The Revolution did not expect to lose goalkeeper Djordje Petrović, not while they were preparing for a playoff run, anyway. But everything changed last month, when Chelsea FC checked in with an offer that shattered MLS records. Once the ante got to $17.2 million, Petrovic said goodbye Foxborough, hello London.
Good business, but it left the Revolution in the lurch. Short a keeper, the Revolution acted quickly to acquire Czech veteran Tomas Vaclik. But while he awaits visa approval, the Revolution had to call up second-teamer Nico Campuzano to back up Earl Edwards in a 2-2 tie with Austin FC last week.
Despite losing Petrovic, the Revolution, who visit Minnesota United on Saturday, feel they are set for the rest of the season. Vaclik sports an impressive track record playing against Europe’s best, and Edwards has compiled a 3-2-2 record in all competitions. But losing the MLS’s best young goalkeeper just when the team might need him most doesn’t seem like a winning strategy.
Or does it?
“The reality is we didn’t want to have to move Djordje,” Revolution technical director Curt Onalfo said recently.
Not until after the season, that is. But the situation started getting complicated in July, when two clubs — FC Nantes and Nottingham Forest — bid about $7 million each for Petrovic. Since Petrovic, 23, figured to bank a percentage of the transfer fee, plus at least triple his Revolution salary ($450,000 annually), he was ready to board the next flight out of Logan.
But since Petrovic remained under contract, the Revolution were not letting him get away, not with second place in the Eastern Conference standings on the line. The Revolution wanted fair compensation, and while the teams went back and forth, Petrovic skipped a game. Once it became clear both Nantes and Nottingham Forest were standing firm, Petrovic returned to his starting role, resigned to seeing out the season with the Revolution.
“We turned down offers from Forest and Nantes, and when that happens you have to manage the player, as well,” Onalfo said. “Djordje was really looking forward to those particular moves to help his career. We had to explain there’s more than just him in a transaction. We were honest with him, let him know we were looking to do this in winter, and there would be a better opportunity. He kept an open mind to that, he understood, and was respectful. But we had to be smart with him. When a player goes through this it’s mentally draining.”
The Revolution were proven right about a better opportunity, wrong about the timing. Instead of December, Petrovic’s chance came in August. (The European transfer window goes from July through Sept. 1, then opens again at year’s end. MLS contracts run through Jan. 1.)
“With Chelsea, everything changed,” Onalfo said. “The magnitude of the club, the opportunity for him, and the situation — he’s going to be second and have a chance to compete for first, like any goalkeeper. As soon as Chelsea came in it was very different.”
Similar situations occur in Serbia, Petrovic’s home country, in basketball, when an NBA team comes calling. And Chelsea happens to be on a shopping spree, with owner Todd Boehly splashing cash to the tune of more than $1 billion in transfer fees. For Petrovic, Chelsea ended up paying out $17.2 million, and incentives could increase the total to nearly $20 million — double the previous record transfer fee for an MLS goalkeeper.
As far as the transfer money, most of it goes to the Revolution, who could further profit should Petrovic generate a future move. Players usually receive 10 percent of the fee, so that translates to nearly $2 million for Petrovic, plus the chance to earn a Premier League living (average salary $2 million-plus). Performing on the world’s biggest stages also factors in.
Could the Revolution have kept Petrovic?
Not likely. Their only chance might have been to offer Petrovic similar compensation. The Kraft family might be able to match Boehly for generosity but would have been restricted by MLS’s salary cap. In terms of the financial food chain, the gap between the teams is massive: Chelsea’s roster is valued at $995 million; the Revolution’s $48 million.
In the last two years, the Revolution have led the way for MLS teams in the transfer market, earning more than $40 million for four players: Petrovic; Adam Buksa ($10 million); plus Tajon Buchanan and Matt Turner ($7 million each). But the Revolution are not close to competing in the high-stakes global market with Chelsea, which earned nearly $300 million on transfers this year, and has loaned out dozens of valuable players at no cost.
Despite their recent success, the pace the Revolution have set in exporting players will probably even out. There are not going to be many more prospects similar to Buchanan or Turner, unrecruited collegians who developed into MLS stars. The next Revolution performers to go could be Noel Buck, who is with the England U-19 national team; DeJuan Jones; or Tomas Chancalay, acquired on loan from Racing in Argentina.
If the Revolution hope to contend for titles, their best bets among imports would seem to be players such as Gustavo Bou and the Gil brothers, Carles and Nacho, who are past being attractive transfer targets and won’t be lost to national team duty.
European clubs want young prospects on their way up. And what the Premier League wants, it usually gets.
“Djordje is an outstanding goalkeeper and he’s done a great job for us,” Onalfo said. “The intention wasn’t to sell him, but sometimes in life situations make it impossible not to.
“We’re confident we’ve signed a very good goalkeeper [Vaclik] coming in. Whenever somebody moves on there’s opportunity. Earl Edwards has done a very good job, and Jacob Jackson has played 12 games for the second team, and is extremely talented, too. We have contingency plans in place because there is always a window closing in our league and another international window opening. You always have to say, ‘What happens if Chelsea comes in?’ “
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.