The New York Red Bulls off-season continues its clown car path to opening day with today's official confirmation that the club has purchased Ambroise Oyongo's playing rights. Because he was on loan - as was never previously disclosed - from a club he has never played for (as far as we know).
Oyongo made his name at Cameroon's Coton Sport FC. The club won three top-flight league titles and the Cameroon Cup while he was playing for it. Oyongo got some national team attention, playing in the 2011 U-20 World Cup and winning his first senior international cap in 2013.
A transfer to Ligue 1's Lille was expected in 2014, but never materialized. Oyongo turned up as a trialist in Mike Petke's pre-season camp and was "signed" in March 2014. He went on to deliver some memorable moments for RBNY, including the best bad cross in the history of the club.
Now we know he wasn't "signed' in the traditional sense last March, merely on loan. OK. RBNY's press release announcing the club had "purchased playing rights" to Oyongo goes on to say those rights were previously held by Rainbow FC Bamenda.
Oyongo - as best the public record can attest - has never played for Rainbow FC, a lower league club in Cameroon. It is owned by Rainbow Sports Investments, essentially a "progressive thinking sports agency" according to an article by Wilmington Hammerheads' General Manager Jason Arnold, who went on a scouting trip to Cameroon arranged by RSI in 2014.
This is starting to feel a little bit like third-party ownership, an increasingly frowned-upon practice in football - though considered to much more widely spread than is reported and a model responsible for some of the sport's murkier business stories.
As a point of fact, however, Rainbow FC is a football club. RBNY dealt - it would appear - with Rainbow FC, and that is the way FIFA would prefer football clubs to do their business: with each other. The fact Rainbow FC seems only to be in this deal to satisfy a technicality (that clubs rather than investment groups should hold and trade player contracts) is the only eyebrow-raising part of this transaction.
Indeed, before one rushes to cast too many aspersions on the deal, we should note that MLS - which might be characterized as a holding company for a group of investors in soccer-related assets - just presided over a similar affair: Omar Salgado was flipped from Vancouver Whitecaps to NYC FC prior to his transfer to Tigres UANL in Mexico.
The only substantive difference between the two deals: Salgado didn't play a year in Mexico on a hitherto unannounced "loan" before NYC FC stepped up to claim a role in the transfer no one had previously anticipated. Rainbow FC's hitherto unannounced role in an unannounced loan does, however, echo Appollon Limassol's role in Doneil Henry's transfer out of Toronto FC.
This is the way MLS likes to do business. In common with a great many soccer entities around the world. It is possible to do these sort of deals out in the open - that is effectively what MLS did with Salgado - but many more are rumored to occur behind closed doors. Third-party ownership is evolving, finding ways to satisfy the increasing regulatory efforts to ban it, morphing into something that may prove to be the new norm for transfers. And MLS would seem to be an enthusiastic partner in the advanced business practices required to dance between a complex set of restrictions. The Frank Lampard saga might also be a case in point.
Nothing about the Oyongo deal as reported appears irregular other than the failure to disclose its basic terms up front. Its details are only of (relatively minor) interest because RBNY (and MLS) chose to keep them secret for a while - and secrecy tends to lead one to consider what there might be to hide.
In this case, it would appear MLS/RBNY was hiding from a discussion of third-party ownership. Like the Doneil Henry deal, a player's rights were parked with a club he had never played for, a club which subsequently popped up in a cosmetic role in a transfer deal.
From the perspective of RBNY and its fans, the whole matter is (we think) resolved. Oyongo is a Red Bull in as definitive a sense as it is possible to be. His success on the field is what will concern us moving forward.
But the way he got on to our field reveals a way of doing business that we have seen before in MLS in recent months, and which we will probably see again. Don't expect this to be the last time RBNY gets involved in a player deal that isn't entirely what was imagined when first announced. And as the Lampard matter illustrates, these complex deals don't always work out to everyone's satisfaction.
This one did. And for the fact we can look forward to another season of one of the brightest prospects in MLS playing for RBNY (the rest of the league will presumably wake up to his talents soon enough) is a reason to thank Rainbow FC, RBNY, and even Ali Curtis, for getting this deal done without a Lampard-style shock to the system.