Thursday, June 30, 2022

Real Madrid want Chicago Fire’s Gabriel Slonina, but is the Spanish club the right fit for the young American?

2022 has been a wild year for Chicago Fire keeper Gabriel Slonina. A hot start to the season during which he was only beaten for two goals in seven matches of the season suddenly changed after the Fire fell out of the US Open Cup to Union Omaha. During that match, Slonina met with the head coach of the Poland national team, Czesław Michniewicz, kicking off a whirlwind month and a half for the young American. 

Slonina was already a hot commodity by that point. He’d been a Chelsea transfer target until sanctions on owner Roman Abramovic stopped their ability to sign new players. During the time that followed his meeting with Poland, the play of the Fire and Slonina suffered on the pitch. After the great start to the season, the team has conceded 18 goals in the last seven matches. This isn’t down specifically to Slonina’s play but it’s also fair for other things to be going through his mind given how wild things have been for him since April.

Gaga Slonina’s whirlwind spring

April 19: Slonina meets with Poland national team

May 17: Slonina called up to Poland national team for upcoming nations league matches

May 22: Slonina commits his future to the United States but is not called up for June international matches

May 30: Real Madrid prepares an opening bid for Slonina 

June 2: Chicago Fire turn down a bid from Real Madrid and Slonina’s agent releases a statement

Slonina’s mentality has been praised multiple times by his coaches for club and country as well as his agent Jaime Garcia — who also manages fellow teenage phenom, Ricardo Pepi. But where things get tricky are when it comes to the additional pressure that comes as transfer rumors swirl and the tug of war between clubs and agents become public. After the Real Madrid bid was rejected Garcia started negotiating through the media.

“It should be an honor for Chicago, and MLS to have Real Madrid take notice of one of their players,” Garcia said. We are hoping Chicago can find an agreement with Real Madrid to realize Gabriel’s dream of playing for this club. He’s worked very hard, he is an unbelievable person and player as well, but the person is remarkable. I’ve only met a few people who work as hard as he does. He’s a very smart and courageous young man.”

In a way he’s right as on the global stage it doesn’t get much bigger than Real Madrid for an 18-year-old. But also, taking into account that Chelsea and Wolverhampton are in the mix too according to Tom Bogert, the Fire have to do their due diligence and accept the right deal for the club and the player. “You cannot say no to Real Madrid,” Garcia said before continuing to say, “I think we have a duty of care to these players as PEOPLE first; when the person is at the forefront it’s always easy to find solutions on the back end.”

Slonina’s agent feels that the Fire are asking for a fee that is too high and that they should just accept the bid in what will be a record sale for the club. But the club also has an obligation to get this right to use any transfer as a springboard for improving a team that is at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in Major League soccer.

Then, there is also the question of whether Real Madrid the best destination for Slonina. Los Blancos signed their current backup Andriy Lunin at 18 and three years later he has only made seven appearances in La Liga play. Five of those were while on loan to Leganes and the other two were at Real Madrid. At 23 now, while he may have learned a lot behind Thibaut Courtois, it’s tough to say that this was the best move available for him.

At Chelsea, it would maybe have been a similar learning from Edouard Mendy, but the Blues also have a track record of not only getting players good loan moves for their development but also preparing players for Premier League soccer even if it’s with another team. Conor Gallagher, Marc Guehi, and Valentino Livramento are great examples of Chelsea products playing elsewhere in the Premier League this year, but Chelsea’s fingerprints are across top flights worldwide.

Given Slonina’s age, his next move needs to be one that makes sense for all parties, not just a move to the biggest club possible. He’s in a formative stage of his career where with a push in the right direction he could be on the path to being one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the sure starter for the United States in 2026 when the World Cup is on home soil. But with the three US keepers (Ethan Horvath, Zack Steffen and Matt Turner), already set as backups at top Premier League clubs, there is a cautionary tale if his agent forces a move to the wrong place.

Right now, Slonina is in the middle of the classic transfer tug of war. His agent is publicly pushing for a move to the biggest club possible, his current team is demanding more money to let him go, and other suitors are hovering in the wings. But, regardless of how the transfer ultimately shakes out for Slonina, the important thing for him is that he gets the opportunity to continue to develop into the exciting talent that the soccer world clearly believes he will. It’s worth him, and his agent taking a long hard look at whether Real will be that place.

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