#360USA: De Jong farewell an own goal for MLS

Steve Brenner 07:00 06/09/2016
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Vilified: Nigel de Jong.

Bruce Arena called it correctly. The LA Galaxy boss has enough miles in the tank to realise it’s not worth paying attention to the modern day annoyance of social media over-reaction and amplified criticisms from faceless keyboard warriors.

Arena knew his work would be cut out trying to establish Nigel de Jong and his rough house ways in MLS – especially after one of their own was crunched straight away.

When US national starlet Darlington Nagbe was on the bruising end of a crunching, over the ball challenge from the Dutchman during the fifth game of the season, the dye was well and truly cast. It also culminated this week in one of the most incredulous send-offs ever seen.

As the midfielder headed for Galatasaray after just 18 games, some bright spark in MLS HQ decided to put together a classless video montage package mocking the former Manchester City man. It taunted him for having no assists. For bagging more cards than goals. Hilarious stuff.

Yet this was from the official Twitter account of MLS, not a wacky soccer site or blog.

Imagine the Premier League sending out a compilation of Joe Hart’s top blunders to warm him on his way from the Etihad to Torino. Of course, that would never happen.

The risible highlights package was quickly taken down though the damage had already been done. Yet a well-placed Galaxy source simply laughed off this quite bizarre end to De Jong’s ultimately unsuccessful American adventure.

“People here weren’t angry, they are used to this kind of thing from other media outlets but it was a surprise to see it come straight from MLS themselves,” the source said. “But Bruce Arena doesn’t care and I doubt very much Nigel cares either. The League made a mistake for sure.”

De Jong is no angel. Far from it. His arrival from AC Milan raised eyebrows but with Steven Gerrard and Gio dos Santos not that interested in providing defensive cover, his signing made sense.

But it quickly went wrong. The tackle on Nagbe saw him retrospectively banned for three games though, thankfully, the Portland striker escaped serious injury as two weeks later, he was back playing.

Predictably, a red card followed around three months later after Blas Perez of the Vancouver Whitecaps was taken out. MLS, not content with a one match ban, decided to add another one for good measure.

There have been countless players throughout the years who have lived up to their negative stereotypes. Preconceptions easily alter fans and, crucially, officials’ minds.

“I think it’s hysteria,” Arena said following the Nagbe incident. “If that was any other player in that tackle, it would not have received the hysteria that it has.

“Hysteria is the fault of social media. It’s the fault of people in MLS and in the offices that do that and feed the whole thing. And the journalism,” Arena said.

“No one’s actually interviewed the player, anything like that. It’s been blown out of proportion because of how everyone wanted to make this player into a villain.”

The details of De Jong’s LA contract ensured his quitting for Turkey wasn’t a surprise. On $500,000 for his first season , a clause would have seen his wages reach designated player levels providing the Dutchman played in five of the last eight games.

Undoubtedly, Nagbe’s status as a bright young thing of American soccer exacerbated De Jong’s villainous status. The reaction, however, was something to behold.

A country whose sports fans happily see NFL stars batter each other into submission every week seemingly have an inherent problem with soccer players showing a penchant for some rough and tumble.

At the age of 31 and with a wealth of European and international experience behind him, footballers of De Jong’s stature should be encouraged to forge roots in MLS – shoddy tacklers or not. His defensive midfield qualities aren’t edge of the seat exciting yet add a vital ingredient in the team ethos.

At a time where the league is attempting to become one of the world’s elite competitions, this was a needless throwback to a falsely perceived naivety and inherent lack of understanding.

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