Atlanta United are set to have four DPs when they sign Pity Martinez. Some have suggested loaning out Ezequiel Barco to comply by league rules. By it is the wrong move. Here’s why.
Pity Martinez arrived in Atlanta this week. It is an odd circumstance. The South American Player of the Year for 2018 is essentially an Atlanta United player. He has talked about moving to Atlanta. River Plate, his club, has talked about moving to Atlanta. The only thing that needs to happen is the actual announcement.
The delay is a simple problem for President Darren Eales and the Five Stripes to solve. Martinez will arrive in Georgia as the fourth Designated Player. Major League Soccer rules that any team can only take three into a season. Something will have to give.
As a result, it is up to Atlanta to offload one of their current DPs: Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco. Martinez has just signed a new five-year deal. He isn’t going anywhere. Barco is only 19 and is still tuning his craft. Atlanta want to hold onto him for another year or two at the very least. Almiron was the man they were meant to sell, with Europe allegedly calling.
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The problem is that with just a week remaining in the European January transfer window, Almiron is yet to be sold, with a steep price tag reportedly putting off potential suitors. And as the January 31st deadline approaches, panic starts to turn to other ways that Atlanta can dip back down to three DPs. One suggestion has been to loan out Barco for six months and then try and sell Almiron in the summer, when European teams typically spend more.
In principle, it is a plan that makes sense, and it would not surprise if it is something that Eales and the club are considering. But there is a major issue with conducting their business in this manner, other than the logistical issues of keeping a player who will likely be unsettled and unhappy and loaning out a player who you will then be relying upon to return motivated and content: Atlanta would be lying.
The Atlanta business model is to buy young, talented South American talent, offer them superb coaching, a chance to shine in MLS, and then to sell them to Europe after a few years for a profit. It is a plan that has allowed them to build one of the best teams in MLS, winning the MLS Cup in just their second season of existence. That really is a staggering achievement.
But the model relies on Atlanta then being able to sell these players, Almiron being the first of them, to Europe in a manner that benefits both them and the player. If Atlanta loan out Almiron for six months and sell him in the summer, solely focusing on their own profits, rather than the future career outlook of the player, then what message does that send to future potential signings from South America?
The selling point to some of the best talent in world football is Atlanta’s word that they will be sold to Europe in a fair manner. If they break their word at the very first opportunity, then there will be plenty of players beginning to doubt whether a move to the Mercedes Benz Stadium is actually of benefit to their career. And if those doubts prevent players from moving, suddenly, the Atlanta business model will completely collapse.
That is why they cannot loan out Barco. Not just because it will leave them with an unhappy Almiron and likely disillusioned Barco. But because it goes against their word, and their whole business model relies on their word.