Paraguayan national team midfielder Alejandro ‘Kaku’ Romero has long been the subject of transfer rumors since his arrival in Major League Soccer, so when an announcement was made on Monday that he had been sold, there wasn’t much reason not to believe the news.
Apparently there was a reason, because according to the New York Red Bulls, Kaku is still under contract and has not been sold.
Kaku took to social media on Monday to announce his transfer to Saudi Arabian side Al-Taawoun, and Al-Taawoun followed shortly with its own video announcing the signing.
— نادي التعاون السعودي (@AltaawounFC) February 1, 2021
The absence of a corresponding Red Bulls announcement seemed odd, and the Red Bulls finally emerged with a statement on Tuesday, making it clear that they have not sold Kaku:
“We are aware of the announcement made by Altaawoun FC. The New York Red Bulls exercised a club option in Kaku’s Major League Soccer contract for the 2021 season, and he remains under contract with Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls.
So what is going on exactly? On the surface, it appears Kaku’s representatives are attempting to challenge the validity of the option year exercised by the Red Bulls, or at least threaten to in order to expedite a transfer. It is a maneuver that has been tried before, and on both occasions the player in question wound up leaving MLS via transfer.
In 2014, then-Vancouver Whitecaps forward Camilo Sanvezzo forced a transfer to Liga MX side Queretaro when he joined the Mexican club before an agreement on a transfer had been agreed to. The Whitecaps hadn’t intended to sell Sanvezzo, but ultimately wound up selling him for what the Whitecaps called a record fee at the time.
In 2018, Canadian striker Cyle Larin abruptly left Orlando City and joined Turkish side Besiktas despite Orlando City having exercised an option year on Larin’s MLS contract. Larin went through a medical, and even was spotted training with Besiktas before any transfer had been completed, with Besiktas attempting to portray the move as a free transfer. Ultimately, Orlando City and Besiktas agreed on an undisclosed fee for Larin.
Kaku appears to be attempting a similar tactic, which could lead to a messy battle as the Red Bulls fight to either keep the playmaker, or ensure it receives the transfer amount they believe Kaku is worth.
Complicating things further is a looming potential MLS lockout as labor negotiations between the league and MLS Players Union reach a stalemate.
What happens next? If history is any guide, the Red Bulls and Al-Taawoun will ultimately agree on a fee, and the Red Bulls will need to consider the possibility that it won’t be able to sell Kaku for anywhere near the $6.2 million they paid for Kaku when he was first acquired from Huracan in 2018.
The alternative is an ugly legal battle, which is probably not what MLS is looking for as it faces the prospects of a lockout.