure how feasible or realistic it is for Miami to be able to do what needs to be done to sign him, or if the front office is willing to take the risk knowing what's potentially on the horizon. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to the Lingard signing-saga, and what he could potentially bring to the league.