The January transfer window opens in 15 days, which means rumors are starting to fly about which players are moving where. Compared to the summer transfer window, the January transfer market possesses a frenzied, desperate air about it. European clubs are generally halfway through their seasons; the early promise of September, when all seems possible, has dissipated by now.
In January, clubs are either staving off the forlornness of certain relegation by signing players they believe better than their current lot, or taking one last, audacious gamble in a bid for the crown. If you're a player, January offers the promise of new life at a new club. If your old club deems you surplus to requirements, a new one imagines the bounty you'll bestow upon them.
For MLS, the January transfer window occupies a strange place. The season begins in March, which means that MLS teams often see their stars depart for short-term loans aimed at gaining match-fitness before the season. If they sign someone, it's usually a player whose contract has expired prior to the window's opening.
So: Wesley Sneijder.
From everything I can gather, it's been five months since Galatasaray have paid Sneijder's wages. That's a problem, to put it delicately. While Sneijder has been diplomatic about the situation, saying that there's arrangements in place to correct the situation, it's still an issue.
Here's where things get interesting. It turns out that under FIFA rules, if a player hasn't been paid for three months, he can leave on a free transfer. Even if Sneijder gets paid his back wages, Galatasaray is an unholy mess; they crashed out of the Champions League in humiliating fashion, and they've sacked Italian manager Cesare Prandelli. There's no reason for Sneijder to stick around if a better offer comes along.
The rumors concerning Sneijder all center around Manchester United. Louis van Gaal hasn't been shy about his desire for the Dutch midfielder; because of his contract status, he's a low-risk acquisition. But Sneijder would be going from a situation where he's unquestionably "the man" to one where he'd have to take a back seat to Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, never mind Louis van Gaal -- who, memorably, once dropped his trousers to demonstrate his dominance over the locker room.
That's where MLS -- and New York City FC, specifically -- come in.
Over the last month, a lot of the goodwill that New York City worked so hard to amass was extinguished. Whether it's the uncertainty over Frank Lampard's status, or the apparent fiasco with the home jersey reveal, there's a considerable amount of discontent around New York City.
Signing Sneijder goes a long way towards alleviating that angst -- and it could do wonders for Sneijder, as well. While he's dipped in form since going to Turkey, it's hard not to ascribe that to the turmoil that surrounds Galatasaray, and Turkey as a whole. In changing leagues, Sneijder gets a second chance to prove his worth -- plus, unlike Turkey, MLS paychecks don't bounce.
At 30, Wesley Sneijder should be in the prime of his career, if not just past it. He's a thoroughly creative player, possessed of astonishing vision on the field -- and he doesn't rely on his physical gifts for his game. In other words, Sneijder's the kind of player that Don Garber has in mind when he talks about MLS being a "league of choice".
For New York City, signing Sneijder as their third designated player is a plain statement of ambition. Say what you will about Lampard, but he'd turn 37 during the MLS season; at best, New York City can expect one, maybe two more good seasons from him, and that's a stretch. In fact, much of the hand-wringing from New York City supporters is due to that stark reality.
In comparison, a 30-year-old Sneijder is a star who'd be able to play several seasons at a high level. He'd be the kind of No. 10 playmaker that MLS hasn't ever seen, and he'd be plying his trade in the world's media capital. He'd immediately become an iconic player, both for the league and New York City. Whatever malaise currently afflicts New York City supporters would vanish in the wake of his signing.
The brash Sneijder is completely in keeping with the kind of player who thrives in New York. While Lampard is currently seen as "the face" of New York City, that's more due to the fact that he speaks English and his starring role for Chelsea; in person, Lampard comes off as shy and diffident. In Lampard's absence, Villa has become New York City's signature player, but he doesn't speak English, and is also rather unassuming.
Sneijder is a lot of things, but bashful and modest are not at all attributes that he's ever demonstrated. He's the kind of player who plays to the crowd, and loves luxuriating in their praise. What's more, a partnership with Villa would redound to both players' benefit.
One of the problems with signing midfielders like Sneijder is that they're serving up the ball to players who can't take advantage of their creative vision (as Thierry Henry would attest). With David Villa lining up at forward, that problem doesn't exist; Villa would benefit from Sneijder's creativity, and vice versa. Add Lampard to that lineup, and the result is the greatest, most fearsome spine in league history. It's not even close.
There's no evidence that New York City are considering this, but they should. If they want to put the Lampard imbroglio behind them, this is the easiest, most elegant way to do it. Let's hope someone is reading this.