The Aaron Long transfer saga rolls on. The latest rumors have Southampton entering the mix. Marseille may be in the mix too. There are varying reports on fee (Transfermarkt has him around $4M), making it difficult to judge exactly how the New York Red Bulls should approach the situation.
We already know the varying advantages and disadvantages MLS teams face when deciding whether to sell a player. Long was nearly transferred in the summer, only for a deal to fall apart and his agent to make a fuss on Twitter. The Red Bulls may have balked because they thought they could get a better fee in the summer, or perhaps because they felt they had a chance to contend for a trophy in MLS. (They lost in the first round at Philadelphia Union)
MLS, in part because of its single-entity system, takes a percentage of teams’ transfer fees when a player is sold. While that has not discouraged some major transfers (Alphonso Davies, Miguel Almiron, etc.), it likely influences decisions on less shiny assets. Long is 27 and a center-back, not 19 and an electric wide player. The Red Bulls likely have an internal number that they’re looking for in order to part with Long. It seems that no offer has reached exactly what NYRB are looking for.
If Red Bulls are ever going to sell Aaron Long, now is the time
At some point, though, it will be hard for the Red Bulls not to pull the trigger. Long seems interested in a move, and it’s hard to blame him. These are top-tier European teams who are looking to acquire his services. It’s unlikely that they would be interested if they weren’t going to give him a first team role, given his age.
Long was not the world-beating central defender in 2019 that he was in 2018. He did not make a best XI and did not come close to repeating as Defender of the Year. He declined in form after the USMNT‘s loss in the Gold Cup final to Mexico. The Red Bulls are already undergoing major roster renovations.
Longtime goalkeeper Luis Robles sensed the team wanted a change and asked out of his contract, signing with Inter Miami instead. Bradley Wright-Phillips, who finally showed his age last season after years of high-volume scoring, is on the market and may be signed by another MLS team. Veteran defender Connor Lade retired. Some fans are displeased with manager Chris Armas. After years of dismantling and trying to stay young, it finally feels like the end of an era in New Jersey.
Transferring Long would cap it off. As much as the Red Bulls may like to keep him as the centerpiece of their backline, it probably makes more sense to find a suitor and recoup assets for him. It feels inevitable that a move will finally be made in January.
European moves can be risky
For Long’s USMNT career, a move to Europe provides him a higher ceiling but a lower floor. He could form a magnificent top choice partnership with the national team alongside, say, John Brooks, if he carves out a significant role on a Premier League or Ligue 1 club.
But we’ve seen other Americans go to Europe (particularly England) only to rarely play or be sent on loan. No one wants to see Long languish on West Ham’s bench. Being able to say he plays in the Premier League does nothing to offset the cost of not playing any soccer at all.
Ideally, Long enters a team as an important contributor and sees minutes. It’s not like he’s going anywhere on loan. That best-case first-team scenario provides him the best chance to advance as a player as much as possible. US fans surely want to see Long playing somewhere in Europe. It comes down to whether the Red Bulls are willing to see him go.