Ba Open to Being a Player/Owner for San Diego NASL Team

demba ba

By JAKE NUTTING

nasl logoSan Diego’s North American Soccer League expansion team is being backed by considerable star power in the ownership suite. The former Premier League striker Demba Ba is spearheading the new team as majority owner and has brought in as investors his old Chelsea teammate Eden Hazard, Crystal Palace midfielder Yohan Cabaye and Senegal international Moussa Sow.

Both Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League have shown interest in adding the untapped market of San Diego to their ranks, but Ba and his ownership group beat them both to the finish line. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ba outlines how he settled on putting a NASL team in the coveted city and why he’s transitioning to an ownership role while his playing career is still going.

Unsurprisingly, Ba leaves open the possibility that he might suit up for his unamed San Diego team when his contract at China’s Shanghai Shenhua runs out next summer. Ba would be the second Chelsea striker to become a player-owner in American soccer. Didier Drogba did the same with the USL’s Phoenix Rising, though he’s only a minority owner in the team. Phoenix’s ambition is to gain entry to MLS in a few years.

What follows are some extracts from Ba’s interview with Mark Zeigler:

Union-Tribune: Why NASL with no salary cap as opposed to MLS or another league with revenue sharing and restrictions on player movement?

Ba: NASL was the right league for us because of the way they manage it. In this league you can create your identity. It allows you build something. I’m not saying that other systems aren’t good. I’m not as familiar with the others. But in this league, you own the rights of your players and if you want to keep him, no one can say he’s gone. You develop the player, and whatever comes from that is yours. You deserve it.

Union-Tribune: You have one season left under contract in China. After that, will you consider playing for your team in the NASL?

Ba: Why not? In June 2018, I can play anywhere I want. It’s a possibility. I have put this club in this city because I believe in it. And if I believe in something, why not?

Union-Tribune: Why transition from a player to an owner?

Ba: The first image I have of club owners is that the club is one of their toys and they do what they want and they lose a lot of money and they just don’t care about who’s working in it. I always said to myself, “No, no, there’s no chance I’ll own a club.” And then coming to America, I saw that the franchises are being run differently. We realized we could create a club where we would be the owner and we could bring our own ideas.

At the end of the day, I have a lot of ideas. I cannot give them to clubs I play for because they have their own ideas – their own sporting directors, their own general managers – of what they want to do. When you have your own ideas, the only way you can execute them is to get a club yourself.

Union-Tribune: Other outdoor pro soccer teams have come and gone here. What makes you different?

Ba: There is no room for failure for us. We cannot let that happen. We have to look at what people have done and why they have failed, so we don’t make the same mistakes.