Sunday, January 23, 2022

Here We Go: Inside MLS transfers, featuring Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike’s exit and Lorenzo Insgine’s arrival

The first week of the January window brought many surprises on the MLS front. Lorenzo Insigne officially agreed to became a Toronto FC player starting from July 2022, while Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike moved to Augsburg and West Bromwich Albion, both on permanent moves. Let’s go behind the scenes of these three deals.

How Toronto wooed Insigne

The story between Insigne and Toronto entered its decisive moments months after the Canadian MLS club first contacted Insigne earlier, and patiently waited after placing five-and-a-half-year offer on the table as the Italian player took his time through November. In December, the Toronto FC began to insist and the temptation became very strong for the Napoli man. There a key aspect to consider in these talks: Napoli never improved their initial proposal to Insigne — a contract worth €3.5 million net per year plus €1.5 million in bonuses. The 30-year-old would have earned less than the current agreement (€5 million guaranteed per season), which is why he was disappointed to see that Napoli would not have improved the offer.

The strength of Toronto FC’s offer preyed on his doubts. But it wasn’t just the MLS record-breaking economic size of the offer, but also the idea of a five-year project that will be linked to Insigne as the headliner. Not to mention as well as the promise of benefits to the player and his family, from a personal house in Toronto to the English teacher they will need. Toronto’s advances made Insigne feel important, which did not happen with Napoli, his lifelong club which he has been with since he was 15. The love with the fans obviously remains intact, but this separation from the club is a shock to not only the team but the entire city.

The decisive call came around Dec. 20, when Toronto received a green light from Insigne to get into the details of the proposal. There was a lot of talk about Inter Milan, Newcastle and Tottenham, but none of those clubs made official offers to Insgine. Besides Toronto, only Borussia Dortmund got serious information, but they would only think about signing Insigne as free agent in the summer. Insigne wanted Toronto, a feeling he reached quickly after looking at the offer seriously.

Augsburg beat Wolfsburg to Pepi’s signature

Ricardo Pepi arriving at Augsburg, on the other hand, is a surprising story because that move was a bit unexpected. Wolfsburg had been frontrunners for weeks, but never agreed to the final details of a deal with FC Dallas. Pepi’s agent has had many meetings with European clubs. Pepi’s dream has always been Real Madrid but there have been no offers from Spain, he’s probably still too young. From Italy, Inter Milan and Sampdoria made some inquiries. Ajax had some serious intentions to buy Pepi, but that €16 million price tag was deemed too much at a difficult financial time for everyone. 

Augsburg acted in secret within three days. First came the agreement with Dallas, then a blitz from the board with Pepi and his agent to reach an agreement on a five-year contract, a quick negotiation that proved successful. Pepi was immediately convinced by the idea of going to the Bundesliga, a league that gives a lot of space to young people rather than other leagues such as Serie A where Bryan Reynolds is struggling for minutes at AS Roma. And just days after joining, he’s already made his first appearance for the club battling against relegation.

Manager crucial in Dike’s West Brom decision

Daryl Dike chose West Brom as the ideal destination because of the presence of the manager Valerien Ismael. Contacts were frequent, so West Brom decided to buy him on a permanent deal, instead of on loan which was how the negotiations started, precisely because they were convinced of the deal’s qualities and long-term potential. It’s the latest example of how more and more, MLS is growing into a league which exports potential talents to Europe even as they also become an even more attractive talents like Insigne moving in the other direction

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