What is a Designated Player? How MLS star transfers work

With player transfer fees in Europe seeming to increase exponentially every single transfer season, things aren't quite the same in Major League Soccer – where clubs are given only three Designated Players whose wages are allowed to be greater than the league average.

So what is the Designated Player, what is the average salary cap for the MLS and why was the rule implemented? Goal takes a look.

What is the Designated Player rule in MLS?

The Designated Player Rule in the MLS was implemented alongside the salary cap regulations ahead of the 2007 season.

The rule allows each club participating in the MLS to sign up to three players who will not be considered under the team's salary cap (either through wages or the transfer fee), which enables MLS sides to sign and compete for high-profile players from the wider overseas international market.

MLS player salaries are limited by a salary cap which has been in place since the league's inception in 1996, which was introduced to prohibit team owners from excessive spending on player series and to ensure a fairer balance among teams who weren't as financially well-off.

The MLS has since also introduced a wide range of initiatives to improve the quality of players purchased while still considering the salary cap – such as rules relating to Designated Players and allocation money that allow for additional wage spending that is exempt from the salary cap – but these have led to an increase in on-field competition.

The Designated Player (DP) rule in the MLS allows for teams to sign a limited number of players whose salary exceeds the maximum cap, as each DP player counts for $480,625 (£381,000) against the cap in 2017.

Following the implementation of the rule, the income inequality in the MLS has fluctuated negatively, however, with Designated Players earning as much as 180 times than a player earning the league minimum.

When was the Designated Player rule introduced?

David Beckham joins LA Galaxy

The Designated Player rule was introduced in anticipation of LA Galaxy's signing of former Real Madrid and England star David Beckham in 2007.

Beckham was the first high-profile and internationally recognised player to sign for an MLS side and the Designated Player Rule has since been unofficially dubbed the 'Beckham Rule'.

The ex-England midfielder signed a lucrative deal worth $250 million (£200m) over the course of five years at the Galaxy, and his signing started a trend for big-name stars in Europe to follow in his steps and finish or further their careers in the MLS.

What are current MLS salary caps?

The current annual salary cap, which has been in place since 2017, is set at $3.85m (£3.06m) per team.

Prior to 2017, however, the  salary cap set in 2006 was estimated to be around $1.9m (£1.51m), then rising to $2.1m (£1.67m) in 2007, and then $2.3m (£1.83m). for the 2008 season.

At an $373,094 (£296,755), the average salary for MLS players is lower than average league salaries in the Championship (typically $420,000 or £334,064), which is England's second tier.

Who are current MLS Designated Players?

Wayne Rooney DC United MLS 2018

LA Galaxy's current three Designated Players are Giovani dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini and Jonathan dos Santos.

Prior to the present trio, however, past Designated Players were Steven Gerrard, who previously captained Liverpool; ex-Tottenham forward Robbie Keane; Landon Donovan, who arrived from Bayer Leverkusen; and of course Beckham.

Wayne Rooney is a recent transfer and is D.C. United's Designated Player after leaving boyhood side Everton to join the MLS in the summer of 2018.

New York City FC, who are owned by the same parent company of Manchester City, have also signed high-profile Designated Players in the past, their first being David Villa from Atletico Madrid. The former Spain international was followed by Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo, and currently Maximiliano Moralez and Jesus Medina.

Arsenal legend Thierry Henry was a Designated Player for New York Red Bulls from 2010-14, having signed for the side from Barcelona, and was followed by Rafael Marquez (also Barcelona), Tim Cahill (Everton) and Bradley-Wright Phillips (Charlton Athletic).

Ex-Brazil and Real Madrid star Kaka was Orlando City's first-ever Designated Player when he signed for the side in 2014 from Milan, while Freddie Ljungberg was Seattle Sounders' first DP when he transferred from West Ham in 2009.