A move of mutual benefit was announced on Friday afternoon: the New York Red Bulls transfer of right back Michael Amir Murillo to RSC Anderlecht in Belgium.
Murillo, 23, will get the opportunity in Europe he’s been aiming for, while the Red Bulls receive funds that – per Sporting Director Denis Hamlett – will be utilized to sign players this winter.
“The allocation money we receive as funds from this transfer will be invested back into improving our roster in this transfer window,” Hamlett said.
While charming on the ball and possessing a knack for silky crosses, Murillo became a lightning rod in his third and final season with the Red Bulls. His offensive capability began to be outweighed by his defensive liability, as several moments of lackadaisical defending – most notably in Toronto on July 17 and Montreal on Oct. 6 – proved costly.
It’s no surprise, however, that Anderlecht – 11th place in the Belgian Pro League, well adrift from their usual title contention – are willing to take on a reclamation project like Murillo. At his best in 2018, Murillo was an MLS All-Star and starter for Panama at the World Cup.
But when Murillo returned from playing in Russia last summer, his mind was still abroad. He admitted after his first match back – a 1-0 loss to NYCFC in which Chris Armas, who had been appointed head coach two days earlier, benched him in favor of Connor Lade – that he hoped to complete a move to Europe.
“Honestly, yes, I would like to go because it’s a personal dream of mine,” Murillo told The Athletic. “Every soccer player longs to play in Europe, and that’s the desire I have. I hope everything gets sorted out and I can go to Europe.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but the lack of turnover this past year adversely affected a team that broke the regular season points record in 2018. Murillo was one of several players who had aspirations to leave in 2019, from Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra in the winter to Aaron Long in the summer.
With this move, Hamlett, Armas and company take the first step in their own reclamation project, but that won’t begin in earnest until the conversation shifts from players leaving to players arriving.