When the likes of David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and Freddie Ljungberg, among many others, came over to Major League Soccer, a reputation for a football retirement home came with them. A stigma developed that MLS would basically be a vacation in the sun with some football in between. Many of the high-profile signings that would make their way stateside would fail and for every Henry or Robbie Keane, there was a Denilson, Geovanni, or Rafael Marquez.
Enter Nigel Reo-Coker. His salary will not be on the same pay grade as those players mentioned above as they are all Designated Players (exceptions to MLS Salary Cap rules) so there will not be as much pressure on him from the off. In terms of pay scale, he will be much closer to Andy O'Brien's $150,000 (£98,000) per season than Robbie Kean's $3,417,242 (£2,235,829) annually.
The combative midfielder has just signed for Vancouver Whitecaps on a four year deal. He had left bad tastes in the mouths of Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers, and Ipswich Town, perhaps none moreso than in that of Trotters supporters. Nigel Reo-Coker signed a two year deal in the summer of 2011 and at the end of that ill-fated season that saw Bolton make their way to the Championship, NRC was the first to jump ship and the only player to activate a release clause in his contract. Yes, Reo-Coker owed Bolton fans nothing but they expected a player who cared more, especially after being so vocal and telling his teammates to "stand up and be counted" on a number of occasions.
He had left Bolton Wanderers prior to the start of the Championship campaign due to a belief that he was good enough for (and wanted by) Premier League football. At one point, he claimed that Napoli (competing in the Europa League this season) were interested in his services. After none of that interest (unsurprisingly) amounted to anything, Reo-Coker signed for then-bottom-of-the-Championship Ipswich Town on a three month deal. He made ten appearances before his contract expired and he did not extend.
Now, Nigel Reo-Coker has signed on for (according to him, in the Sky Sports interview) four years. In order to succeed in Vancouver where he will join Andy O'Brien, Jay Demerit, Lee Young-Pyo, and Kenny Miller, among other talents (that would be lesser-known to non-MLS fans), Nigel Reo-Coker will have to care.
What many people outside of the MLS sphere don't realize is simply how grueling the schedule is. First off, there are the ludicrous distances that teams must travel in order to play matches. Where Bolton to Brighton is 270 miles (Wanderers' longest away trip of the season), Vancouver to Dallas is a staggering 2,330 miles while Vancouver to Philadelphia is just shy of 3,000. For teams travelling in England, especially those in the Championship unable to afford a plane trip from Manchester to Norwich, the worst of it is a sore backside from being on a bus or train all day. For teams travelling in the US and Canada, the worry is around the sheer distance and the amount of time it takes. For that Vancouver to Philadelphia trip (that the Whitecaps will make in July), the team is crossing four time zones. At that point, jet lag is a major concern too.
On top of the aforementioned travel difficulties, the weather will also prove to be an issue. Temperature swings between two cities can be in the neighborhood of 50ºF difference (for example, this morning in Dallas, it is 65ºF while in Denver, two cities 450 miles apart, it is 17ºF). Not a walk in the park.
Major League Soccer is not a retirement home. Nigel Reo-Coker will have to commit. He will have to give it his all for Vancouver to become a fan favorite rather than the much maligned figure he has become in many parts of England.