Gamblers call it the choking point, that threshold of betting tolerance at which boldness melts and fear sets in. Judgment falters, confidence erodes, and more often than not, losses ensue.
At the poker table, once that stack of chips to be pushed into the pot gets high enough and thick enough, the player quavers. At the race track, the hand trembles once it fingers a certain sum to be pulled out of the wallet. At the negotiating table, the zeros run together into a noose not everyone is willing to let encircle the neck.
No two people have the same choking point, which is as much a function of personality as well as resources. There are brazen speculators of considerable means (Dave Checketts, for example, reportedly plunked down $200 million for 80 percent of GolTV) and frugal investors of incalculable wealth (Lamar Hunt, to name one) and everything in between.
Some people don't have a CP at all, or at least can tolerate risks so great there really isn't a limit.
Anschutz Entertainment Group has displayed the highest choking point, by far, in Major League Soccer. It's banking about a quarter of a billion dollars - assuming projections are hit on a ambitious platform of merchandising, sponsorship, and revenue-sharing deals -- on David Beckham. Even if his base salary is "only" $5.5 million per year, he's broken the MLS bank.
Yet, so far, the choking point on Designated Players seems to be about $1 million. That's what Red Bull New York is paying Claudio Reyna, that's supposedly how much an MLS team (not New England) was willing to pay Robbie Fowler before he tripled that figure during negotiations, and that's more than FC Dallas was willing to spend on Edgar Davids (supposedly he was offered $800,000 and wanted at least three times that).
Well, a mil ain't much in the world market, and it's no guarantee of production, even in MLS; just compare the output of Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson, who are the league's highest American earners, aside from Reyna, at just under seven figures.
As a player, is Fowler worth that much? Of course. He scores goals and has one of the fiercest shots in the EPL. He can skin tacklers with a slick touch or overpower them on the dribble.
But he's a jerk, even if one doesn't consider his pantomime of snorting the goal line as if were cocaine several years back. During a match, he once taunted former Chelsea defender Graeme Le Saux, suspected in some circles of being gay, by offering LeSaux his rear end in a very suggestive manner. There he was, on the lead back page of the tabloids, cheeks spread asunder. Nice lad, eh?
Players interested only in fat paychecks won't help MLS. They don't need to be choir boys, but they can't be problem children, which is what most of the rumored DPs to date have been.
Red Bull was foiled in its effort to land Agustin Delgado, who is under a year's suspension for tangling with Barcelona players in an Ecuadoran league match while he was employed by LDU Quito, which terminated his contract in December. He used to play for Barcelona, which cut him loose in 2005 after a fracas.
According to a source in the league office, Red Bull New York had Delgado all lined up as a DP except for that suspension, which, shock of shocks, FIFA informed MLS and RBNY earlier this week is still in force. Whatever happened to due diligence, or at least, research?
If he wasn't a head case, he'd be a good buy at $1 million: a goalscorer, aged 32 with albeit knee problems, who could lure some compatriots as well as soccer fans who remembered his two goals in the World Cup, and add another South American to a league sadly short of such players. If a player is of high quality, can help his team win, and draw fans, he's what the DP is all about.
But the tipping point for impact players (who are still ambulatory) on the world market is a lot higher than $1 million most of the time. Astronomical player costs are not strictly a function of Beckham's outrageous contract terms; the big names and big egos command big bucks.
Despite his age, 34, and his indisputable allure in the U.S. market, Cuauhtemoc Blanco would cost a lot, in dollars and temperamental tirades. Many teams will probably, for the time being, work within the team salary cap of just under $2.1 million. However, with the most diverse group of owners since league began play in 1996, eventually competitive egos - and hopefully, brighter finances driven by more stadiums and increased revenues - will supersede the K-Mart mindset that has been a staple of MLS.
Yet even in the bargain basement can be found quality and value. The MetroStars got some good production out of Youri Djorkaeff in 2005, and he cost about $200,000 against the cap. Jean-Philippe Peguero earned $70,000 per year before MLS sold him to Danish club Broendby for 10 times that figure. Cristian Gomez came to D.C. for a salary of about $160,000 in his first full season; Lucio Filomeno fizzled, but Luciano Emilio has sparkled.
Reyna and Beckham won't be the only big-time DPs signed in 2007. One or two others are in the mix to be finalized in the next month or so, according to a league source. But until the CP moves a lot higher, the DP will be N/A.