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Report: New York Red Bulls traded Tyler Adams for $3 million and a big stake in his future

Thanks to Ives Galarcep at Goal.com, we have a little insight into the deal RB Leipzig struck with RBNY for Tyler Adams.

International Champions Cup 2015 - Chelsea v New York Red Bulls Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Reporting for Goal.com, Ives Galarcep revealed the details of Tyler Adams’ transfer to RB Leipzig that neither RBL nor selling club New York Red Bulls seemed to want revealed.

Per Galarcep’s RB Leipzig will pay $3 million up front and have also granted RBNY a 33% share of any future sale.

It is MLS policy not to disclose transfer details, but when those details are to the benefit of MLS, they have a way of making it into the press pretty quickly. Shortly before Ives’ scoop on the Adams deal, news dropped that FC Dallas starlet Chris Richards would be signing for Bayern Munich before ever playing a competitive game for FCD - for a reported fee of $1.25 million.

And when Jack Harrison’s transfer from NYCFC to Manchester City was finalized, a reported fee of $6 million (plus “performance bonuses and a sizeable sell-on clause”) came with the very first wave of accounts of the deal.

Ives Galarcep was out in front on the reporting of fees for both the Richards and Harrison deals as well, so perhaps the five-day delay between Adams’ transfer being announced and someone being able to suggest a value for the transaction was simply down to Ives having other things to do this week.

Whatever he was doing previously, thanks and congratulations to Galarcep for applying his ability to unearth transfer fees to this case. It was not information either RNL or RBNY seemed inclined to give up.

Much of the time, the fee is the story, or at least part of it. For the best part of the week in Adams’ case, there was a curious divergence of opinion between Germany and the USA about the value of the transfer: the deal was widely reported to be a free transfer in Germany; American media rallied around RBNY Sporting Director Denis Hamlett’s on-the-record “yes” to the question of whether a fee had been paid.

But no word on what that fee was, other than repeated speculation and inference that whatever was paid had to be sufficient to cover the $750,000 maximum a club in MLS can apply from a transfer fee to its own salary budget. The fee of course did not have to be anything other than whatever it was, so further inquiry was warranted.

It seemed extremely unlikely Denis Hamlett would put his name to a statement that was false, but it was nonetheless curious that virtually all of Germany was reporting Adams had gone to RBL for nothing, yet no numbers were leaking out in the US as a counterpoint, nor was Leipzig moved to correct the record.

Not all of Germany reported a free transfer: RB Live advised a “low seven-digit transfer fee” had been paid to RBNY. Galarcep’s reporting looks to be compelling corroboration.

RBL has tied Adams to a long-term contract - until 2023 - which both likely means he’ll be valued at more than $3 million as soon as he formally transfers in January (since the total value of his four-and-a-half-year contract is probably more than that) and that RBNY will have plenty of time in which to hope to see the 19-year-old develop into a player too hot for RBL to handle.

The $3 million initial fee is low: Adams was a first-choice starter for the RBNY squad that just set the MLS single-season points record, and he is a USMNT regular who has been nominated for the US Male Player of the Year Award; Chris Richards hasn’t played a senior competitive game as a pro, and he is supposed to have been worth $1.25 million to Bayern Munich.

Per Galarcep’s reporting, the low fee for Adams is a reflection of the circumstances of the deal rather than any doubt about his ability or long-term prospects.

RB Leipzig and RBNY are for all practical purposes (but not by the letter of the laws governing ownership of Bundesliga clubs with which RBL must comply) under common ownership, so the payment of a transfer fee is closer to an internal accounting procedure - moving budget from one department to another - than a conventional transfer between independent clubs.

Further, MLS recently changed its rules regarding the transfer of homegrown players - cutting itself out of the deals completely. It used to be the case that the league claimed 25% of the fee paid for a homegrown player, but now the club gets to keep all of it. Only $750,000, however, can be applied to the team’s salary budget - a significant figure for a league that had a nominal salary cap (there are many exceptions and the cap rises every year) of around $4 million in 2018. So RBNY could give itself a big boost to its roster with that $750,000, but the rest of any fee can only be applied to other aspects of the club’s operating expenses: infrastructure, academy expenses, funding a cap-busting Designated Player deal - all things that, in principle, the Red Bulls of New York could lean on ownership to provide anyway.

As such, per Ives, Papa Red Bull didn’t really see the point of paying more than $750,000 since that was all that really offered a compelling competitive advantage to RBNY. A higher figure would only suit MLS’ commercial objectives: the satisfaction of touting a big sale to a big foreign club and the subsequent leverage any high-value transfer out of MLS offers future negotiations over what it takes to prise a player away from the league. Paying a premium so MLS could brag about itself to its friends wasn’t Papa’s preference.

But RBNY is part of the MLS family too. The league’s single-entity business model means its clubs are as much departments of one corporation - arguably more so - as the teams huddled under the Red Bull Global Soccer umbrella. MLS holds the contracts of players in the league, pays the vast majority of wages, and signs off on transfers and trades: whatever Papa might have preferred, he couldn’t simply ignore MLS.

ProSoccer USA’s Manuel Veth had provided word of this dispute while the terms of the Adams deal were still lacking definition:

But Galarcep’s report offers a picture of how the dispute was resolved: a low initial payment, but not quite as low as RBL might have liked, and a very significant share of Adams’ next transfer, should Leipzig sell him on for a fee.

There is risk in the deal: RBNY is not guaranteed Adams will ever command a high fee, or any fee at all, when and if he leaves Leipzig. But there is also substantial potential reward: buying low and selling high is baked into the RalfBall model under which all Red Bull clubs operate. Leipzig doesn’t want to be as committed a selling club as RB Salzburg (for which transfer fees are a sustaining source of revenue) but it does sell players. Naby Keita’s $75 million transfer to Liverpool is still the exception rather than the rule of RBL’s recent selling history, but both Leipzig and RBNY would like to think Adams is part of the more-where-Keita-came-from calculation that RBL is banking on keeping it competitive in Bundesliga and beyond.

Despite assurances to the contrary, the nature of this deal is important - at least to any RBNY fans who are interested in how their club is handling itself and being handled within the RB Global Soccer family. The details of the Adams transfer provide a first insight into what it can be hoped is just the first instance of RBNY having something to sell in Papa Red Bull’s intramural transfer market.