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Big profits and big costs can come with Charlotte FC entering the Wonderkid transfer market

By Ryan Donahue

Albert Grønbӕk (Photo courtesy of Bodø/Glimt)

On January 7, 2024, Tom Bogert from The Athletic reported that Charlotte FC had submitted a bid of $9.5 million for FK Bodø/Glimt’s 22-year-old center-attacking midfielder Albert Grønbӕk. 

The Danish native featured in 70 appearances during his time with Bodø/Glimt last season scoring 12 goals, and contributing eight assists across the Norwegian league’s domestic fixtures. Grønbӕk has also shown to be productive in front of the net in Bodø/Glimt’s Europa Conference League campaign scoring four goals and two assists across 12 appearances.

Charlotte’s bid for Grønbӕk, should it be accepted, would be the largest in Bodø/Glimt’s history. While Bodø/Glimt is still in pursuit of the Europa Conference League the club will likely have to consider a bid of such significance. Grønbӕk is also linked with ties to some of Europe’s more prominent sides including Napoli, Leicester City, and Galatasaray however no bids from any of these clubs have been submitted.

While Charlotte may face competition to lock down Grønbӕk’s contract if other sides enter the bidding race it would not be the first time that an MLS Team has secured a top prospect's services over its European rivals.

In recent years MLS has seen exponential growth and development shaking off the reputation of being a retirement league and while Inter Miami has not adopted this philosophy, the league as a whole has emphasized building around younger talent that comes with teams attempting to buy low and sell high, or buy high and sell higher (e.g., Miguel Almirón). Giving its players the platform to showcase their abilities before being sold on for a profit to clubs in Europe.

A recent example is in February 2022, Atlanta United signed young Argentine midfielder Thiago Almada for $16 million as their Young Designated Player (YDP). Before joining Atlanta, in 2021 Almada expressed a preference to leave his former club, Vélez, to join a European side, however, soon after this statement a deal with Atlanta was announced. Since then Almada has featured for Atlanta in 60 games scoring 17 goals and assisting 23 times accelerating his rise to becoming one of the top players in Major League Soccer and winning the MLS Young Player of the Year award. 

Although the Argentine World Cup winner has shown brilliance and flair across his time in MLS he recently backed up his claims from 2021 restating his desire to eventually go play in Europe. If Almada were to leave Atlanta it would cost top sides like Napoli who were at one point linked with the player almost double the value of which Atlanta paid back in 2021.

While Almada could have made the initial jump to Europe directly from Vélez back in 2022 it is likely that the performances he has displayed during his time in MLS in addition to featuring in the 2022 World Cup-winning Argentina squad have elevated his status and made him a candidate for many of Europe’s more premium sides. 

If Almada were to leave he would be the second Atlanta United player who took this path with Miguel Almirón who after a successful stint in MLS made his move to Newcastle United which at the time of his signing was struggling to survive in the Premier League but since the change in leadership is now featuring in Champions League matches and Almirón has slotted into the starting 11 as a key player.

Orlando City was another club that leaped into the high-level prospect pool by signing Uruguay international winger Facundo Torres from Peñarol. Torres joined the club as a YDP enabling a lower salary budget hit than players over the age of 23. 

Since joining the club, Torres has had interest from the likes of Arsenal, however, after a second season in which he scored 14 goals and picked up 4 assists Torres has now extended his contract with Orlando through 2026 and transitioned from a YDP to a Senior DP. Having signed a contract extension with Torres being a high-profile young winger Orlando will expect to continue receiving interest from large clubs in the future and if a favorable offer were to come in for him Orlando would likely expect to get a big return on this early investment.

Costs and benefits

The examples of Torres, Almada, and Almirón demonstrate how these prospective young talents while potentially playing short term in MLS can still offer the clubs huge incentives in terms of performance and sell on value down the road should they have a successful campaign and decide to move on.

The Almada transfer saga shows that there should also be no concern that reports have stated Grønbӕk may be more interested in other big clubs. If this is indeed the case, Grønbӕk is simply looking at his odds and trying to work out what is best for his career trajectory. If a bid comes in from a bigger club it makes more sense for Grønbӕk to take that offer, because MLS could likely still be a possible destination if that bigger European club does not work out. If Grønbӕk joins MLS and it does not work out (which is possible even for high-level prospects) he is looking at a very difficult road back into the European transfer circuit.

By entering the more premium-cost prospect market, Charlotte is demonstrating their win-now intent. It also comes with the challenge that larger profile clubs are more likely to swoop in and snag the deal out from under them. An additional cost is time. Players and clubs are more likely to delay and wait to see what other offers come in. This can impact Charlotte if the deal does not go through and they have to go back to the drawing board.

If Charlotte FC is successful in securing Grønbӕk ahead of the 2024 season the ambition may inevitably lead him to a return to Europe however if he is to produce the same results for Charlotte that Almada, Torres, and Almirón achieved, Charlotte fans will have something to look forward to each week.