Less than a month ago, we were greeted with this lovely little message from Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel on Haji Wright.
Borussia Dortmund is misleading.
All the tropes of a Big Club are there; the 85,000-seat stadium, always full. The world class players. The Champions League runs. The domestic cups. The global fan base. If you were new to the game, there’s nothing blatantly obvious, really, to separate BVB from, say, clubs like Manchester City, Juventus or even Real Madrid.
They are, of course, not like those clubs. Their budget is smaller, their mandate more constricted, their ultimate aims in player acquisition different. They trawl up coveted youth players for pennies, or, in Christian Pulisic’s case, for free. They’re willing to burn time pushing them up through their U19 apparatus in exchange for lower fees. They need to make big sales before they splash for big buys.
And, in the case of Ousmane Dembele, they use their multi-faceted scouting network to pull up transfers for teenagers at a fraction of the cost.
Dembele moved from Rennes in 2016 for $15 million. His latent value according to Transfermarkt more than doubled in the last year, which Dembele spent setting Europe to the torch. But latent value doesn’t mean much in the afterglow of Neymar’s $222 million move to PSG. Barcelona, now flush with cash everyone in the world can see spilling from their coffers, needs a replacement. Or two. And Dembele is on the list.
By the end of the 2015 U20 World Cup, Rubio Rubin appeared to have his career by the tail.
Rubin’s performances over the course of the U.S.’s stirring run to the quarterfinals were notable, enough so that Utrecht, the Dutch club for whom he’d signed a five-year deal less than a year earlier, was counting its blessings it had not waited to offer. His leverage seemed to skyrocket after he put in the deciding goal in a 1-0 win over Colombia in the first knockout round that felt something like history.
Spain’s La Liga, like Italy’s Serie A, remains a city with frustratingly high walls and studded gates mostly closed to Americans. There are ingrained reasons for this, of course, but the one that drives most closely to the heart of it is that the league’s teams have not made a conscious decision to value American prospects.
Americans, in kind, decided to heed those opinions borne out over time and flocked to other leagues. Mostly, where Europe is concerned, in Germany and England.
The excoriation of Chelsea regarding its wanton use of loans is not without its merits. At least on the surface, the club appears to at least partially bankroll its lavish transfer spends by buying players on the cheap, and then selling them on for far more than their original value without ever really considering them for the first team.
In the meantime, it loans them out to puff up their transfer value while all but ignoring them for its own first team. It is as though the club tends two farms: one for its own consumption made up of only the choicest grain, and another only for the consumption of everyone else. It is a rare thing indeed that the public farm tills up a product the club deems worthy of its own soil.
Chelsea’s done well for itself in this. Just last year, it made in the neighborhood of $50 million off transfers from players it shuffled around on loan for years: Nathan Ake (Bournemouth), Christian Atsu (Newcastle), Bertrand Traore (Lyon), and Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford). It’s hard not to see a method in this, that Chelsea is purposefully culling its herd to flip players for cash to throw back into the pot to fuel ever more, pricier transfer fees. Chelsea’s business is as bald-faced as it is uncomfortable.
It is uncomfortable, most of us reason, because it presumes these players never had a chance at Chelsea in the first place. I think that is a somewhat simplistic reading, but it is not without its merits. Just in the previously mentioned group, Ake got seven games for Chelsea’s first team, Traore and Chalobah 10 each, Atsu a grand total of zero. The club’s impatience is legendary, but it also feeds the notion that its mind was made up before any had a chance to truly cement themselves within the first team construct. Too much money at hand, too much at stake, too much predetermined. They never really had a chance, and the talent ceiling on each of their careers no doubt lowered as a result.
This is why Matt Miazga’s sale to Chelsea in the winter of 2016 was a chilly wind whipping across the plains of American soccer sentiment. Here was one of the most promising American prospects period – not just defenders, mind – seemingly being dumped into that other crop-growing field, the one with the business interests in mind for public sale. It wasn’t that Miazga couldn’t be picked for the club’s own harvest, but no one would take those odds. Not with this club.
In this prism it is impossible not to understand some of the angst surrounding news of Miazga’s impending second loan stint to Vitesse, in the Dutch Eredivisie, after starting 20 games there last season. Miazga installed himself as a regular center back at the club, helping them to a fifth-place finish in the top tier and a place in the Europa League group phase thanks to its KNVB Cup, the first major trophy in the club’s 124-year history. Miazga was on the field for it. By returning at 21, Miazga will very likely play in Europe this year, and more than once. The list of Americans who’ve done that at all, at any level, is not long.
The bigger worry, to me, is not Vitesse itself or the level of the Dutch league. Vitesse is a fine place to develop, even for defenders, and Miazga will see plenty of the field this season in a top European flight. That’s all to the good. The bigger worry is to what end. Where is this all leading us?
USMNT fans sighed a collective breath of relief when Miazga played, and played relatively well on balance, in a 3-0 win over Nicaragua in the Gold Cup in July. He scored a goal, even. It would have been hard to sway a coach like Arena, who prefers to lean heavily on veteran experience at center back, that Miazga deserved more starts in bigger games in the tournament. But it peeled back the curtain and gave us assurance that this version of Miazga is better than the 2016 Olympic qualifying version that was in turn better than the 2015 U20 World Cup version and so on back we go.
In so many words, he is progressing.
But there is still a guillotine hanging over the careers of Chelsea’s collective loan army, and it lowers by fractions with each successive loan. Players tend to need loftier experiences each year to improve, and continual loans to the same place in lesser leagues don’t usually move the needle. Miazga thankfully has the promise of Europe this year, which defrays that worry to a degree, but the fact that his career is filled with so much uncertainty is what worries so many.
This is not an unfounded worry, as I said, but I think it’s overblown on balance. The lack of a stable club home – Miazga will not go to Vitesse full time, I can assure you – is a problem so long as Miazga begins stagnating. We have no indication he’s in that swamp yet. And the Eredivisie presents a unique challenge for defenders, who are usually forced to face attacks many times more powerful than what their coaches are able to muster defensively. There is development value to being overwhelmed and tasked with quelling the fear.
But there is a caveat. Miazga can’t dwell in this place long. Substantive development tends to calcify somewhere in your early 20’s – it’s different for every player – and it happens sooner for players who either aren’t playing in challenging enough environments or simply aren’t playing first team soccer at all. Miazga runs the risk of the former at Vitesse and the latter at Chelsea. Which means finding a middle distance for next season.
In the interim, this is all fine. Miazga is in a stable club environment he knows, where he’ll have the opportunity to play against good attacking competition and compete for a spot on a team competing for a Europa League run. The real crucible isn’t now; it’s next summer.
Early last year, almost as soon as he was legally eligible to do so, McKinze Gaines signed on the dotted line for Wolfsburg.
It represented a significant closed circle for the Austin, Texas native, who’d first lassoed the attention of the country at the 2013 DA Winter Showcase and eventually found himself as one of the key contributors on that U17 MNT cycle. Untethered by an MLS academy and bristling to try his hand overseas, Gaines’ move to Wolfsburg was a hugely significant milestone.
A little more than a year later, and Gaines is moving on.
Unless your name is Arsene Wenger, and you have enchantment spells cast over your helpless ownership group, the life of a coach is mostly made up of small incremental moments between firings. You will win games, you will lose games, and you will not leave of your own accord. These things are invariably true.
Markus Weinzierl was reappraised of these facts this week. After just one season, Schalke fired its coach. And replaced him with a 31-year-old. The Bundesliga is a wonderland.
Ajax fans are still bandaging their bloodied expectations after Manchester United dulled them, bored them to death and then rammed them into the bottom of the ocean. So the Europa League final didn’t go quite as planned.
It was otherwise a somewhat disappointing season for trophy-less Ajax, which crashed out of the KNVB Cup in December and failed to win the league behind Feyenoord. The silver lining was the Europa League, because despite the loss in the finals the performance still granted them passage into the Champions League qualifying rounds. Consolation prizes are perhaps better than none at all?
In any case, Ajax enjoyed a pretty quality year elsewhere. Its renowned youth teams collected cup after cup, and the Ajax women won the Dutch league 11 points clear of its nearest competitor (that is, you’ll note, the new home of U.S. international Toni Payne). All those accomplishments were just this week rolled into one in Ajax’s annual Goal of the Year competition, in which they round up the 10 best goals scored by all of Ajax’s various teams and pit them against one another.
And there’s an American on it.
If you haven’t yet, I suggest you first read Noah Davis’ piece on Tottenham’s Cameron Carter-Vickers over at Bleacher Report. It’s a good primer for Carter-Vickers’ career to this point, and how it is that he’s become the most exciting and seemingly pro-ready teenager yet to really get a chance at his club.
In any case, by now it’s beyond obvious that Carter-Vickers has a USMNT career ahead. In fact, it rankled most everyone who’s seen him play that he isn’t already cap-tied. For reasons beyond the pale, Jurgen Klinsmann did not sub Carter-Vickers on during the embarrassment in Costa Rica during qualifying last year that ultimately cost Klinsmann his job. The game well over in the last 10 minutes, Klinsmann had the opportunity to lock up Carter-Vickers amid speculation that England was hovering, and a throwaway sub stint that would’ve done the trick. He did not.
All indications seem to point to there being little worry about Carter-Vickers’ American future. But we’ve also heard that before.
Last year, after a wildly successful run as a competitive director with the U.S. Olympic Committee, Iowa native Peter Vint made a widely covered move to Everton as its new academy director. Using data analysis and a unique eye for quality, Peter was a coup for Everton’s youth development apparatus, a post he just recently announced he was leaving.
And now it appears his son may be headed to… Manchester United?
Peter’s son Will Vint came up in the Real Colorado system in the Development Academy, and he recently won a handful of EPL trials at Fulham and dear ‘ol dad’s Everton before heading up the road to Manchester United. The Red Devils have a recent history with Americans after poaching vaunted right back Matt Olosunde from the New York Red Bulls last year. They’ve also housed Josh Doughty, who’s played in both the Canadian and U.S. youth systems over the years.
And according to words of uncertain merit emanating from the ancestral home of Boudicca, Will Vint might be about to join them.
From London’s Daily Mail: