August 3 is transfer deadline day in MLS 2016, and the New York Red Bulls have a couple of rumored signings pending. One of the players reported to be on RBNY's list is Omer Damari, currently of RB Leipzig. Reports and rumors suggest his proposed loan to RBNY is most challenged by the very short amount of time remaining to get it finalized.
While we watch and wait for news, here are a few things to know about Damari, the man who might be RB Leipzig's first successful synergy transfer to RBNY.
1. He is on the outs at RB Leipzig
Let's get the bad news out of the way first: Damari isn't coming to RBNY because of his compelling form. He has been surplus to requirements at Brother Leipzig pretty much since he returned from last season's loan to Brother Salzburg. For Papa's Austrian outlet in the 2015-16 season, Damari had injury issues and managed just 16 league appearances and four goals. He was signed by Leipzig in January 2015, logging 10 appearances and no goals in 2. Bundesliga. The loan to Salzburg was presumably supposed to get him back to form, and better aligned with the requirements of RalfBall. It would seem that was not successful.
Moving to RBNY looks less like another effort to get Damari playing better RalfBall, and more like moving him a little closer to the door marked "This Way Out Of RB Global Soccer", while giving him another shot at regular playing time to re-boot his career.
When Leipzig started pre-season training, Bild declared there was "no future" for Damari at the club. Rumors he was being shopped around for a loan started shortly thereafter:
Speaking of Austria. Omer Damari will be sent on loan from RB Leipzig. Clubs that are interested will have to pay his 1 million+euro salary.— Raphael Gellar (@Raphael_Gellar) July 12, 2016
And he has been training with Leipzig's U-23s. Dubbed an expensive bust by Bild, the 27-year-old needs a fresh start to reboot a stalled career. As Ralf Rangnick recently told LVZ.de, Damari's choices currently are either play with RBNY or kill time with Leipzig's reserve team.
2. He is a proven scorer
He may not have shown it for the last 18 months or so, but Damari has been a proven and prolific scorer for most of his career. He was a reliable "one-in-two" striker for four straight seasons in Israel, including 10 goals in 19 appearances for Hapoel Tel Aviv in Europa League matches. And he announced himself at the international level with a brace against Iceland in the first 15 minutes of his debut for his national team.
Austria Wien paid a reasonable fee to acquire him for the 2014-15 season, reportedly more than doubling the salary he'd been receiving in Israel. And he rewarded that faith with eight goals in 13 games in Austrian Bundesliga. The move to Vienna also coincided with his hottest run of form to date for his country: he scored five goals in Israel's first three games of Euro 2016 qualifying in October and November.
That is why RB Leipzig scooped him up in January 2015 - about half a season after he'd moved to Austria. Damari was 25 at the time and one of the hottest scorers in Europe, performing reliably at levels that suggested he'd find success with an ambitious 2. Bundesliga team.
3. He has scored in America before
In June 2014, Israel played Honduras in a friendly that was part of Los Catrachos' prep for that summer's World Cup. Israel steamrollered Honduras, winning 4-2 in BBVA Compass Stadium. Damari scored Israel's third goal.
4. He is modest, but ambitious
Back in 2011, Damari made a relatively big move from the club that gave him his start, Maccabi Petah Tikva, to the one he'd supported since childhood, Hapoel Tel Aviv. In the context of Israeli club soccer, it was a big step up. Damari met great expectations with a level head, telling Haaretz:
I don't pretend to be a star. I'm here to work, that's all that interests me. I can understand the great expectations and the pressure to prove that I'm worthy, but I won't be a star from day one. Still, I hope not to disappoint anyone and to stand up to the challenge
At the same time, he'd just missed out on a move to Glasgow Celtic, and didn't hide his feelings from fans of his new club:
I was very disappointed that the Celtic deal didn't go through, I wanted to play in Europe.
In 2014, he got his move to Europe. He arrived at Austria Wien much as he'd arrived at Hapoel Tel Aviv: as an expensive signing by the club's standards. Speaking to ynet.com about the experience of settling in to a new country, he conceded he missed home, but again noted the need to focus on the job he had been hired to do:
Nor did he deny his ambitions:
This isn't the top league in Europe, but I prefer not to look too far ahead. I've been here for just 11 games, and I have a four-year contract. I want to stay here for at least another season or two, to progress, and then we'll see where I get to. Soccer officials from all over Europe come to watch games here...And scouts are always coming over from Germany, France and England. If it were up to me, I'd like to play in Germany or Spain.
By January, he had his wish: Leipzig swooped in to bring him to Germany. And by July he was back in Austria, loaned out to Brother Salzburg after injury and illness disrupted his time in Leipzig. Again, he offered a balanced, professional account of his mindset to his new club:
I don’t have any personal aims – I only want to give my best as part of the team. If I have a wish, it would be to avoid getting injured this season...You learn something from every crisis. It’s a new beginning for me, and I want to make it count.
Even when he landed back in Germany this summer, aware he was no longer wanted in Leipzig, he sounded much like the 22-year-old who told Haaretz he doesn't pretend to be a star, telling BILD:
It is a difficult situation for me. I'm healthy again and want to play football. But I also know that there is no future for me in Leipzig. Both sides are working to resolve.
Call it media training, by all means, but he seems to have retained a straightforward, modest, professional outlook throughout his career. It served him well as he racked up seven-figure transfer fees and dramatic salary increases, and it appears to be keeping him focused as he tries to figure out how to get his career moving forward again.
5. He is under contract with Leipzig until June 2018
As announced by RB Leipzig when Damari was signed from Austria Wien, his contract with the German club runs until June 2018. The rumored move to RBNY has been described as a loan "until the end of the season".
RB Leipzig management has informed Omer Damari that he will be sent on-loan to the New York Red Bulls until the end of the season.— Raphael Gellar (@Raphael_Gellar) August 1, 2016
Whether that is the end of the MLS or Bundesliga season will presumably be made clear when and if Damari signs for RBNY. Either way, he won't be moving simply to run out the clock on his contract before fleeing RB Soccer on a free transfer. He's got two years left attached to RB Leipzig. The purpose of any loan at this stage of his contract is surely for him to revive his reputation sufficiently that a potential new club might be willing to offer a fee to Leipzig, allowing for some portion of Papa's investment to be recouped.
6. He's a big investment for RB Global Soccer
Depending on which sources you choose to believe, Papa paid either around $5.6 million or close to $8 million to acquire Damari from Austria Wien. And is paying out a salary around $1.7 million per year.
According to Liga-Zwei.de, Damari's transfer to Leipzig was one of the top five most expensive in the history of 2. Bundesliga. At the time the deal was done, the Jerusalem Post reported it was the fourth-highest fee ever paid for an Israeli player.
One of the tenets of RalfBall is prudence in the transfer market. Ralf Rangnick likes to say he treats every dollar spent like his own. The success of any transfer cannot be guaranteed, but RB Global Soccer is not a spendthrift organization.
There is a time to cut losses and move on, but Damari is barely at the halfway mark of his contract. A loan to MLS might at least move some of his salary off Leipzig's books and on to those of RBNY and MLS. And if he can find form, then maybe some of that transfer fee can be reclaimed with a sale to whomever is interested in a revitalized Darami at the end of his loan.
In an end-of-year interview with Bild in 2015, RB Head of Global Soccer Oliver Mintzlaff made clear that the entire organization is governed by strong awareness of the value of a dollar (or euro):
BILD: You have recently recognized internally cutbacks...And the Christmas party took place in your living room instead of Red Bull Arena ...
Mintzlaff: I want that we pay attention to the cost. Every euro that we spend, we treat as if it were our own. Moreover, the Christmas party was one of the best in recent years...It has not always to do with money, but the attention to detail is critical.
Further, the rather dramatic cut in costs at RBNY was presented as a long-term strategy that had already delivered success (as well as a notable not-denial that the team had been made more attractive to potential buyers):
BILD: There were always times again the rumors that Red Bull wants to sell its New York branch ...
Mintzlaff: We have the total budget to many millions of dollars reduced (about 20 million dollars, d.Red.), Have played football successfully with the smallest team budget of the League of 3.6 million dollars. We want to continue on this path, although there is great interest from English clubs and investors.
Acquiring Damari in January 2015 cost RB Global Soccer more than its entire team budget for RBNY for that year.
It seems unlikely that this penny-pinching organization is trying to get Damari over to New York as a mere accounting trick. He's under contract for another two years and he has more than $3 million in salary due in that time.
One would expect the sort of organization RB Global Soccer claims to be to want to at least try to get some of its money back, as well as minimize continuing costs. In that context, RBNY isn't a convenient dumpster for Leipzig to toss its trash into and forget about it; RBNY is a shop window.
7. He is illustrative of a common culture in RB Global Soccer
Despite RB soccer's penny-pinching, the culture of the organization does not appear to be one that is overawed by big-money fees and salaries. If a player isn't cutting it, a player won't get on the field, regardless of what was spent to bring him into the squad.
This has been apparent in RBNY's treatment of its most expensive signing of the RalfBall era: Gonzalo Veron. He is currently being kept out of the starting lineup in MLS by rookie Homegrown signing Alex Muyl. "No soloists" is Ralf Rangnick's summary of a policy that prioritizes team over individual players (it's also a summary of why Rangnick-inspired teams tend not to rely on traditional #10-type play-makers).
Though Veron cost RBNY less than half (by most estimates) of what Damari cost Leipzig, they are comparable investments by the relative standards of their respective clubs. And neither player has found his club willing to make room in the starting lineup for them if performances don't appear to warrant their selection.
If Damari ends up in the same squad as Veron, they might be considered a collective reminder of the truth of the favored mantra of RBNY's RalfBall years (well, year-and-a-half): the team is indeed the star.
8. He played with rumored RBNY transfer target Daniel Royer at Austria Wien
If the rumors and reports prove true and RBNY does bring in Damari and winger Daniel Royer before the MLS transfer window closes, it will be a canny piece of business by Sporting Director Ali Curtis. The motivation behind acquiring both players is to get attacking help in to the squad. Short-term attacking help, win-now attacking help - because the reserves are stacked with developing talent, so there is no need to frantically race the MLS transfer deadline just to sign a couple of more experienced versions of the sort of players working their way through the development pipeline. No need, unless you want your team to be better right now.
But mid-season transfers to MLS are notoriously risky. It takes a while for players from outside the league to get used to its rules and routines. And there are the usual issues with developing understanding of new teammates and tactics.
Hat tip to RBNY Twitter's @jerzyiroc for spotting that Damari and Royer overlapped at Austria Wien:
So Royer and Omer played together for a year at Austria Wien During that time they had a combined 13 goals 7 assists in 46 apps 1/3— Fernando Gonzalez (@Jerzyiroc) August 1, 2016
They know each other. They played together. Perhaps they will ease each other's transition to MLS and bolster their respective contributions to the first team. It's not a bad idea. We'll have to wait and see whether both players are signed to see if it has merit.