Why Kraft's salary cap cure cannot compete
Herschel Walker has been called the best running back to emerge from the US college system. A remarkable athlete with a prodigious work ethic, Walker was an international-class sprinter, a taekwondo black belt and an Olympic bobsledder. Oh, and he was also an American football star in the professional leagues for 15 years.
But when he is remembered today it is usually for his part in the biggest, most audacious, most unequal trade in National Football League history, a deal so stupendous it is known simply as "The Trade".
Because when the fallen-on-hard-times Dallas Cowboys offloaded their best player to the Super Bowl-chasing Minnesota Vikings they struck a deal so cunning, so elaborate, the star-struck Vikings had no idea they were consigning their hopes to the dustbin and laying the foundations for a new dynasty in Dallas.
Mega-deals like this are one of my favourite things about US sports - teams pitting their wits against each other on a level playing-field. It is one of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's favourite things too, and he would like to see something similar in the English Premier League. In fact, if the Premier League was a bit more like the NFL he would have bought Liverpool already.
The 58-year-old American was strongly linked with the Anfield club in late 2005 - and looked at the books of other clubs - but takeover talks came to nothing. Fourteen months later his fellow US sports franchise-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks paid £218.9m for Liverpool. Regrets have been expressed ever since.
"I love the Liverpool franchise - it reminds me of the Patriots. If they think you're with them, the fan base will live and die with you," Kraft told me earlier this summer.
"My heart came very close to closing the deal but my head told me I'd get very frustrated because I'd want to win.
"I wanted to make sure we'd be able to compete financially over the next 10, 20 years and be able to attract the right players, which meant we'd need a new stadium. But that's hard without a salary structure."
Later on in the interview I pressed him on what it would take for him to invest in English football.
"I come back to the same point: I want to win every year. I'm very confident of our organisation's ability to run a competitive EPL franchise. If we had a salary cap I would love to do that.
"We understand scouting, training, development, nutrition and so on, but we also want to be fiscally responsible because that's what the fans want and in the end it's the fans that pay for it.
"If you can make every game competitive the television product helps pay for all of it - you get a balance which makes the whole league better. That is the story of the NFL.
"We're happy to compete with any group as long as the playing-field is level. But when you skew things I don't think it's good for the business, I don't think it's good for the development of players, I don't think it's good for those passionate fans.
"It's not about money for them, they care and deserve a chance (of success). I believe a salary structure is the way to do that. Then you've got a competitive league. Then you'll see how good a manager people really are."
He makes some good points, which is hardly surprising when you read his CV. Kraft is the most successful NFL team owner in the business. He has also helped to shape the league's egalitarian structure and has played a key role in numerous lucrative television deals.
The key to the latter is the NFL's competitive balance. In any given season, on any given Sunday, half the league's 32 teams will fancy their chances of a trip to the Super Bowl. This means almost every game counts and that guarantees interest. That is why the NFL is the only way for advertisers to reach nearly half of all American homes during the autumn and early winter months.
Since the Premier League was formed in 1992 there have been only four different champions in 17 seasons. The number for the NFL over the same period is 11.
It is a similar tale when you look at the number of different clubs that finish in the top four /reach the conference championships: it is 10 in 17 seasons for the Premier League and 26 in the NFL.
And the status quo is becoming more entrenched in English football's top flight. There have been only two winners in the last five seasons and five different top-four teams, with the fifth of those, Everton, managing it once, five seasons ago. In contrast, the NFL has had four different champions and 15 teams have reached the sport's semi-final stage.
The reasons for this are simple: the NFL's structure discriminates against dynasty-building. TV revenues are shared out evenly, the teams work within a strict salary cap, unsuccessful teams are given first dibs on the best new players and successful teams are handed tougher playing schedules.
And to think this happens in the country that thinks our National Health Service is "Orwellian" and "evil".
The very best operators can buck these levelling influences for a while - and the Walker-less Cowboys managed it for most of the 90s with the young talent they gained in the trade - but the NFL's socialist ways normally get them in the end.
With these constraints in place it is no surprise Kraft, who has seen his team post the best win-loss record in the league over the last 15 years and claim three Super Bowls, thinks he can "out-manage" the Premier League's finest.
But will the confessed anglophile (he is best mates with Elton John) get the chance to put his money where his mouth is?
No, not unless he crosses his fingers and takes his chances with the financial free-for-all that is European football.
An NFL-style salary cap simply cannot work in the Premier League for at least half a dozen reasons, no matter how much you might like its long-term benefits.
First, our football is a global game with long-established and well-rewarded supra-national competitions. As a result, the Premier League's best clubs compete on and off the field with the best clubs in Spain, Italy and elsewhere.
This brings in the complexity of legislating for different tax systems and currency fluctuations. It also introduces the wage control-busting implications of European Union employment law.
But even if these technical issues could be resolved, there would still be the more fundamental problem of making a salary cap work in a system based on the ebbs and flows of promotion and relegation.
Kraft is correct when he says more NFL teams than Premier League sides can dream of glory but none of them need to worry about the trapdoor, and that is an integral part of European sport's charm. Impose salary caps based on league revenues and you consign half a dozen clubs to permanent yo-yo status.
We also have no equivalent of the college draft: English clubs don't get to take turns picking the best ready-made replacements for their squads. They either have to develop them themselves or buy them in.
And you can say what you like about the Premier League's "skewed" competitive balance but you have to sit back and applaud its ability to sell its wares around the world. That is, after all, what attracted Kraft in the first place.
So while I can see where Kraft, who also owns Major League Soccer's New England Revolution, is coming from, I fear he will never reach his destination, at least in terms of English football.
You're probably never going to see era-defining trades between football teams (although you could argue the Ibrahimovic deal might prove to be one) and you're not going to get 15 different teams in the Premier League's top four in five seasons. But you will still get a product good enough to reach 575 million homes around the world and that can't be bad.